Brock Lesnar Could Have Been One of the Best

January 6, 2012

(Guest editorial by Ryan McKinnell)

It took former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar only four fights as a professional to achieve the pinnacle of his sport.

And it took only four more to derail one of the most promising careers in MMA history.

The end for Brock Lesnar officially came Friday night at UFC 141, when he ran into MMA’s heavyweight version of Ivan Drago… “The Demolition Man,” Alistair Overeem.

Truthfully though, Lesnar’s demise began long ago.

It was first at UFC 121 when the world saw Lesnar’s true distaste for MMA.  It wasn’t that he couldn’t beat world-class fighters; he obviously could, as shown by his destruction of perennial Top 10 fighters Randy Couture, Frank Mir, and Shane Carwin, respectively.

But that night at UFC 121, his opponent, Cain Velasquez, showed the world that Brock Lesnar lacked the most fundamental ability to becoming a long-term world champion in the sport of professional fighting; you had to be able to take a punch.

For Lesnar, it wasn’t even a matter of being able to take a punch. It was a matter of absolutely despising getting punched.  Not only couldn’t Lesnar take a punch, whenever he did get hit, he seemed like a wounded deer limping down range, as his camouflaged counterpart swooped in for the kill.

After the knockout loss to Velasquez, that left Lesnar looking like a discombobulated amateur, reports flooded in from Lesnar’s camp that the former champion didn’t let his sparring partners use full-contact drills when training for his title fight.

Essentially, the heavyweight champion of the world’s greatest fighting organization, trained for the biggest fight of his career without getting hit… allegedly.

So when Alistair Overeem ended their fight and Lesnar’s MMA career at UFC 141, for many it wasn’t a surprise.  Overeem stalked Lesnar, popped him with a few jabs, sprawled a few takedown attempts, and ended the fight with a devastating liver kick, which left Lesnar turtling up with an excruciating grimace across his face.

It was painfully obvious to all who watched that Lesnar couldn’t hang with the new age mixed martial artist.  But here’s the thing, in a certain place in time, Lesnar could have been one of the true legends of the sport.

Think about it.  MMA’s history is so short-lived and brief that the eras of each given fighting style can be broken into four- to six-year periods, respectively.

The first wave came from 1993-1997. That was the era of the jiu-jitsu fighter.  Men like Royce Gracie left the fighting world, and more specifically top-tier wrestlers, scrambling to gain any knowledge of the enigmatic art that was shrouded with so much mystery.  Never before had the world seen a fighting style that was so unassuming, both in its approach to fighting and the combatants who used it.  Gracie – who was no more than 165 pounds soaking wet – won three of the first four inaugural UFC tournaments, becoming an MMA legend in the process.

Around 1997, wrestlers started catching up to the jiu-jitsu game. Men like Mark Kerr, Mark Coleman, Dan Henderson, Tom Erikson, and Randy Couture dominated the MMA landscape.  So from 1997-2002, you had the era of the wrestler.

From 2002-2006, you had the era of the striker.  Fighters like Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva, Takanori Gomi, and the Rua Brothers ran roughshod over their respective divisions.  Having caught up to the arts of wrestling and jiu-jitsu, these stand-up fighters were allowed to dictate where their fights would go, and in the process had free reign to showcase their world-class striking prowess.  The Pride organization in Japan, where Silva, Gomi, and the Rua’s fought, was especially exciting because they allowed kicks to a downed opponent (soccer kicking), as well as knees – a most nostalgic time indeed.

That brings us to present day.  From 2006-present, we are living in the era of the complete mixed martial artist.  Men like Jon Jones, Junior dos Santos, Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo, Nick Diaz, and Gilbert Melendez reign supreme over the MMA world.  With their collection of skills and devastating all-around pedigree’s, this new wave of mixed martial artist is what we dreamed about only years ago.

And herein lies Brock Lesnar’s dilemma.  He was the product, or more correctly, a proverbial “slave” to his time.

If Brock Lesnar emerged in that era from 1997-2002, not only would he become a dominant champion, he likely would go down as one of the greatest heavyweights of any generation.  With his freakish athletic ability and all-world wrestling credentials, Lesnar would have dominated his foes on God-given ability alone.  Essentially, he proved as much with his previous performances in the UFC.

Unfortunately for the former NCAA National Champion, one-time NFL roster invite, WWE superstar, and former UFC heavyweight champion, he arrived in an era where his time had passed.

What Lesnar accomplished in his time as a professional fighter is nothing short of spectacular.  He attained the pinnacle of his sport in a time when most are still toiling in bingo halls, 4-H fairgrounds, and muddy parking lots across the United States.  He beat some of the top fighters in the world on a relatively brief period of training.

If it weren’t for his ability, or lack there-of, to take a punch, Lesnar would still be fighting today.

As UFC president Dana White reiterated at the UFC 141 press conference, “This isn’t some sport where you go and hit a ball with a stick.  This is the real deal. This is fighting.”

There is no doubt Brock Lesnar is a fighter in the game of life.  Ask the 12 inches of colon he had removed in May if Brock Lesnar is a tough S.O.B.

Ask Randy Couture, Heath Herring, Frank Mir, and Shane Carwin if Brock Lesnar is a true “fighter.”

But in the UFC, it’s not about whether you can fight or not, it’s about whether you can be the best in the world.  And at UFC 141, Brock Lesnar found out he couldn’t be, so he stepped aside.

And for that, I applaud him.  And so should you.

Follow Ryan McKinnell at @RyanMcKinnell on Twitter.
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