Brock Lesnar if nothing else showed the Ultimate Fighting Championship what was possible.
The hulking Webster, South Dakota, native parlayed his superstardom in World Wrestling Entertainment into an extended run as MMA’s biggest box-office draw, as he cut down legends, captured the UFC heavyweight championship, broke records on pay-per-view and made millions in prize money. Though Lesnar’s stay in mixed martial arts was brief -- he fought just nine times -- and was interrupted by a life-threatening bout with diverticulitis, no one can deny the impression he made. Now 39, he returned to a part-time gig with the WWE after his victory over Mark Hunt at UFC 200 was overturned and changed to a no-contest in light of a positive test for clomiphene. It appears as though Lesnar has fought his last fight inside the Octagon.
In a career comprised almost entirely of defining moments, here are five that stand out:
1. A Slice of Humble Pie
A former NCAA wrestling champion at the University of Minnesota, Lesnar made his professional MMA debut under the K-1 banner in June 2007 and struck Olympic silver medalist Min Soo Kim into submission in just 69 seconds at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Soon after, he signed with the UFC. Lesnar was booked opposite former champion Frank Mir in the UFC 81 co-main event on Feb. 2, 2008 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. Mir was not intimidated by the 6-foot-3, 265-pound behemoth. He yielded an early takedown, weathered Lesnar’s considerable assaults from top position and exploited his inexperience. Mir caught a kneebar as the monstrous South Dakotan hovered over him and wrenched the leg for the tapout. It would not be the last time the two men saw each other in the cage.
2. King of the Mountain
A legend stood between Lesnar and the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight title, as he squared off with Randy Couture in the UFC 91 headliner on Nov. 15, 2008 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Couture held his own and leaned on his massive advantage in the experience department early on, forcing the challenger to work for takedowns while punching effectively when breaking free from exchanges in the clinch. The battle spilled into a second round, where Couture opened a cut near Lesnar’s eye with a clean right hand. Soon after, Lesnar decked “The Natural” with a right hand of his own, pounced on the dazed future hall of famer and closed the deal with a violent volley of rapid-fire hammerfists. The sport’s biggest prize was suddenly draped over his shoulder.
3. Epic Beatdown
History did not repeat itself when Mir squared off with Lesnar in their hotly anticipated rematch at UFC 100 on July 11, 2009 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. A little more than a year after submitting to a kneebar from the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Lesnar exacted some revenge, as he retained the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight title by stopping Mir with second-round punches. Referee Herb Dean rescued Mir 1:48 into Round 2, the bloodied former champion’s face so damaged from the sustained beating that he was barely recognizable. Lesnar outlanded Mir 53-0 in total strikes in the first round, per FightMetric, and executed a takedown early in the second. From there, he picked the bones with ground-and-pound until Dean had seen enough. Lesnar’s subsequent post-fight tirade -- he fired a shot across the bow of chief UFC sponsor Bud Light before promising to mount his wife in celebration -- became the stuff of legend and only served to enhance his notoriety.
4. Show of Resolve
Lesnar cemented his place atop the heavyweight division with a dramatic come-from-behind submission victory against the previously unbeaten Shane Carwin in the UFC 116 main event on July 3, 2010 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The Rodrigo Medeiros protégé weathered a wicked barrage from Carwin in the first round, scored with a takedown in the second and trapped him in an arm-triangle choke that ended it 2:19 into Round 2. Carwin -- who had finished each of his first 12 foes in the first round -- had the champion in serious trouble inside the first five minutes, as he buckled him with a right hand, stuffed his first takedown attempt and had him reeling with a left uppercut. In his first appearance since an intestinal disorder nearly ended his career, Lesnar went down against the cage and absorbed heavy ground-and-pound from Carwin, who let loose with crushing rights and lefts from the top. Lesnar defended well, but the first round clearly belonged to his counterpart. However, Lesnar knew the Grudge Training Center rep was emptying his gas tank. Slowed by visible fatigue, Carwin lacked the steam he needed to finish what he started. Treading water as the second period opened, Carwin winked at the former World Wrestling Entertainment superstar but soon found himself on his back in the center of the Octagon. Lesnar set up the choke, moved to mount and tightened the submission from the side. Carwin defended at first, but Lesnar squeezed his massive arms around his neck and solicited the tapout.
5. Cain Proves Able
It can best be described in one word: annihilation. The undefeated Cain Velasquez tore through Lesnar in a career-defining performance, as he snatched the heavyweight championship in the UFC 121 headliner on Oct. 23, 2010 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. The end came 4:12 into Round 1, as Velasquez reached the mountaintop just nine fights into his professional career. Velasquez withstood an early attack from the massive former World Wrestling Entertainment superstar, kept his composure and picked his spots with power, precision and resolve. Lesnar took down the challenger twice in the first two minutes, and Velasquez answered the challenge seamlessly on both occasions. Velasquez scored with his own takedown 2:48 into the first period, took a dominant position in back of the champion and pummeled him with punches and hammerfists. From there, it was all downhill for Lesnar. He twice returned to his feet, only to be met with more strikes from the American Kickboxing Academy standout. A two-punch combination dropped the champion near the cage, and Velasquez pounced. Lesnar fought valiantly to defend himself but ate too many punches, forcing Dean to step in on his behalf. He rose to his feet beaten, battered and bloodied. Lesnar to this day bears a scar beneath his left eye, a permanent reminder of his gruesome encounter with an all-time great.