Let the Debate Begin: Lesnar/Velasquez

The entire MMA world gravitated toward the Brock Lesnar/Cain Velasquez UFC heavyweight championship fight as the countdown changed from weeks to days. When the fight actually took place, it was an almost even mix of people in absolute shock and those shaking their heads having seen the result coming from miles away.

Cain Velasquez became the new UFC heavyweight champion by sticking to a game plan that stressed the fight stay standing as long as possible. It’s no secret that Velasquez has a powerful knockout punch as well as great stand-up, which the combinations he was able to land on Lesnar proved. The two things that made stressing a standing fight more preferable to one that went to the ground is this: Lesnar has never knocked anybody out with one punch and all of his fights have been won on the ground, and Lesnar has never fought anyone as quick as Velasquez. If you look through Lesnar’s opponents and the fights themselves, he’s fought only slow heavyweights as even Randy Couture wasn’t exactly lightning-quick when the two fought in 2008. It was obvious after the first two minutes of standing that this fight was Velasquez’s to lose and the only way he would lose it would be to let Lesnar get him to the ground. Lesnar in fact almost did this taking Cain down twice in the fight, but Cain—possibly sensing what was coming—got up so quick that one could almost say it was a survival instinct or a knee-jerk reaction to being taken to the mat.

Had Lesnar been able to keep Velasquez on the mat for longer than a few seconds, things may have gone differently. Keeping Velasquez down would’ve given Lesnar precious time to clear his head and redefine the pace of the fight. More importantly, it was Lesnar’s reluctance to try and take the fight to the mat that lost him the fight and his title. It should’ve been obvious that trying to stand & trade with Cain wasn’t the way to go after he had opened a cut near Lesnar’s left eye and showed Lesnar to be inept when both fighters were on their feet—at least compared to Velasquez on this night. Why did Lesnar continue trying to stand & bang with Velasquez even after those opening few minutes showed it was a futile act? I’ll get to that a little later, but part of it has to do with this: when you’ve had a great run and been given more hype than at any point in your career—both wrestling and MMA—then you are going to believe that you are a monster, even when the truth isn’t supporting that 100%.

With the win, Velasquez will meet Junior Dos Santos at a date yet to be announced. This is, on paper, one of the most appealing MMA heavyweight fights in recent memory as far as the combination of talent, styles, youth, record, and momentum are concerned. Both men are trained in Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu, even though Cain hasn’t really implemented it into his repertoire yet. Dos Santos, as I wrote earlier in the summer, is the most complete heavyweight in UFC in my opinion. He has answers for you if the fight is standing and he has answers for you if the fight goes to the ground. Like Lesnar, Dos Santos’ focus should be on taking the fight to the ground; for Cain, there would be no worse time to try out an unused facet of your game than in a championship fight. Does this mean that Cain will avoid going to the ground altogether? No. I think that if Cain can get Dos Santos in a position that keeps Dos Santos on the ground, there’s no reason he wouldn’t try to keep things going that way. Ground fighting—when you’re in control—has the added benefit of exhausting your opponent, something that would definitely come in handy for Cain if the fight were to go more than a round, or even two rounds. That’s the other factor at play here: time. Dos Santos has proven to me to be more able to withstand the effects of a long fight inside the cage. Velasquez has fared well too in his trips outside the first round, but both the Congo and Rothwell wins were fights that Cain could’ve easily ended a whole round—if not more—before he did. As for Dos Santos, he was able to take apart Mirko Cro Cop and Roy Nelson in fights that showed Dos Santos could keep going full speed for more than ten minutes without stopping; there was some sputtering in the Nelson fight, but there was no breakdown. The reason Dos Santos has the edge in being able to handle longer fights is because his two career trips past the first round have been in two of his last three fights. Obviously Cain is going to come at Dos Santos and hit Dos Santos a lot harder than Nelson or Cro Cop did, but my gut is telling me that if Dos Santos can stay away from the knockout blow and get the fight past the second round, he could be your new UFC heavyweight champion very soon.

One thing I can’t believe people haven’t talked about is how many options Brock Lesnar has right now. Yes, he just lost the heavyweight title in a fashion that people weren’t trained to see him losing in, but he’s got more options right now than he did at any point when he was champion. The most obvious option now is what he will do with his future after being beaten up for the first time in MMA. Will he take his money and go home for good? Will he continue fighting? Who will he fight next? Is wrestling still in Lesnar’s future? These were the questions that went around, and still kind of are, after the loss. Despite the six-month medical suspension—a bit long for a guy who wasn’t one-punch KO’d and took less punishment than a lot of the guys who get the six-month suspension—Lesnar will be back in the cage as soon as possible after those six months. He’d probably be back the day after the suspension officially ends if UFC and the calendar can come together and make it happen.

