The Beast at his Best
When Brock Lesnar made his bombastic arrival to the UFC with pomp and circumstance, he appropriately quipped that the fans were starving for a real heavyweight champion. Shortly after the electric and terrifying WWE star exploded onto the MMA scene, then-heavyweight champion Randy Couture was sidelined with contractual issues. Cro Cop was proving his legs were now void of their great mystique. Recently dethroned Tim Sylvia was terribly unpopular for his action-less fighting style. The Sylvia-Arlovski trilogy- next to the latest versions of Star Wars- was the most painful to watch trilogy of all time. Former champion Frank Mir was discredited for his hapless losses to Brandon Vera and Marcio Cruz. The division was anemic and on life support. The heavyweights control the headlines and this was by far the worst division in the UFC. The rising organization needed a savior. When Lesnar reached the UFC, I was impressed by his 106-5 collegiate wrestling record, his 2000 NCAA heavyweight title, his outstanding camp with the Minnesota Vikings, the athleticism he displayed in the WWE, the 280 pounds sculpted to his 6'3 frame and super hero physique. He intimidated me and I wanted to be scared. This is an identifiable-and marketable- world heavyweight champion. I happily bought into it all.
When Lesnar lost to Frank Mir, he was given a pass because he had been doing well up to that point in the fight. Mir has impressive submission skills, so to lose your first U.F.C. bout via knee bar is not unforgivable. Lesnar's first MMA tilt was on June 2, 2007 and he fought Mir in February 2008. This is not a long time to learn knee bar defences against an accomplished grappler like Frank Mir. Although, he did do everything wrong in giving away the knee and defended it horribly incorrectly. He redeemed himself with a real UFC win against a well rounded proven veteran in Heath Herring. Lesnar dominated all three rounds en route to a convincing unanimous decision. His performance began to live up to the hype. He showed, in my opinion, that he was going to be one of the most exciting athletes in the world and heroically transcend the sport to unprecedented heights. Lesnar wowed the world with explosive take downs, big power punches, great positioning and control on the ground, and athletic agility-all at over 265 pounds! Joe Rogan, an excellent commentator, further convinced me with his hyperbolic analogous references to a proud Norse heritage. Henceforth, he was the man to be identified as a: "viking's warrior bloodline passed on generations to generations.''
That win gave Lesnar a title shot. Yes, really at 1-1 in the UFC and 2-1 overall, he was now given an opportunity for the gold. At the time, many complained, but most were buying into the hype and wanted to bear witness to the extraordinary feats of this phenom fighter who was a hybrid of power and size as well as quickness and agility. Fighting for the title, Couture and Lesnar were even in the first round and Couture drew first blood with a punch. The former pro-wrestler followed up nicely with a big power shot to Couture's head to take the crown in the second round. Winning the title against a forty five year old true light heavyweight fighting after a layoff of over two years is probably the most ignominious championship win in memory, but the world has taken notice of the UFC's heavy weight division.(Also suspect is the dynamic and well-hyped Jose Aldo literally earning his UFC belt without fighting anyone.)There was nothing but upside to his future.
Lesnar did thoroughly dominate Mir in the rematch impressively. Yet, more holes in the stand up were exposed. When Mir hit Lesnar with some shots, his reaction was to panic. He either went for clumsy take downs or stood right in front of Mir and took more shots. The NCAA star was fortunate when Mir went for a flying knee that resulted in him falling down, thus allowing Lesnar to obtain top position and being able to dominate Mir. The win was, without a doubt, remarkable as he redeemed his only loss and shut down Mir's grappling. It seemed like his major weakness, submissionsm, had been remedied and the world should prepare to be shocked by what heroic mythological feats the superstar would perform next. More importantly, after the win at UFC 100 when he rabidly frothed at the mouth and pressed his face against the cage, I was gleefully scared by a fearsome, real, heavyweight champion. The crown jewel division for the skyrocketing organization had their marketable champion.
