Brock Lesner

The first time Dana White met Brock Lesnar, he was transfixed. “He’s a monster,” the UFC president recalled in an interview with FIGHT! Magazine. “Seriously, the first time I ever met him, this is going to sound fucking weird, but the fi rst time I ever met him we sat down and we started talking, and all I kept staring at were his fucking ankles. This guy’s got the biggest ankles I’ve ever seen in my life. I mean he had these boots on, but his ankles were bigger than my arms. It’s crazy. He’s a big guy.”

 

Just how big in the UFC may depend on Frank Mir, the former heavyweight champion picked to be Lesnar’s first opponent in the Octagon.

The Lesnar-Mir showdown February 2 at UFC 81: Breaking Point in Las Vegas is the kind of fight that both pulls in and polarizes fans. At the best of times, mixed martial arts is hard to predict. Throw in a wild card like Lesnar, a former NCAA wrestling and WWE champion, and speculation skyrockets on what may happen when the cage door closes.

“There’s a huge question mark put on my back,” Lesnar acknowledges. “I think this next fight will prove exactly where I’m going to go in this sport. My first fight, I won in a minute and nine seconds and the guy was, you know, not the best of the opponents. Now we’re up against a guy such as Frank Mir, to really test Brock Lesnar and see what he’s got. “I’ve had a good reaction from people and they’re very excited to see what I can do.”

Even White wonders what will unfold. “It’s a mystery for me too. I’m excited to see. If Brock Lesnar backs up everything that he tells me, this guy might be the biggest superstar in mixed martial arts.”

One thing is clear. The 6’3”, 275-pound Lesnar is a load. “He’s a phenom,” said J Robinson, Lesnar’s wrestling coach at the University of Minnesota. “He’s just huge.”

By all accounts, Lesnar also is a quick study who relishes a challenge. Described as driven by people who know him, the 30-year-old is an MMA sponge, soaking up everything he can learn from coach Greg Nelson and his sparring partners at the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy on the outskirts of Minneapolis.

Unlike his short foray into pro football with the Minnesota Vikings, Lesnar is in his comfort zone at the gym. And unlike his nomadic time in pro wrestling, he is back home with friends and family. That means prized time with wife Rena – formerly known as the WWE’s Sable – and their young daughter. “It’s almost like I’m getting a second chance in my life,” Lesnar says contentedly.

There seems no downside to bringing Lesnar into the MMA fold. At the very least, the curiosity factor should help spike interest in UFC 81. And should Lesnar excel, White has another marketable heavyweight to add to Tim Sylvia, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Gabriel Gonzaga, and Cheick Kongo in a division that was thrown into limbo by Randy Couture’s exit.

Lesnar’s amateur wrestling credentials and the choice of a reputable opponent in the 28-year-old Mir also help remove any suggestion that his signing is a mere gimmick. Mir, for one, is looking at Lesnar as a dangerous foe. There’s nothing wrong with his eyesight, after all. And Mir knows that while Lesnar is a newcomer to the UFC, he has competed on big stages before. But Mir (10-3) still reckons he will enter the cage more relaxed.

“I’ve been in there more times,” said Mir, who is 8-3 in the UFC, in a career that dates back to UFC 34 in November 2001. “No matter what, you can practice something a thousand times, it’s the real thing that’s going to test you.

“Jiu-Jitsu guys will tell you the same thing,” he added. “They roll countless times with countless people inside a gym. But all of a sudden, they go to that first tournament, and they sign up and the guy they look at wants to break their arm or choke them out. It’s the same moves they’ve seen in practice, the same everything. But now instead of being able to roll for an hour straight, you’re rolling for three minutes and you feel your lungs constricting, your arm’s numb, the saliva leaves your mouth. So that’s the one factor he’s going to have to deal with. He’s had one MMA match against a so-so opponent, whereas I’ve been in there against some pretty dangerous individuals.”

White agrees that Mir won’t be fazed by the muscle-bound newcomer. “There’s a lot of intimidating guys in the UFC, and I don’t think that Frank Mir sees Brock Lesnar as one of them,” White said. “Frank Mir’s been in there with the baddest dudes in the world, you know.” White added. “He broke Tim Sylvia’s arm in half.”

But those in the Lesnar camp say the man known in pro wrestling circles as “The Next Big Thing” is up to the challenge and will turn heads in mixed martial arts. “I believe so,” said Marty Morgan, an assistant wrestling coach at the University of Minnesota, who serves as Lesnar’s conditioning coach. “Because I believe there are a lot of people in the mixed martial arts world that are almost hoping that he can’t adapt to the ground game, and I think they’ll be surprised by how quickly he’s learned and how much of a wide variety of fight game he has. And then I also think that I don’t know if people realize the intensity he brings into a competition.”

