Brock Lesnar. Two words, a name, a man, an icon and a recipe for debate which could rage until the cows come home and then leave again for another round. That debate could be waged on various fronts built around distaste, celebration, conspiracy, and countless questions.
One question, more than any other, seems to rise to the top when talking about the career of one of the most polarizing figures the sport has ever known. The question has no sound answer regardless of the magnitude of importance surrounding it.
Why did Brock Lesnar retire? To take it a step further, why did Lesnar battle back for over a year from his bout with diverticulitis only to hang up his gloves as soon as he returned? Why not hang 'em up a year ago? Better yet, why hang them up at all?
While some simply cannot stand the idea of Lesnar playing a role as a component of this sport, no one can deny that the man fought 50 percent of his career in UFC title fights and won three of four.
Still not sold on his potential? Consider the only other men to defend that title more than once were Tim Sylvia and Randy Couture, both defending twice. One of those two is a living legend.
So, here we have one of three men to ever hold consecutive UFC heavyweight title defenses retiring after less than 10 fights in his career. Love him or hate him, that math simply does not add up. What would compel a fighter with that kind of potential to walk away?
The answer may be complex, but the argument against it is simple. Brock Lesnar walking away from MMA is a mistake. The man may not be the most technical or experienced of fighters and definitely not the most likable of public figures, but he had a wealth of undeniable potential to truly become a historical mixed martial artist.
Apparently the book is closed, and further chapters of that career will never be written. Somehow, that is a damn shame. Somehow, after all the critics speak their piece, it would still appear that the legacy of Brock Lesnar ending prematurely has robbed the legacy of the UFC heavyweight division and the entire sport.
Not all fight fans will agree with that previous statement, but consider the power Lesnar held to simply captivate an audience. Again, regardless of whether a fan celebrated Lesnar’s reign or loathed it, they tuned in every time he fought to see him conquer or be conquered. It just so happens that while the world was watching, Lesnar forged an impressive—albeit abbreviated—career.
Listen, we are talking about a guy who had never fought a round in his life as of mid-2007. Never set foot in a cage. Three years later, by late 2010, he was making his third attempt at defending the UFC heavyweight title.
Folks, that type of success does not happen accidentally. Any man can be beat on any given day, but few can stand atop a UFC division and hold their ground, especially given how hard it is to win a title in the first place.
Consider the varying versions of Brock Lesnar we saw inside the Octagon.
First, we saw an inexperienced Lesnar engage phenomenal-type heavyweight and former UFC champion Frank Mir.
While his inexperience in combat arts cost him the match by way of submission to a ground wizard in Mir, Lesnar was handily winning the bout up to the point of the submission. In his second MMA fight ever, he lost, but proved he could contend momentarily with a former UFC champ.
Next, an excitable and eager Lesnar decimated former Pride standout Heath Herring, essentially retiring a 30-year-old fighter with over 40 fights under his belt. This was Lesnar’s third. It was a statement felt throughout the division.
Next, Lesnar would face a man mentioned earlier, Randy Couture. He would face Couture and stop him, taking his UFC heavyweight title from him. This transition of the title from Couture to Lesnar seemed to signal the end of an era and beginning of another.
Now, Lesnar was a king—against all odds, many predictions and the preference of the masses, but he was king nonetheless. His record stood at 3-1, and he had attained what many will strive for but never achieve, and he did it in 18 months.
Fighters have spent entire careers never making their way into title contention, much less winning a title.
Lesnar did it in less time than it takes the average fighter to catch the eye of UFC brass. Of course, make no mistake, the brand of Brock Lesnar and his visibility among casual fans played its role in his ascent. Just the same, most fighters thrown to the wolves, as Lesnar was, would not have made it to the cage, much less succeed in it.
Now a champion, Lesnar wore the familiar target all champions know. The masses had seen him rise to power and now wanted to see him tested. His next test came in the form of a rematch with Frank Mir.
Their second bout was nothing like the first. Lesnar showed no fear of going to the ground with the interim UFC heavyweight champ. He took Mir down, held him down and unleashed hell on him. Lesnar stopped Mir in the second and unified the UFC heavyweight title.
