Last Saturday, MMA fans were shocked to hear after the main event of UFC 141 that Brock Lesnar announced that he was retiring from fighting after his loss to Alistair Overeem. For many it was shocking because many thought he would have at least had one more match before formally announcing his retirement. For others, it was another reason to bash the former heavyweight champion and call him a product of hype.
The reason behind that polarization is three little letters that played a huge part in Lesnar's past: WWE. As a former pro wrestler, Lesnar had a huge amount of name recognition that allowed him to come into the UFC in his second professional fight, with as much hype as if he were in the main event.
With the amount of hype and buildup throughout his career, critics have been making comparisons of Lesnar to former MMA fighter and Internet street fighter Kimbo Slice. Completely unfair comparisons, for sure, as Slice was spoon-fed cans in order to fluff up his record and boost the credibility of the EliteXC promotion. Lesnar, on the other hand, faced nothing but champions and top-five fighters outside of two fights.
Lesnar's debut was against Min-Soo Kim for the Dynamite!! USA show in 2007 in a match that was one of the few on the show that was without controversy. Multiple fighters on the show, including Royce Gracie, would test positive for anabolic steroids, while many other fights were canceled outright due to fighters not getting licensing to fight or withdrawing due to illness. Lesnar would beat Kim at 1:09 due to submission from strikes.
He would then debut in the UFC where he would take on former heavyweight champion and top-five heavyweight Frank Mir. Lesnar would take the match to the ground and pound on Mir until he was deducted a point for strikes to the back of the head. Once the match restarted it was more of the same until Lesnar made a rookie mistake and left his leg open. Mir took hold of it and submitted Lesnar with a kneebar.
After this loss he would soundly beat Heath Herring by unanimous decision, which saw Lesnar break Herring's orbital bone after a punch in the opening seconds of the bout. It would be the only fight in his career that would go to a decision. After that win he would fight Randy Couture for the heavyweight title and win via TKO in the second round.
His next fight would be a rematch with Frank Mir in a unification match of Lesnar's title and Mir's interim belt. Lesnar would use his speed and wrestling to keep Mir grounded as he pounded his way to a TKO victory. After the match he would go on his infamous tirade which included bashing Bud Light and saying he was going to have sex with his wife (via MMAfrenzy.com).
Lesnar would then be sidelined with his first bout of diverticulitis, which postponed his match with Shane Carwin for a year. Upon return, another unification match occurred, this time with Carwin. Carwin would nail Lesnar with a barrage of strikes throughout the first round, but Lesnar was able to last the round. In the second round, Lesnar was able to take down a clearly gassed Carwin and submit him with an arm triangle.
Lesnar would then lose the title to Cain Velasquez via TKO in the first round, something that would be a personality altering match for Lesnar, as he would later tell his team on The Ultimate Fighter that he “got his ass kicked by Cain” (via angrymarks.com).
As a coach, UFC fans saw a much different side of Lesnar in comparison to his wrestling persona—a much more subdued man who would occasionally talk about chicken salad. Yet before he could face opposing coach Junior Dos Santos for the chance to become the No. 1 contender, Lesnar was again hit with a bout of diverticulitis.
This time he had to have 12 inches of his colon removed. He would then lose to Alistair Overeem in his UFC debut via TKO in the first round of the fight, leading to him announcing his retirement.
So for Kimbo Slice's fights with “high-level” fighters like Tank Abbott and Seth Petruzelli, Brock Lesnar was taking on Frank Mir, Randy Couture and Alistair Overeem. And while many critics of Lesnar bash him for his faults or his past careers, they never want to admit all of the positives that he has done for the UFC.
In 2008, when Lesnar debuted for the UFC, there were 21 events held by the UFC that year, which includes pay-per-views, Fight Nights, Ultimate finales and a Fight for the Troops. Three years later when Lesnar retired there were 27, and this year there are 34 scheduled.
Because with the notoriety that Lesnar brought with him also came new fans to the sport who were following their favorite wrestler. It probably also didn't hurt that Lesnar's main events each had more than a million PPV buys.
With that kind of added fanbase, the UFC was able to get a lot further in the sports world than many thought even possible, topped by the deal they signed with FOX earlier this year. Now while many of the more casual new fans may go away since Lesnar is gone, the bulk will remain now after seeing what the UFC has to offer.
Another thing that I've realized since the retirement announcement was how much of a coward or wimp Lesnar was for retiring that way. That is just a double-edged sword to MMA fans. How many have said that Chuck Liddell should have retired, or Ken Shamrock, or more recently how they still call for Tito Ortiz to hang up his gloves?
These guys held on too long, and for that they would lose match after match in devastating fashion. So when Lesnar realized that he couldn't compete at the level that he wanted to, after sickness and surgery, it was for the better.
So while I'm not saying that Brock Lesnar should be regarded as one of the greatest of all time or even the greatest heavyweight champion, I'm saying it should be at least acknowledged that he played a part in pushing the UFC to another level. And whether you love him or hate him, his accomplishments cannot be denied, and he will be remembered for years to come.