Nick “The Goat” Thompson has the bruises to prove it. The Bodog welterweight champion, who fights at 170 but walks around at 200, has trained with Lesnar in Minnesota. “I wish I wasn’t getting such an up-close view most of the time. He’s not a whole lot of fun to go with,” Thompson said. “He’s really obviously strong, as strong a heavyweight as you’re to find. But it’s not just his strength that’s really surprised me. It’s how quick he is. Most time you can find strong heavyweights, but they can’t move like little guys. You have the speed of little guys and the strength of a big guy, you put that together, and it’s not a whole lot of fun to go with him.”

First and foremost, Lesnar is blessed with a massive body. He weighed nine pounds nine ounces at birth, and while he started out a skinny kid, a love of food and the gym helped turn him into a behemoth. Today his jacket size is 54 to 56. His waist is 36, although he wears a bigger size because “my thighs tend to rub together.”

“He obviously has a huge upper body, very big legs, but what’s unique about him is it’s just not a big body, but everything’s well-defi ned,” said Nelson. “All his muscles are very well-defined, almost like a bodybuilder. But instead of just a builder, here’s a guy who can functionally use those muscles. He’s about ten percent body fat, so he’s pretty ripped all the time. It’s just hard to describe. He’s just a very broad, thick, fast, coordinated man.”

Nelson remembers one NCAA bout where Lesnar’s opponent shot on his leg, only to see Lesnar cartwheel out of it and take him down. “The guy’s massive and he can cartwheel and do all that stuff, so it’s pretty amazing.”

Lesnar’s amateur wrestling chops are well documented. His time in pro wrestling didn’t hurt either. “He was forced to do a lot of different things that he’d never dreamt of, like back flips off a rope and all the other stuff that he did,” Nelson said. “So now you come down to earth again and he’s able to apply his coordination to the moves that you need to accomplish in mixed martial arts, because now obviously the goals have changed a bit. It’s not just getting a guy on his back and holding him there, it’s getting there through punches, kicks, knees, and all those things. So he’s been really using what he has naturally been given as a really good athlete. And the things that he’s learned over time, we’re just kind of applying and building upon his base that he’s already developed.”

While Nelson works on technique, Morgan looks after conditioning. Next to the Mixed

Martial Arts Academy is the Athletic Performance Institute, which comes complete with tractor tires, sledgehammers, and ropes. “They actually call it caveman training,” said Morgan, a former NCAA wrestling champion in his own right. “It’s great and it’s made for him.”

Condition was not a factor in Lesnar’s MMA debut, against former Olympic judo silver medalist Min Soo Kim at a K-1 Hero’s event in June. Lesnar took his opponent down within ten seconds, smothered him and then passed guard and mounted him. The overmatched South Korean quickly tapped out. “Once he gets you full mount, he’s awful hard to move,” Morgan notes.

Lesnar, who estimates he has been training in MMA for eighteen months to two years, says his wrestling background has made for a comfortable transition to MMA. “I mean I’d say that’s a good fifty percent of it, learning how to handle and control another person,” Lesnar said. “Then you add striking and then you add submissions and elbows and knees and legs. I’ve got the foundation; all we’re doing is just trying to build a powerhouse.”

Striking is new to Lesnar. As is grappling, although he says he expected wrestling and submission wrestling to be similar. Thompson says striking is probably the weakest part of Lesnar’s game. But he found out firsthand about Lesnar’s raw power when he subbed for a missing sparring partner early on in Lesnar’s training. “I went to throw a jab, and he threw a jab that was faster than mine and I thought ‘Ok, I’m in some trouble here,’” Thompson recalled. “Then he threw a hook and I covered the hook fully and it still sent me halfway across the ring. Now I know I’m in a lot of trouble.”

So Thompson changed tactics, going for a takedown. He was rewarded with what he thought was a knee to the back of the head, a no-no in practice. An irate Thompson got up yelling, only to quiet down when Nelson informed him the offending blow was not a knee, “just a little paw from him.”

“He hits so hard, and he’s so quick when he does it that even though his technique – and I know it’s progressing – is not where I’d like to see it, he hits so hard that it compensates for it,” Thompson said.

Nelson says striking has come naturally to Lesnar. “He looks like he’d be a guy that would be really big and bound up because of his musculature. But the fact is, he’s very loose with his punches and when he sets his mind on pinpointing his punches on the target when he’s sparring, he can really lay it down,” he explained.

