Like most fans of mixed martial arts, I'm beginning to salivate with Brock Lesnar's return to the octagon at Ultimate Fighting Championship 116 only a few days away.
Not only will his Saturday night clash with Shane Carwin unify the UFC's heavyweight belt, but it will be a new test for the former professional wrestler.
In "the Engineer," Brock will be facing an opponent with the natural size and physicality to neutralize his biggest asset to date—brute strength.
The native South Dakotan also possesses shocking quickness for a monument his size, but he didn't really need it while pulverizing the comparably weaker opposition offered by Heath Herring, Randy Couture, and Frank Mir.
Against Carwin, who hails from Colorado and is about three years older, Lesnar may need to showcase a different tool from his arsenal lest he absorb his second career defeat to a fellow giant—one who's demonstrated better striking proficiency thus far in his career.
Finally, one extra jolt of juice was added when Fedor Emelianenko tapped Fabricio Werdum's leg last weekend.
The seismic upset at Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Werdum means the winner of UFC 116's main event will be the world's No. 1 ranked gladiator at 265 pounds.
However, that last development raises a very interesting question about the state of the organization's heavyweight ladder.
Before Vai Cavalo—the English translation, "Go Horse," doesn't have quite the same ring to it—caught "the Last Emperor" in his lethal triangle armbar, the UFC's biggest brawlers had been ticketed as the new generation of elite 265-pounders without much resistance.
And for good reason.
Lesnar, Carwin, Cain Velasquez, and Junior dos Santos have all been thoroughly impressive while stringing together recent victories.
Each seems to possess a well-rounded game, capable of out-wrestling his adversary or stuffing any attempt to take the issue to the ground.
On their feet, each packs a wallop and everyone except the champ has shown one-punch power.
Something tells me Brock Lesnar has that thunder; it's just a matter of landing it.
Collectively, the quartet has showcased a mixture of size, strength, fluidity, and speed that's only been evident in the best and brightest of the division's history.
Of course, there's more to a fight than obvious natural gifts.
We've seen time and again how the mental aspect of the sport is an equally crucial element. The greats must own a mental toughness that approximates their physical prowess if not surpasses it.
Not every tough guy comes equipped with a noodle that can wrap itself around the concept of getting up after a knockdown, let alone a knockout.
Especially when it's authored by an apparently equal or superior antagonist.
There's also the matter of the commitment, dedication, and determination necessary to deal with the pressure that comes from wearing a target on your back.
The rub for the UFC is that such a mentality typically requires a larger sample size than any of the Big Four boasts before it manifests itself.
Lesnar is only 4-1 as a pro, Carwin is undefeated at 12-0 as is Velasquez at 8-0, and "Cigano" has been vanquished once in 12 contests.
Granted, even the smallest sample—Brock's five career trips to the cage—would be sufficient to get an accurate read on a warrior's mental state if they were against five rugged athletes.
But that's where the leap of faith for all four becomes even blinder.
There isn't a ton of substance in the 37 engagements that constitute the entire cumulative body of work.
Lesnar's key victims have already been named (Mir and Couture).
The Engineer gets bonus points for Gabriel Gonzaga and Mir. Velasquez can pound his chest to the tune of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Cheick Kongo.
JDS actually has the thickest quality portfolio with wins over Gonzaga, Mirko Filipovic, and Werdum. That's ironic considering he seems to be gazing up at the others in the rankings.
But even the assemblage of quality can be boiled down further.
"Cro Cop" has been a shell of himself since his dominant days in the PRIDE Fighting Championships. After "Napao's" crushing head kick gave Mirko a taste of his own medicine, Gonzaga's essentially played punching bag to the better heavyweights he's faced.
Kongo was manhandled by Mir and didn't exactly overwhelm an aging Paul Buentello his last time out.
The former can also be said about Minotauro's date with Mir.
As for "Captain America," well, he's always been a more formidable light heavyweight. Couture is no chump on any scale, but he was a serious player at 265 by default more than anything.
When all that dusts settles, you can make a very strong argument that the high esteem reserved for the UFC heavyweights rests almost entirely on the back of Frank Mir.
Lesnar made his biggest bones against Frank as did Carwin.
Velasquez' largest W came at the expense of a fighter whose reputation suffered very little damage despite getting demolished by Mir.
Only dos Santos remains outside the circle and he's the lowest on the four-man totem pole.
Obviously, the athletic arena follows no transitive property; comparing fighters based on common opponents and extrapolating from there is an exercise in subjectivity that flirts with irrelevance.
Still, it warrants mention that the shiniest pelts on the wall can eventually be traced back to one individual.
If Frank Mir was the superstar most of us believed him to be, then everything is at it seems.
If not, the UFC heavyweight division might be a house of cards that will crash and burn in the slightest breeze.
Luckily, one thing is etched in stone—finding out which it is will be a whole lot of fun.
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