His second title defense would come at the expense of a man who at the time was undefeated at 12-0 with not one man having lasted past the first round with him. Where Lesnar was obviously the champ, many felt it was simply a matter of time before Shane Carwin assumed his rightful place as UFC heavyweight champ.
As fate would have it, Lesnar nearly met a similar fate to the 12 men who came before him. Carwin hit him hard and hit him early, nearly finishing the champ in the first round. Somehow, somewhere, Lesnar found the grit to tough it out through the onslaught and found himself standing across the cage in virgin territory with Carwin—the second round.
It was here that Lesnar found his own rhythm and recipe for success. He cracked a code that had yet to be broken. He not only beat Shane Carwin, but he did so with a technical Jiu Jitsu move, an arm triangle. This man was a far cry from the Lesnar who had first entered the cage a short time before.
Brock Lesnar, still a champion at 5-1 only three years into his fighting career.
Then came the brick wall known as Cain Velasquez. This young lion had taken a far different career path than Lesnar to find his way to UFC gold. While their backgrounds were similar, their experience was vastly different.
Velasquez was not controlled by Lesnar, as others had been in previous bouts. He was also able to expose that which would prove to become Lesnar’s undoing. Cain exploited Lesnar’s intolerance for being attacked.
Carwin had found the kink in the champ’s armor, and Velasquez tore it open. He destroyed Brock against what many felt were insurmountable odds.
Lesnar was no longer a champ, and lied beaten and broken on the Octagon floor that had proved so kind to him in previous bouts. From here, another struggle would consume him as he opted for surgery to combat an ongoing bout with diverticulitis.
This fight would shelf the former champ for over a year. Upon his return, he faced former Strikeforce heavyweight champ Alistair Overeem and was stopped in the first round.
It took longer for the men to walk to the cage than it did for Lesnar to fall, and this prompted the premature retirement of a man who obviously has far more potential than his 5-3 record would have us believe.
It is one thing to fight in regional shows and go 5-3 as you strive to climb the ladder that is MMA success. But, to excel as Lesnar has—even in light of his defeats—is quite another achievement.
Suffice to say, the best Brock Lesnar we may have ever seen had yet to set foot into the Octagon. If this man could cut his teeth at the level he did against the opponents he fought at a championship level, how can one look upon his minuscule legacy as anything but captivating and impressive?
Forget the man, but behold the athlete. This athlete shone brightly atop the highest of mountains. It seems a terrible shame that his celebrity and the expectations surrounding it eclipsed such a promising MMA career.
See, the critics will tell you he never should have been in the UFC; he was brought along too soon and thrust up the ladder undeservedly. They will tell you it was the brand of Brock Lesnar that made him, not him earning his way in this sport.
They are right.
Yet, the business of MMA is still fluid, and what needed to be done was done. It simply is what it is. And while the critics may have chosen a different path for Lesnar, the one he walked can simply not be denied.
And the same argument against his rise can equally be used against his fall. Had he not been such a predominant figure or recognizable celebrity in the sporting realm, no one would give a damn about a fighter with a 5-3 record.
Unless that fighter was a no-name scrapper who had earned his way to the top of the sport in four years’ time, accomplishing the things Lesnar did.
So with that in mind and all things considered, again, it truly seems a shame that the potential legacy that might have been has come to an end far sooner than we might have liked if his name were anything but Brock Lesnar.
What might have been? With the cards falling as they have, fight fan, you and I will never know. But if the way it began was any indication, we have missed out on an amazing story among many great stories that make up this thing that you and I cherish so very much.
We didn’t all care for your antics or attitude Brock Lesnar. Yet, even when we found distaste for your approach on some levels, we found a way to relate to you and even wish for your success at times. We all wondered what the pinnacles of your potential could have brought to our sport.
Sadly, due to your choice to walk away, none of us will ever know, including you, big guy.
This article originally featured at Hurtsbad MMA. Follow us on Twitter @HurtsBad