“And then obviously his ability in training to learn new combinations and to hit and move, move and hit. All those things are coming really easily. Like I said, I’ve had other guys who have been really muscular and they’re like so bound up, they can hardly move. But he’s very different from that. He’s got loose shoulders, he can really let those punches whip. And now he’s got that weight behind it. So he’s going to be very hard to deal with on his feet as well. And that’s something that’s very big in MMA.”

As for Jiu-Jitsu, Nelson has been working on building Lesnar’s awareness in recognizing that a submission is coming so it can be prevented. Lesnar has been working with and without a gi and has some submissions of his own, Nelson said. “We’re not expecting him to do submissions when he’s out there, but we want to know that he has the ability to not only apply them but to see when they’re coming. That’s one of those things that when you work them and drill them, you see how they’re done, so all of a sudden when you feel something up, here comes an armbar or there’s a triangle or he’s trying to sweep me and get an ankle, whatever the situation might be.”

Nelson has been impressed by Lesnar’s commitment to studying submissions, saying his fighter has been looking to use technique rather than strength to escape dangerous situations in the gym. “Because he knows that if he has someone that’s as big and as well versed in submissions as Frank Mir on his arm, then he just can’t crunch him up into a ball, lift him off, and throw him. It’s not going to happen. He’s got to learn how to escape. He definitely really plays that game smart, he does well at that.”

Mir, a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu, will test just how well Lesnar has absorbed that. But he believes whatever the game plan, Lesnar will be all about wrestling. “No matter what, even if he was a phenom at striking, he’s only had about a year or two to figure out Jiu-Jitsu, and a year or two to figure out striking,” Mir said. “He has eighteen years of wrestling. I don’t care how comfortable he feels, everybody reverts back to what they do best, especially when you get a little bit tired, your heart rate elevates, you get hit, you feel endangered, you revert back to what you feel most comfortable with.”

While Lesnar is new to martial arts, Mir grew up with it. His parents took up martial arts together while dating in high school and his father went on to run a karate school. Mir argues Lesnar’s wrestling may not be enough to counter those years of Jiu-Jitsu.

“[In] wrestling, the whole idea is to control someone’s core, get in on their hips, and lock up their body. Just controlling someone on the ground doesn’t necessarily mean anything in MMA. You can wrap your arms around my waist all you want, but then all of a sudden you’re getting your arm broken. You’ve got to learn to let go and stay safe and keep your limbs in. It’s a little bit different; you’ve got to make adjustments. Plus it’s going to be hard for him to make those adjustments because there’s not really that many guys who weigh 260 that are able to apply Jiu-Jitsu moves the way I can. So at the same time where it’s tough to find big strong wrestlers to work with, I think it’s even a smaller group of guys that are built like I am that move the way I do now that apply Jiu-Jitsu moves.”

Nelson can attest that 250-pounders with black belts don’t grow on trees. Erik Paulson, a black belt who fights at middleweight or light heavyweight, has been helping with submissions and Nelson also looked at importing a former Mir camp member – whom he declined to identify – to help out.

In choosing Nelson as a mentor, Lesnar has more than a martial arts expert in his corner. He has an inspiration. Nelson is a two-time cancer survivor who has faced down far more than an opponent in a ring. Mir, meanwhile, brought in former Oklahoma State heavyweight Aaron Cudworth and invited former two-time NCAA champion wrestler Tommy Rowlands, now an assistant coach at Ohio State, to his camp.

Thompson thinks Lesnar can handle Mir, although he acknowledges that the former champion isn’t an ideal entry point into the UFC. “When I first heard it was Mir, [I thought] that’s not who I’d like to see as his first opponent, because his submissions are so good. But we’ve really been working with Brock on his submissions, he’s been in the camp for almost two years now, and I just don’t see anybody submitting Brock. Mir’s conditioning is always a question, and I think Brock on top of him for two or three minutes is really going to wear on him. So I think the first two or three minutes are going to be competitive, with Brock on top and Mir looking for submissions. I think after that Mir’s going to be in some trouble.”

Lesnar isn’t making predictions. But expect some fireworks. “Absolutely. We’re in there to fight. I’m not in there to sit in the back seat of the bus. I’m going to go out there and just try to dominate, just to try to control Frank, and to not allow him to do any damage to me,” he added. “I don’t know how the fight will finish, I have no idea. We’re working on a lot of things to end this fight rather quickly and hopefully that’s the outcome.”

