Brock Lesnar: Heel or Face?

Brock Lesnar

Brock Lesnar is the UFC’s heavyweight cash machine— a pay-per-view superstar-among-stars, who has been noticeably absent from the Octagon since he lost the Heavyweight Title to Cain Velasquez at UFC 121 on Oct. 23, 2010. Sure, we were teased with his appearance opposite Junior dos Santos on The Ultimate Fighter 13, only to experience a blend of shock, disappointment, and genuine concern when he regrettably announced that he had to deal with his second bout of diverticulitis and pull out of his UFC 131 fight with JDS. Now, with the help of a surgeon’s scalpel, proper rest, and a foot of unhealthy colon that got sent to the trash bin, one of the most intriguing and polarizing figures in mixed martial arts history is ready to step back in the cage on December 30 at UFC 141 where he’ll face former Strikeforce Heavyweight and K-1 Champion Alistair Overeem in the Dutch striker’s UFC debut.

Yes, Brock Lesnar is finally back. The question is, which Brock Lesnar? Fourteen months out of action after a fight career spanning just more than three years, ring rust, life-altering illness, surgery, a new lease on life, perhaps a new physique, and a big question concerning his striking all make you wonder what “The Demolition Man” will and won’t have to contend with later this month.

Physically, can we be honest here? The prime Lesnar that we saw toy with Heath Herring, mercilessly pound Frank Mir into the UFC 100 canvas, and take a beating from Shane Carwin in round one only to submit him in round two is a friggin’ beast. The combination of muscle mass, body-weight, athleticism, and power wresting was simply too much for most to handle. But therein lies the question: Will a post-surgery Lesnar walk in the cage upwards of 280 pounds in good overall condition or will he be more streamlined as a result of diverticulitis-induced dietary and lifestyle changes and not even have to cut weight to make the 265 pound limit? That lack of size and any corresponding strength could be disastrous for a power-centric fighter like Brock, while making it easier for the “Reem” and the rest of the heavyweight division to avoid takedowns and exploit the striking deficiencies that reared their ugly head in the Carwin and Velasquez fights.

And what about those striking deficiencies? Let’s be clear…Lesnar has a granite chin. Most humans couldn’t take 50 shots from Shane Carwin without their next of kin being notified, let alone get up and choke the guy out a few minutes later. But let’s be equally clear…Brock doesn’t respond well to getting punched in the face. If he did, Carwin probably wouldn’t have been able to hit him 50 times and the image of him almost cartwheeling backward may not be on Cain’s highlight reel. Top fighters and trainers tell me that you can learn to get hit and stay in the pocket, but you have to be willing to get hit—a lot—to acquire a taste for it. Has Brock gotten outside of his comfort zone and taken shot after shot in practice, or is he banking on his double-leg getting the job done? If it’s the latter, Overeem is the wrong guy to be thrown in the cage with. For whatever anyone may think about the dilution of K-1 talent resulting from the popularity of MMA, Alistair is a world-class striker with the credentials and record to prove it.

Last, but certainly not least, is the mental state of the Brock-Ness Monster. Alright, I’ll say it. I like my Brock nasty. Give me ornery, angry, I-don’t-know-what-the-hell-he’s-gonna-do-next Brock every time. He’s more intriguing, more watchable, and, yes, I believe a better fighter. The Brock who coached against Junior on TUF isn’t half the ratings magnet as the Brock who was breaking a door in his own gym on a UFC 100 Countdown show, watching Frank Mir foil his UFC debut. After overcoming the first bout with his illness, you couldn’t help but feel that Brock was just happy to be alive. He’s entitled to that. It would just be better if his chosen profession didn’t involve highly-skilled men trying to whip his ass in a cage. It’s never good when a
fighter feels like the outcome of his fight is less important because he’s just happy to be there. In fact, it’s a hazard.

Only time will tell which Brock we’ll get when they lock the cage on December 30. If the right Brock shows up, he could very well walk out as the next challenger for the UFC Heavyweight Championship belt that he once held. If the wrong Brock shows up, he could very well walk out of the cage and just keep walking, perhaps into a WWE ring where none of these issues matter.  

TUNE IN
Larry Pepe is the creator and host of Pro MMA Radio and the MMA Post Fight Show. He is also the author of the bodybuilding bestseller, The Precontest Bible.

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