Brock Lesnar: The Most Important Fighter in Mixed Martial Arts

E. Spencer KyteSenior Analyst IJanuary 20, 2010

Set down your weapons—this isn't a battle between Team Lesnar and its numerous adversaries. At least that isn't the intention.

This has nothing to do with whether Brock deserved his initial title shot back at UFC 91, whether a third fight with the new-and-improved Frank Mir would end differently than the second meeting, or what will be revealed when the UFC Heavyweight champion sits down with ESPN.

This does, however, have everything to do with the importance of Brock Lesnar to the sport of mixed martial arts today, tomorrow, and into the future.

After a week of back-and-forth over the importance and relevance of the mainstream coverage of Herschel Walker's MMA debut, we have the current UFC champion announcing his plans for the future on "The Worldwide Leader."

Whether you love him or hate him, the fact that Lesnar is taking to the ESPN airwaves to announce his intentions should signal to everyone that the former collegiate champion and professional wrestler is currently the most important fighter in the rapidly growing sport.

Don't believe me?

Outside of the aforementioned Herschel Walker, what current MMA competitor could hold an announcement of this magnitude on ESPN?

Stop shouting the name of your favorite fighter or current UFC champions not named Lesnar, and don't even begin to utter the name Fedor either.

The fact of the matter is that while there are certainly more well-rounded mixed martial artists and fighters with larger and more passionate fans, none would be able to sit down on ESPN and hold the attention of the audience for more than two minutes tops.

What story garnered the most attention from the mainstream media coming out of UFC 100? Brock Lesnar's post-fight actions and articulations.

Not Georges St-Pierre's dominating win over Thiago Alves, not Dan Henderson knocking Michael Bisping's mouthpiece back across the Atlantic, and not the historical impact of the UFC's centennial show.

The only thing that caught the eye of Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and the rest of the mainstream media for more than a minute was Lesnar.

The massive Minnesotan is a polarizing figure, and polarizing figures are media gold. While there are certainly fans out there who dislike any number of other MMA stars, no one, save for maybe BJ Penn, has the same kind of vehement split in the population.

But what separates Lesnar from "The Prodigy" is that Lesnar's interest extends beyond those of us who passionately follow mixed martial mrts.

Wrestling fans haven't forgotten about the former "Next Big Thing," a fact the UFC banked on when they brought the 2000 NCAA heavyweight champion into the fold and have collected on each time Lesnar has stepped inside the Octagon.

But wait, there's more...

MMA fan or not, wrestling fan or not, there is something innately interesting about big, athletic guys that captures the attention of sports fans, and Brock Lesnar is no different.

It's the reason that while fighters in smaller weights have repeatedly shone, boxing has always and will always crave a dynamic and engaging heavyweight to wear any of the numerous titles available.

Not convinced? Ask anyone to name a great boxer. Even most boxing fans will answer with one of two men: Mike Tyson or Muhammad Ali, both of whom were heavyweights.

Mixed martial arts isn't all that different. Yes, we have a collection of exceptionally talented champions from 205 down to 145 (and lighter in Japan), but what is the one matchup that just about everyone wants to see? Brock vs. Fedor.

While there are myriad reasons why such a contest is appealing—UFC vs. Pride, hyper-athletic behemoth vs. cerebral Russian assassin, champion vs. champion (if WAMMA still counts with you)—one of the very base reasons, admitted or not, is that there is something about watching two monsters going to war that is way more interesting than seeing a pair of 145-pound dynamos go toe-to-toe.

It's one of those ineffable things; you can't explain it in words, but you just know.

Whenever a sport breaks from niche to nationwide, there is always that one prominent figure the media focuses on. Tony Hawk took skateboarding from the skate park to the spotlight.

Tiger Woods changed the perception of golf through a series of fist-pumps. Wayne Gretzky made hockey more than just a Canadian thing, and Alex Ovechkin is doing his best to continue where "The Great One" left off.

Just like each of those iconic figures before him, for better or worse, Brock Lesnar has become that person for the sport of mixed martial arts.

He's the lone fighter the mainstream media knows can capture the attention of the audience and hold it for more than a minute. While everyone else in the sport would get a press conference at best, Brock is getting a sitdown on ESPN.

Fedor Emelianenko is the best heavyweight and maybe the best the sport has ever seen.

Anderson Silva is the pound-for-pound king.

But the most important fighter in the sport?

That's Brock Lesnar, whether you like it or not.


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