I’ll be the first to admit that I was skeptical when the UFC announced the addition of a WWE star to their roster. It seemed like a slap in the face to any real mixed martial artist. How could this one dimensional fighter expect to compete in the Octagon? So on February 2, 2008, I sat back and watched able-bodied Frank Mir step into the cage to face the biggest opponent of his life, former pro-wrestler turned-fighter Brock Lesnar. I watched the fight unfold much like everyone anticipated—1:30 into the first round, Frank Mir submitted the highly touted newcomer.
Fast forward to UFC 116. Lesnar submitted a very game Shane Carwin, giving Carwin his first taste of defeat. After amassing wins over Randy Couture, Heath Herring, and avenging his only loss to Mir, Lesnar sits firmly on the heavyweight throne. It seems I misjudged him. It’s not that I ever had anything personal against the guy. By all accounts, he’s a wonderful person and quite frankly, I got a huge laugh after his famous “post-fight” speech. I just didn’t have faith in him as a fighter. Perhaps I was tainted by former organizations that bring inspectacles purely for ratings.
I began to question what a real mixed martial artist was anyway. When this sport first burst onto the scene in the U.S. with UFC 1, a real mixed martial artist was anyone who fought in the cage and called himself by that name. Today, a real fighter has a different pedigree. We still see guys coming from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, including karate, judo, BJJ, and wrestling, however, we think of the term “complete fighter” as a label that every fighter needs to carry.
Plain and simple, Lesnar is what MMA is all about. He’s a natural athlete, charismatic, has a tremendous wrestling background, and most importantly has shown the ability to grow. I highly doubt anyone out there can disagree that the Lesnar we saw last month is not the same Lesnar who fought in K-1’s Heroes in 2007. Lesnar has improved his cardio, hands, defense, and—as Shane Carwin can attest—submissions.
After a long stint in the hospital with a very bleak outlook, Lesnar was able to get back in the saddle and prove to his fans and haters alike that he not only deserves to be in the UFC, but also that he really is the number one heavyweight in the world. The scary thought is that he is only going to get better. I can’t imagine a Brock Lesnar with five or six more years of boxing and BJJ. If he is an animal now, what will he become in the future?
To me, a real mixed martial artist is someone who wants it more than his opponent; someone who trains regardless of the sacrifices incurred; someone who cannot stomach the thought of losing; someone like Brock Lesnar. It’s time to give Lesnar his due. Lesnar fan for life.