Competition Draws Lesnar to MMA

By Greg Savage Feb 1, 2008
Brock Lesnar (Pictures) is a special kind of athlete. That is a given.

But is he ready to step into the big leagues of mixed martial arts in only his second outing? That remains to be seen, at least until Saturday, when he climbs into the fabled Octagon to face former UFC champion Frank Mir (Pictures).

The 2000 NCAA wrestling champion from the University of Minnesota is best known for his antics inside the world of professional wrestling. Yet it is the urge to compete -- something Lesnar had always quenched via amateur wrestling -- that has prompted the former WWE champion's foray into the world of MMA.

Following his successful run as an amateur, Lesnar jumped at an opportunity to make a living, which isn't always easy for kids coming out of college wrestling programs. Although he admired MMA from a distance, it just was not something he could afford to do right out of college no matter how much he wanted to try.

"When I got out of college and when I won my NCAA title, I didn't have a lot of options," the heavyweight told reporters. "There are not a lot of options for an amateur wrestler. You can go to the Olympics or you can become a coach. The bottom line was [WWE owner Vince McMahon] had $250,000 waiting for me and a contract on the table. I was 21 years old and I didn't have a pot to piss in. Come on, you make the decision. I made the decision to try and become a pro wrestler."

The fame and fortune Lesnar, now 30, amassed as a headliner for the biggest pro wrestling company in the world was nice, but it could not extinguish his burning desire to match his athletic ability against other sportsmen.

His first quest to reignite his competitive spirit after leaving pro wrestling came in a tryout with the NFL's Minnesota Vikings in 2004. Despite showing promise, Lesnar turned down a chance to play in the NFL's European developmental league.

By 2006 the man billed as "The Next Big Thing" had his sights set on MMA. Rumors began to circulate that Lesnar was making his rounds, visiting some of the best trainers the sport has to offer. He spent time in Iowa with Pat Miletich (Pictures) and visited Royce Gracie (Pictures) in California before settling in with Greg Nelson back in Minnesota.

As is the case for just about everyone who trains in one discipline or another, there comes a time when you finally have to test yourself. For Lesnar that day came in June of last year when he headlined K-1 "Dynamite USA" against Korean fighter Min Soo Kim (Pictures) (4-6-0). Lesnar brutalized his overmatched foe with strikes from the top position in just 69 seconds.

Fast-forward eight months. Now Lesnar will have a much higher-caliber opponent in Mir -- a masterful jiu-jitsu player who will not be out of his element should his back hit the canvas for any length of time.

As a former UFC champion, Mir (10-3-0) will be a legitimate test. In what amounts to a barometer of sorts for his young MMA career, Lesnar is adamant he has put in the work to establish himself as a force in the UFC heavyweight division. He also understands that he will be under a microscope not only in MMA circles but mainstream as well.

"I'm tagged as a professional wrestler," said the UFC newcomer. "People forget that I was an amateur wrestler for 18 years and competed at a high level. I got a lot to lose in this, you know, and so does Frank. This is my road to hopefully becoming UFC heavyweight champion. So, for me, I'm confident in my trainers and my training partners, and we're going to go out there and try to win this fight."

In order to fulfill his enormous potential, Lesnar also realized he would have to fill in the holes in his game.

"In this sport, I knew I had to be well rounded, so my wrestling kind of had to take a backseat because it is one of those things that I was very good at," he said. "So I wanted to become very comfortable with my striking game and on the ground as well. That's what we have been focusing on is my hands and the ground game."

Those are skills he may very well have to draw on should he find himself in the grasp of one of Mir's vaunted submissions. Will he be ready for the task at hand?

"I hope so," Lesnar said. "I would like to think that. Obviously, this is a true test for me. I'm looking forward to the challenge."

He doesn't see the pre-fight jitters being a problem after his extensive history of competing under the bright lights, and his expectations for how the fight will play out reflect his desire to just compete.

"For me, I don't have to feel comfortable," Lesnar declared. "Competition is in my blood, and I've done it for a number of years whether it's on a wrestling mat, in a ring or in an Octagon. It's going to be no different when the door closes on the Octagon. It's me and one other man out there. I've been in those positions before. … I'm going to be very comfortable.

"Hopefully we are going to get in there and go after each other. I'm not going out there to make anybody happy but myself. I'm going to do the best that I can do."

The fact that Lesnar is the closest thing to a true crossover star the UFC has brought in looms large over this event. There has been a full-fledged marketing effort aimed toward professional wrestling fans that have not looked seriously at MMA. Does the pressure of being the biggest star to grace the UFC cage weigh on Lesnar?

"For me, being a big star is not what this is all about," he said. "I'm back competing again and getting into the fight game. I'm just excited to be a part of the UFC. We'll see what happens."

One of the things that distinguish Lesnar from nearly all MMA fighters is the fact that he is already a wealthy man. He does not have to do this to get by. He has voluntarily decided to pursue what he sees as the ultimate test of his skills.

"Since I was 5 years old, I've been a competitor," Lesnar said. "If it came down to tag or whatever, it's in your blood. Some guys enjoy reading books and some guys enjoy going out and playing football or wrestling. It's in your blood. Obviously, I feel good and blessed that I'm able to be a part of the MMA world."
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