Brock Lesnar is bigger, faster, and stronger than most heavyweights. He makes up in power what he lacks in technique. But the champ clearly made technical strides since his first match up with Mir, when he stood up in the BJJ black belt’s guard and got caught in a kneebar. This time around he had just enough of a submission-style ground game to complement his wrestling and frustrate Frank Mir‘s attempts to do pretty much anything. Lesnar represents the next stage in evolution of MMA, the athletic super-heavyweight.
But his impact on the sport is greater in scope than his over-sized gloves. Last night Brock Lesnar became the first villainous champion in MMA and that’s the best thing that could have happened.
The first Ultimate Fighting Championship featured a little guy in his pajamas beating up much larger opponents. Brazilian jiu jiutsu is predicated on using technique, intelligence, and instinct to use an opponents strengths and instincts against him or her. Royce Gracie represented redemption for the non-jock. He was every bullied kid’s dream. And Brock Lesnar just smashed it. You can learn all the techniques you want but when your bigger, stronger, faster opponent knows enough BJJ to nullify your skill set, you’re as helpless as a white belt, and that is terrifying. When he gloats over his opponents and tells critics where they can stick it, well that’s infuriating. And it’s great for the sport.
Consider for a moment how many bad guys there are in the top tier of MMA internationally. Gilbert Yvel? Maybe “Kid” Yamamoto? The closest thing the UFC has to a villain is Matt Hughes or Michael Bisping and frankly those guys don’t rate. They’ll get a smattering of boos but their detractors aren’t kept up at night by seething animosity. Lesnar, on the other hand, inspires real venom. MMA fans rejoice in slagging him, tuning in to his fights with the desperate hope of watching him get his ass handed to him. Fans and commentators talk about how Lesnar is bad for the sport, which in a way proves that he’s not. He’s a conversation starter, a point of controversy in a sport that has relatively few.
One can make the comparison to professional wrestling but every sport has heels. Mike Tyson was not a beloved figure in boxing. He was respected and feared. Same with Sonny Liston and George Foreman before he became a lovable grill pitchman. Terrell Owens. Rasheed Wallace. These athletes help define sporting virtue by playing opposite to our heroes. They give coaches a boogey man to point to when young athlete’s attitudes get the best of them.
I don’t believe for a second that Brock Lesnar is a terrible human being. But I also don’t believe that he’s just putting on a show. His pre-fight and in-ring antics are just aspects of his personality – insensitivity, egoism, and entitlement – amplified. He’s the Id at full volume, the grade school bully grown up and getting the last laugh. Lesnar makes the heavyweight division matter in a way that it didn’t before. Fans hate him and will buy every pay per view between now until kingdom come in the hopes that one of the good guys will knock him off his perch. His defeat will bring order back to the world and reaffirm the values of respect, honor, and humility and it will be their turn to gloat over him.
Brock Lesnar is a jerk – let’s enjoy it while it lasts.