As for who Lesnar will face, again, he’s never had so many options. Being a contender rather than a champion brings with it the need to prove that you are championship material. And for a guy with Lesnar’s limited fight experience (this was only his seventh fight), he could take fights against guys who are deemed lower than him, but have much more experience in the cage/ring than him. The most obvious next fight for Lesnar would be a third fight against Frank Mir. Mir hasn’t had the best year as he beat Congo in December of ’09, then lost quick to Carwin, and then looked over-the-hill in his excruciating fight with Mirko Cro Cop despite getting a knockout win. But the two have an established rivalry and hatred for each other as well as the fact that both fights have made grand amounts of money. If that doesn’t materialize for whatever reason, there are guys like Stefan Struve or Ben Rothwell or Cheick Congo that could give Lesnar a fight before a bigger one can be made. Down the road, a rematch with Carwin could take shape if Carwin comes back from surgery re-energized and wins a couple, but I would bet on the third Mir fight happening before a Carwin rematch. Gabriel Gonzaga and Roy Nelson are upper-level heavyweights coming off losses (like Lesnar) and both offer Lesnar the opportunity to stand with a guy and keep the fight standing. Both men do have great stand-up and could realistically knock Brock out, but both have their own weaknesses—crippling ones at times—that would make them good opponents for someone with still developing skills like Lesnar’s.

And of course, there are two fights that no UFC fan is even thinking about, but are fights that could happen if UFC wants to make them happen: dream fights with either Mirko Cro Cop or Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. I’m not going to say much on these because they are two fights that are almost the definition of dream fights because fans will likely only be able to dream of either fight actually happening. However, if you think that a Nogueira/Lesnar fight is that far off, think about this: if Nogueira had ended up beating Velasquez (decision, submission, whatever) then I’d be writing about Nogueira/Lesnar instead of Lesnar/Velasquez.

Even though I predicted he would win, I’m glad that Lesnar lost. This glee has nothing to do with Lesnar himself as my issues with Lesnar as a person have subsided in recent time thanks to his change in demeanor, behavior, and professionalism. The reason I’m glad is because now the Brock Lesnar hype machine is dead. Just like Kimbo Slice’s loss was the best birthday present I’ll probably ever get, Lesnar’s loss was a gift to those who follow the sport attentively, following not just the big promotions but all promotions from around the globe that are possible to follow, as well as not calling the sport ultimate fighting. When UFC used their reach and marketing ability to build up Lesnar’s first fight in the promotion with clips and mentions of his previous career in WWE, it was smart business. When they turned Lesnar into an unbeatable monster in preparation for his fight against Couture after losing to Mir and needing a decision after nearly finishing Heath Herring in the opening minute, it was smart business, but sleazy at the same time. People who are brought into a segment of the fight game—MMA, Boxing, pro wrestling, kickboxing, etc.—by one person or one fight are the most easily manipulated. These people don’t have the knowledge that people who follow it daily do. They are the least attentive, least knowledgeable, and most fickle as I want to see how many “MMA fans” don’t buy the PPV that Lesnar’s next fight is on because he got the snot beat out of him by Velasquez. Yes these people are part of the audience too, and they pay just like the rest of us, but it has always been downright insulting to me that someone with next to no experience in MMA is given the hype that they are some kind of unbeatable machine, especially if they’ve already lost a fight! That’s why I’m glad that King Mo lost back in August: I have nothing against the man himself, but his hype was beginning to get to that level before Muhammad Lawal was at that level as a fighter. The same goes for Lesnar, and the same times about fifty for Kimbo. Short-term, this kind of promoting of a fighter usually means money for the fighters and promoters. Long-term, the damage can be much more negative and much more disastrous, as we all saw with Kimbo’s shocking loss spelling the end of Elite-XC as a promotion. History won’t repeat itself here as UFC is exponentially more stable than EXC was, and if Lesnar’s loss really does force them to take a small hit in PPV revenue for shows that he is fighting on, they’ll take it because it won’t hurt them bad enough where they’ll be in real trouble. My hope is that Lesnar’s loss will mark the end of this kind of promoting of newcomers to MMA. The sport in general will benefit and the money promoters can make if these kind of fighters turn out to actually be somebody is potentially several times more than they made during the period of time they told people this guy was this good.

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