It was believed that with his great coaching, training, and warrior spirit, the small holes in his striking would be compensated by his Thor-like mystique. For a beast like Lesnar, the punching and ferocity would take care of itself. Joe Rogan pontificated: '' You ain't just gonna be able to punch that guy and send him home packing, he's gonna eat the punch and pick you up in the air and you're gonna feel so bad...'' Regrettably, Lesnar's game became like Ben Affleck's recent debacle The Town- an intriguing narrative that succumbed to a self-induced collapse due to an increasing number of glaring holes. No one ever thought he would be felled by an aversion to the most basic tenet of fighting, being hit in the face. Quick rule about football, if you don't like tackling, not your sport. You don't like checking, hockey is not your game. If you don't like to be hit in the face, stay away from MMA.
In his first title defence against power punching Shane Carwin, Lesnar showed he could not compete against top level strikers. A complete gas-out by Carwin gave Lesnar an easy second round win. The pride of Webster, South Dakota's response to a straight right hand by Carwin was to turtle and take shots. Going into that fight, surely he prepared for the right hand of Carwin? The entire MMA world knew that would be Carwin's game plan. Regardless, the shot landed a few seconds into the fight and Lesnar spent the remainder of the round turtling and taking more strikes. He only won because the other fighter hit him so often, he was too tired to continue. The three time WWE champ looked lost and atypical of a fighter who deserved to be in the UFC. Cain officially certified that Brock cannot compete against a top level striker.
Cain walked right through Lesnar just as Carwin did- except he did not expend all of his energy pounding him. Lesnar tumbled and fell and threw himself away from Cain only to be followed and pounded on. A turtle strategy cannot work in stand up because the opponent is not being threatened. When Lesnar is hit, he simply covers his head with both arms. This leaves nothing to potentially attack with. It would be better for him to at least leave one hand down so he could stave off the attack. Consider Scott Smith when he was hammered by Pete Sell, he was dangerous even though he was hurt because he kept his hands in a position where they could be used offensively. Mark Hominick recently fought Yves Jabouin in an exciting fight where Mark was close to finishing Yves after hurting him with a good punch to the body, but closed in for the kill over-zealously and was dropped by Yves. It has to be an inherent fighters' instinct to not turtle and cower because it takes one out of a fight. The other fighter can simply load up without recourse because hands wrapped around a noggin do not warrant any respect. Footwork, head movement, parries and blocks trump falling down and covering oneself all day.
On the ground, Lesnar's visceral reactions to danger also betrayed him. When in danger in the Velasquez fight, Lesnar ran and dove to the mat. There, he turned away from Cain and just took the shots. Again, this cannot be a fighter's strategy when in trouble. Notice what every other MMA fighter will do on the ground: square up with their hips and keep their opponent in front of them. This allows the legs to be used for up-kicks, prevents the pass, allows the legs to be used to catch one in their guard, keeps the fighter away from them, so they can butt-scootch away and get back to their feet. Lesnar's choice was to lay on his side and cover his head. This gave Velasquez a free guard pass and great position to land strikes at will until the the fight was halted and the crown removed from the man upon whom so many had depended.
When he was just lying on his side, he needed to do something to buy himself some time and stop the shots from coming, at least momentarily. This is done by turning into-not away- from one's adversary. By turning into Cain, Lesnar could have played his side control bottom game and worked to get a sweep or recover guard or even tie up Cain. Yet, each time he flopped to the mat, he turned away from Cain, so the challenger had nothing to worry about and could easily pick his shots and maintain position. If one does turn away, they should look to get back to their feet. Lesnar elected to just lie on the mat and take shots as if he were too scared to move- deathly afraid to release his clutch of his own head and risk being pounded in the face. This further left the former dairy farmer susceptible to the big power punches of the AKA product.