Lesnar has faced a stiff learning curve. Whether he has had enough time to take it all in will unfold February 2 in Sin City. “I don’t know if he can make up for it against a guy like Frank Mir, but from what I’m hearing, from people in this industry whom I respect, they’re saying he’s really good,” White said. Mir knows a win will vault him back into the top drawer of heavyweights. He has already beaten the odds by resuming his fi ghting career after a horrific motorcycle crash in September 2004. Mir’s comeback has been up and down, but he impressed in a 77-second submission of Antoni Hardonk at UFC 74 in August.

Mir admits he made his comeback from the crash too soon, at UFC 57 in February 2006, when he lost by TKO to Marcio Cruz. He has since beaten Dan Christison and Hardonk, losing to Brandon “The Truth” Vera. At 6’3” and 255 pounds, Mir is a big man himself (jacket size 52 and waist 38, but only because he likes his pants baggy). But when not on his game, he appears boxy and immobile, something he blames on the aftermath of the crash.

“Before when I was rolling around, every time something hurt, I just avoided that area. Then it was evident in my fights. It wasn’t like you can not do it in training and all of a sudden fight day now I’m expected to perform at a certain level. That’s not how the human body works. Now it [the pain] is completely gone.” Against Hardonk, Mir says he felt “athletic” again.

“In the past I kind of lacked that ability to come in and close the distance safely between anybody. And then once we got to the ground, I actually felt my dexterity back in my legs and stuff, to be able to move around and get my leg over his head for the finishes and stuff.”

Vera took advantage of Mir’s inability to close, punishing him with knees and punches. Others have taken advantage of Mir’s tendency to gas. Cruz, an accomplished Brazilian grappler, spoiled Mir’s comeback fight at UFC 57 in February 2006 when he took him down, controlled him, and pounded his face into a bloody pulp.

Lesnar has the brute force and wrestling skills to take Mir down. He has the size and technique to control him and the raw power to hurt. But if he leaves a limb dangling, Mir will make him pay.

In picking Mir for an opponent, White has chosen an articulate, personable ex-champion who sees this bout at a massive opportunity for both himself and the sport. “He’s so pumped up for this fight,” White said. “Like I said, Brock Lesnar isn’t a guy who’s coming in yet and instilling fear. He’s not like a Wanderlei coming over or a Shogun, a guy who’s got some serious credentials behind him, kicking people’s asses, you know. This guy came off the WWE; they look at him as an acrobat, an entertainer, or a wrestler. Frank Mir’s not afraid of that.

”Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic may have got a gimme in his UFC debut against Eddie Sanchez, but others entered the organization the hard way. Rua faced Forrest Griffin, and got beaten. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira got Heath Herring and had to rally from a knockdown.

Lesnar has no complaints with the choice of opponent. “That’s what I need to make a statement in this sport,” Lesnar said. “When I beat Frank Mir, then there’ll be some credibility along with my name in this sport.”

 

A look at how Brock Lesnar might fare against some other top heavyweights:

FEDOR EMELIANENKO

Despite recent inactivity (one fight in 2007) and a physique that screams, “bring me another pepperoni slice and crack open a cold one” compared to the chiseled Lesnar, Emelianenko has too many weapons for an MMA novice. He hits like a jackhammer and has the submissions to make his opponents pay for their mistakes. Advantage: Emelianenko.

RANDY COUTURE

Both Couture and Lesnar are accomplished wrestlers, but Couture’s arsenal is full to the brim after years of competing at the highest level. Plus, no one is smarter at preparing a game plan than “The Natural”. Just ask Tim Sylvia. But given Couture’s current status (in limbo) and his age (44), don’t expect to see this fight. Should he return, Couture would fight only at the top of the MMA food chain. Advantage: Couture.

ANDREI ARLOVSKI

The “Pit Bull” has been missing in action as of late, but UFC president Dana White says he will be back. And a fight with Lesnar would offer some zest to Arlovski’s return. It might not make for the most entertaining bout, with Arlovski flicking punches to keep the big man at bay, but if Lesnar could get through Arlovski’s defenses, it could turn into a nasty tussle on the ground. Still, Arlovski has the name to make this an interesting bout. Advantage: Arlovski.

MIRKO “CRO COP” FILIPOVIC

Cro Cop has been a bust in the UFC, but a Lesnar matchup might make sense if the Croatian elects to keep fighting. Cro Cop would want to keep the fight standing while Lesnar would look to get his opponent down to the ground where he could control him. A win over Cro Cop, which Cheick Kongo made look easy, would be a nice scalp for Lesnar. And such a bout might allow the UFC to squeeze a little more mileage out of Cro Cop while looking to advance Lesnar. Advantage: Lesnar

Copyright © 2013 FIGHT! Magazine | Contact Us