Cain Velasquez (right): Sherdog.com
Brock Lesnar’s fame prior to entering the UFC brought him a considerable amount of money and opportunity. It also brought some unrealistic expectations for a man with only six professional fights to his name.
Lesnar, 4-1 since his 2008 UFC debut, looked uncomfortable from the outset against contender Cain Velasquez on Saturday, getting into desperate punching exchanges and eventually suffering damage to the point that referee Herb Dean stopped the bout. His sole trump card -- takedown to position to landing molar-rattling punches -- was canceled the minute Velasquez popped up within seconds of being grounded. Taking the fight as sole proof, Lesnar’s is a reputation in search of a complete skill set.
Inexperience isn’t the only explanation: Velasquez only had eight fights himself. But there’s a world of difference between hosting a camp catered exclusively to you (Lesnar) and having the in-and-out daily camaraderie of a high-level gym (like Velasquez’s AKA) offering constant emotional and physical support. Lesnar has insulated himself from the sport and most of the world in his Minnesota compound. Being a misanthrope may seem like a good base for a career that involves harming people, but not when it also requires team energy and direction.
There was tremendous crowd reaction to Velasquez, but whether that was directed at his win or at the sheer adrenaline dump of seeing someone of Lesnar’s proportions beaten down is an open issue. Maybe they were simply rabid at the sight of a sport fight turning into a fight-fight: Lesnar and Velasquez dug into each other like they were in a parking lot.
Lesnar will be fine; there are plenty of fighters that can’t stop his takedown in the division, and he’ll win more than he loses. Velasquez, who is every bit as good as his coaches say, is a poor standard to hold yourself to. He’ll make a great champion for the UFC.
Next for Velasquez: Junior dos Santos, and another serious test of his chin.
Next for Lesnar: Tuning up his striking with a slightly less mobile threat in Gabriel Gonzaga; continuing a rivalry with Frank Mir.
Next for Jake Shields: Doing more to prove he belongs in the cage with Georges St. Pierre.
Next for Matt Hamill: Stephan Bonnar.
Does Shields deserve a title shot?
If he does, it won’t be because of what happened Saturday. Shields, who has spent virtually his entire career outside of the UFC, hasn’t lost in six years and has an impressive record against talented competition. But against Martin Kampmann, he looked sluggish from a reportedly tough weight cut and went from violent to just getting the job done inside of a round. Shields’s overall accomplishments probably warrant a meeting with Georges St. Pierre, but fans unfamiliar with that history will wonder what they’re missing.
Is Tito Ortiz expendable?
Tito Ortiz, 35 but probably a few years older in terms of ring wear, looked better than he had in years against Matt Hamill -- but it wasn’t enough to prevent Hamill from taking him down and landing grinding elbows en route to a decision. (In fight irony terms, that’s just a level below Gabriel Gonzaga’s high kick on Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic)
Ortiz hasn’t won since 2006, a stretch of time that becomes less tragic only when you consider his inactivity: he’s had only five fights in four years. He wasn’t mauled or stopped in any of them, but if the UFC is really about results, he’s seen enough.
Can Lesnar still draw?
There’s no question that a huge part of Lesnar’s appeal is the marriage between his ego and his will: when a guy boasts about going out and dominating, and then does exactly that, it’s impressive.
When he appears to be a genetic experiment and then loses 10 of the past 12 minutes he’s spent in the cage, audiences begin to see the strings.
Lesnar is not the type to enjoy being the nail, and if another fight ends in a loss, he will probably consider his MMA career concluded. But UFC fans have been coached to understand that when the best consistently fight one another, no one’s record is going to be perfect.
Will the heavyweight title continue to get germs?
Get this: in the same span of time that Anderson Silva won and has continued to retain his middleweight title, the heavyweight belt has changed hands three times -- more, if you count the confusing interim title scenario created by Randy Couture’s exit. If it’s the most prestigious title in combat sports, it’s because it’s one of the hardest to maintain a hold on.
Velasquez is undefeated and has proven skills across a variety of situations: he outwrestled the mammoth Lesnar, stood up to a very credible kickboxer in Cheick Kongo, and has a reputation for tireless output. While that makes him harder to beat, it doesn’t make him unbeatable. Dos Santos is arguably the better striker; Shane Carwin could down anyone on any given day with those ham fists; Alistair Overeem is hovering around as a scary (but largely unproven) threat. If Velasquez can put together any kind of run, it’ll be one of the bigger accomplishments in MMA.
• In a bizarre two-minute video clip Ariel Helwani shot for MMAFighting.com, WWE wrestler Mark Calloway (“the Undertaker”) was seen antagonizing Brock Lesnar as Lesnar walked past them following his second MMA loss. “You wanna do it?” Calloway said. (Lesnar just continued walking.) When wrestlers beef in locker rooms, it’s probably real. When they do it in front a conveniently-present camera, it’s a platter of crap. If Lesnar would like to return to pro wrestling, by all means, but please leave the bad acting to the Baldwins.
• Paulo Thiago and Diego Sanchez split $140,000 for Fight of the Night, a deserved bonus and a nice return to form for Sanchez, who looked bad in his last, a loss to John Hathaway. Velasquez got Knockout of the Night
• Brendan Schaub, who defeated Gabriel Gonzaga, volunteered himself for a match with Mir. Good fight, but Mir’s immediate future is probably a rematch with Lesnar, which makes sense only because both of them can talk casual fans into buying expensive tickets
• Dana White indicated Ortiz might be gone following his loss to Hamill, the fourth since 2006. If that happens, he’ll have a heck of a time getting his salary matched anywhere else.