There is not one ounce of doubt that lingers from the days when the MMA community was questioning if Brock Lesnar belonged. Many people loathed the idea of a professional wrestler crossing over and bringing his bag of tricks with him to make a mockery of MMA.
As it turned out, even the most pure of fans were proven wrong as the MMA career of Lesnar began to take shape. What were once questions about his place in the sport, his rapid ascent to the front of the line, and his level of talent vs. his level of credibility, are now just statements of amazement over what he has accomplished and his potential.
Many people still have their opinions about Lesnar, and that spectrum is a wide one. One thing that can no longer be argued is if this man belongs, if he has earned it, if he is a mixed martial artist. Like him or leave him, Lesnar has proven that he is the real deal.
It is hard to say that with a straight face when looking at Lesnar's 4-1 MMA record, but it is the manner in which he went 4-1 that tells the real story. A small sample does not usually tell that much, but this small sample is concentrated and potent enough to prove Lesnar is no fluke.
His most notable wins coming over Randy Couture and Frank Mir, Lesnar made a statement that screamed he was capable of competing with the very best heavyweights in the world. His victories over such respected former champs were all the proof necessary to give him the credit he is obviously due.
So now, almost two years after his UFC debut, Lesnar has earned some respect. He has taken MMA down and is ground and pounding it with his unique formula. With the help of the UFC marketing juggernaut, Lesnar has become a force in more ways than one.
He took not only the UFC heavyweight division by storm, but the sport as a whole. His name is now commonly mentioned in the same breath as legend Fedor Emelianenko, with regard to the superfight everyone wants to see. Lesnar's impact on MMA is undeniable.
Just as the momentum seemed to be unstoppable, tragedy struck. Just when it seemed Lesnar could and would, really excel in the sport, just when it seemed Lesnar could really start to dominate, his MMA career hit a brick wall.
When that collision happened, the entire MMA community took a deep breath and really is still waiting to exhale. See the old cliche, you don't know what you've got until you lose it, really comes into play here.
For the fight fans, who may not have appreciated Lesnar out of the gates, they realized looking back, it was their own self centered thinking that disallowed them from appreciating what Lesnar was capable of doing for MMA.
They had to lose him to realize how imposing of a figure he could be. Again, good or bad, Lesnar helps MMA more than many might realize.
There is more than enough to read surrounding Lesnar's specific health issues. What is being discussed here is the bigger picture with regard to Lesnar's journey within the sport of MMA, and now his struggle.
Not unlike the sport as a whole, Lesnar is really going to have to work hard and improve upon an already strong product. MMA was once an attraction that drew interest based solely on the idea that no one had ever seen anything like it. The people it appealed to were mesmerized by it.
Lesnar is not much different looking back. He is a behemoth of a man, with a chip on his shoulder and a talent level to back up all the trash talk he can muster. People can't look away from this guy. They want to see him let off the chain so he can smash something.
Both MMA and Lesnar did great sprinting out of the gates, in their progress they turned the first corner fairly well, both finding success in their root abilities to entertain. But both the sport and the man hit trouble at the second turn and stumbled. MMA had to pick itself up, dust itself off after struggling for acceptance, and is now clearly ahead in the home stretch.
The time has come to see if Lesnar can do the same.
Can this man, a man who learned one of the hardest sports while on the fly, a man who has devastated former heavyweight champs, can Lesnar return to form and pull himself up and overcome that which tore him down?
No man could take Lesnar's UFC belt from him. It took an illness that could have ended his athletic career to take him out. It turns out after reading reports of his intent to return to the cage this summer that even career-ending ailments are not enough to keep this man down.
What remains to be seen now is how he bounces back?
How does he round this final turn?
How does he complete the home stretch?
Looking back at what has been displayed so far, it seems apparent MMA has not seen the last of Lesnar. If and when he does return, look for him to struggle, it wont be easy. As if it ever was.
When he does return and he does struggle, he will finally get a taste of the other side of this sport. Dominating won't be as easy as he might remember. He raised the bar, and in his absence fighters are stepping up, namely his nemesis Mir.
When that happens, something tells us Lesnar is the type of man who will gain from that struggle, build on it, use it, and emerge even more effective, and dominant than MMA remembers him for.
A bird-flipping Lesnar that was pushed to the front of the line and shoved down the throats of MMA over name recognition alone is not the easiest guy to root for.
A devastated Lesnar that is returning from a potentially career-ending illness, struggling to regain his form, while further proving himself in this sport, is a very easy guy to get behind.
If Lesnar can pull this off, he will have solidified himself as a true mixed martial artist, a true warrior, more deserving of respect than he ever was. He will finally have earned it, and that is a great story for MMA.