When the record books come to Brock Lesnar many will try to write that he was a fraud, a Bob Sapp or Kimbo Slice-esque special attraction who briefly captured the attention of the world before being exposed by better fighters.
It all looked very different in 2008 and 2009. Then a fresh Lesnar burst onto the MMA scene, mauling Mir before making a rookie mistake and then clearly defeating veteran Heath Herring and Hall of Famer Randy Couture in composed displays. Against both Herring and Couture he even showed signs of growing proficiency with his standup. The victory over Couture made him heavyweight champion and set him up for his rematch with Mir, where he destroyed his hated rival in one of the more brutal, one-sided beatings you’ll ever see. But that Lesnar would never fight again.
In Manchester, England on November 5th 2009 UFC President Dana President told a startled press conference that Brock Lesnar had been taken gravely ill and was fighting to save his career. Soon it would be revealed that Lesnar had suffered a crippling bout of diverticulitis, a disease that was literally eating away at his stomach. He narrowly avoided surgery but could not fully regain his former weight or strength. Bouts against Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez would see him struggle to impose himself physically on his opponents, a failure that exposed the technical limitations in his defensive technique. Only Carwin’s poor cardio would allow Lesnar to escape UFC 116 with his championship, a temporary stay of execution with Velasquez seizing the belt three months later.
Lesnar was due to face Junior Dos Santos for a chance for a quick return to title contention but again his illness derailed his plans. A fresh flare-up of his diverticulitis forced him to finally get an operation that would end the careers of most sportsmen, let alone those in as physical a sport as MMA. The toll the surgery took on Lesnar was downplayed by his enormous proportions when he emerged from deep seclusion in November, with fans and commentators relieved to see him back to his physical best.
But that clearly wasn’t the case. The Brock Lesnar who as an analyst was so quick to berate Velasquez for not rushing to get the takedown on Dos Santos, only half-heartedly tried one takedown against former K-1 Grand Prix Winner Alistair Overeem. The tentative tactics of the former NCAA Division I Champion were a clear sign that he knew his wrestling wasn’t where it once was. The brutal targeting of his surgically repaired stomach by Overeem must have only underlined to Lesnar that his time was over, a fact he acknowledge by publicly retiring immediately after the referee stopped the fight.
Without taking away anything from Overeem’s impressive performance, every MMA fan should recognized that it was not ‘The Demolition Man’ who demolished Lesnar’s career. No, that was done by diverticulitis. For the past two years Lesnar has bravely fought a losing battle with his own body, desperately trying to prolong a career that at one point promised so much. Who knows what he could have achieved if instead of dedicating all his energies to desperately trying to get healthy he was able to train like a normal fighter. If every waking thought wasn’t dedicated to defeating the disease inside him, maybe he could have continued his early progress in improving his striking and BJJ.
But let’s not solely focus on what Lesnar could have done, for he still managed to achieve things that are worthy of celebration. For anyone with only seven UFC fights to have faced three former world champions (one of those twice) and two undefeated prospects is incredible. More than that it is truly inspiring that a man who was financially set for life in the world of pro-wrestling had such a burning desire to compete that he left the safe world of Vince McMahon’s WWE to become the sportsman he was meant to be. It’s just a shame that by the time he found his true home inside the Octagon, the clock was ticking to his biological doomsday.
Tags: Alistair Overeem, Brock Lesnar, Cain Velasquez, Frank Mir, Junior dos Santos, Mixed Martial Arts, Randy Couture, shane carwin