It has been well documented how Lesnar built his own gym and brought in great fighters and trainers to work with him. Minnesota Mixed Martial Arts Academy is run by Greg Nelson, a legend and a very talented coach. Nelson is not only classy, but a proven top-notch trainer. Sean Sherk is a good example of what Nelson can do with a fighter. Peter Welch is a boxing trainer often used by elite MMA fighters such as Kenny Florian. Erik Paulson, former pro fighter and grappling icon is also there with him and so is acclaimed Olympian wrestler Marty Morgan. Guaranteed that none of them taught him to turtle when punched, run and flop when being pressured, lie on your side when on the ground by turning your back to the other fighter and stay there. These are elite world class instructors; they teach better than that. If Lesnar cannot get any bigger, faster, stronger nor can he procure better instruction, what's left?
His turtle and run defence is not worthy of the UFC. Any other fighter losing in that fashion would have been sent packing already: Kimbo Slice, Efrain Escudero, and Travis Lutter were all sent packing for sub-par performances that were not as weak as Lesnar's. Slice showed great improvement, but was released after falling to 4-2. Escudero won season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter and was dismissed after going 3-2 in the UFC. Lutter won season 4 of The Ultimate Fighter and then lost his next two fights to champion Anderson Silva and past champ Rich Franklin. Those two losses cost him his place on the UFC roster when he appeared to not have the cardio he needed. These past transgressions by the University of Minnesota product have been far worse than many of the efforts which have brought on pink slips, but if he got into the UFC with only one fight, a title shot after one win in the organization, why would we think the same rules apply to the golden Nordic goose? Explain to Joe Doerksen, who was recently released by the UFC after losing a controversial decision to Dan Miller, that Lesnar's recent performances prove that he- and not the 46-14 fighter with a black belt in jiu jitsu- should stay on.
What to do with Brock?
Furthermore, how can others fighter not resent the fact that despite their superior skills, they will always be beneath Lesnar on the pay scale. Fans can recognize these improprieties. Lesnar was paid $400,000 for UFC 100 and again for UFC 121. This is more than a complete card's payroll for some non-UFC events and surpasses the earnings of more proven stars in the organization. Strikeforce Challenger's 8 card in May of 2010 paid out less than 60,000 officially to all fighters and future Hall of Famers Matt Hughes and Anderson Silva earned 200,000 each at UFC 117. The knock against Lesnar was that he was coming to real fighting after having made millions and a big time name from fake fighting. Well ,the fact that he cannot handle real punches has finally come through. Despite the hype from Rogan that he is: ''a direct descendant from ancient giant warriors from thousands of years ago'', it is obvious that right now he is not a UFC fighter. If the UFC is the flagship for MMA and is seeking mainstream acceptance, integrity and legitimacy cannot be compromised. The worst technical fighter on the card cannot top the pay list. Sometimes fighters need a few tomato cans to regain their confidence and sometimes they need to realize when they are not a fighter. Either way, for now the UFC is not the knarr for this Viking. He needs to raid a few smaller villages to see if he should be shaping up or shipping out of MMA. The mighty Lesnar was a great college wrestler, an exciting pro wrestler, but his credibility as a cage fighter has been indelibly stained. At 33 years of age and with a record of 5-2, we should now hold a Viking burial, set fire to his UFC career, allow it to romantically drift away into the abyss and allow him to cross back over to the other side of fighting: pro wrestling.
There is a line from The Simpsons that always amuses me. The Spruce Caboose was a train built of wood that was unprecedented in speed and size. The outstanding potential of the engineering marvel led people to doubt its functionality. This is the part where we expect to hear the detractors were proven wrong. In typical Simpsons fashion, they gave the platitude a twist. Their line: " It was the most beautiful, most expensive train ever built. The Spruce Caboose! Some people said it was too big to stay on the tracks. Heh, heh. They were right! " Simpsons skepticism is applicable to daily life. The parodistic train crashed horrifically thus, unusually, awarding the detractors credit for their doubt and lack of confidence. Tragically, this time a warrior Viking has fallen, and Dana White and all of his promo series can't put him back together again.