The MMA Education of Brock Lesnar

By Jake Rossen May 30, 2007
Using the antiquated body mass index provided by our good friends in Washington D.C., we can make absolutely certain of one fact: Brock Lesnar (Pictures) is a morbidly obese individual.

Fluctuating between 265-300 pounds, the former collegiate wrestling champion's body mass seems ridiculously disproportionate to his 6' 2" frame, more suited to perpetual rotation at a fast food drive-thru than any athletic endeavor.

That's the story on paper. In reality, Lesnar is a mammoth human being, layered in enough muscle to put Hasbro's sculpting department to shame.

Unlike most men of his dimensions, his physique is functional: as a high school senior, he amassed a 33-0 record on the mat; in 2000, he placed first in the NCAA Wrestling Championships; in four years of college, he lost five bouts and won 106.

He is, in short, a very scary man.

With a reputed mean streak and a deep-sea diver classification in the waters of grappling, Lesnar seemed a good fit for MMA, where hard-nosed wrestlers had dominated. Unfortunately, his graduation in 2000 ran parallel to a poor year for the sport, with limited exposure on television and weak crowds stateside.

Professional wrestling courted Lesnar … understandably eager to inflate the traditionally empty bank account of collegiate grapplers, he listened.

To the dismay of fight fans, Lesnar became a sentient action figure, competing in faux matches that had more in common with cartoons than professional sports. He traveled the world for three years, playing the Bearded Lady to Vince McMahon's P.T. Barnum, before realizing that he hated it, hated the schedule and hated the theatrics.

And then Lesnar simply quit.

There was the attempt at playing professional football, though no one since Vince Papale had managed to walk off the street and into the league. (Lesnar had never played college ball, making his NFL hopes suspect at best.) There were the lawsuits against WWE, which had hoped to tie up Lesnar in a no-compete clause through 2010. (He eventually extricated himself from the agreement.)

Nearing 30, Lesnar was approaching that valuable window of physical opportunity for a combat artist, where a career that starts at 35 is likely not going to be a career that lasts very long.

So it comes down to Saturday, where, after roughly one year of training, Lesnar will strap on four-ounce gloves and attempt to spike Min Soo Kim (Pictures) -- who, rumor has it, has replaced Hong-Man Choi in the "Dynamite USA!!" main event -- through the mat. No points are given for a pin, and no script is memorized before the party.

And with a win or a loss comes a realization: either we'll witness the beginning of a tyrannical heavyweight legacy, or we'll be shaking our head at yet another alleged tough guy who couldn't hack the peerless rigors of an MMA ring.

Is Lesnar the most credentialed wrestler to compete in the game? Not hardly. Kevin Jackson, Kenny Monday, and Matt Lindland (Pictures) all have Olympic medals in their display cases. Is he the most athletic? Doubtful. Egypt's Karam Ibrahim (Pictures) has more fast-twitch muscle fibers than an African safari.

But what Lesnar does have is the kind of complete physicality that anyone in any athletic pursuit should envy: despite his bulk, he's incredibly quick. (Using a highly complex mathematical formula, we can deduce that "speed + power" = "hospitalization.") And though strikes make greater demands on the cardiovascular system, Lesnar's lungs seem up to the challenge of oxygenating his considerable muscle mass.

There was a time when that was all a wrestler needed to dominate. Mark Coleman (Pictures), a fellow collegiate champion, came into the UFC in 1996 and ran roughshod over his opponents, to the point where you actually began pitying the next one; Kevin Randleman (Pictures) was a multi-time UFC champ because no one could reverse his positional control; and Randy Couture (Pictures) … well, hell, it's easier to recommend you read his forthcoming autobio for that story.

But because MMA's landscape is under consistent tectonic shift, wrestlers who remain wrestlers are no longer the buzz saws of the genre. Strikers learned how to defend a takedown, and promoters learned that the glorified dry-humping that some grapplers engaged in on the mats were anathema to fans.

If you're a wrestler, you'd better know how to punch. And if you're a puncher, you'd better know how to wrestle. That's the mandate for 2007.

We don't know if Lesnar can punch. We don't know if he can take a punch. (Though that bull neck shouldn't hurt the cause.) We don't know how formidable his ground striking is, and we don't know if he can defend submissions, or apply them.

The training is more than respectable: Lesnar started out spending time with Pat Miletich (Pictures), who is arguably the most effective coach in the game today, the same Miletich who took another farm boy in Matt Hughes (Pictures) and turned him into the most decorated welterweight of all time.

Greg Nelson then settled in as Lesnar's primary coach; his protégé, Sean Sherk (Pictures), became the UFC's lightweight champion.

The pedigree is impressive and indicates that Lesnar understands he's a ball of clay at this point, mostly potential and no real work of art. But how effective Kim is going to be in sculpting him remains to be seen.

Kim presents with a far different approach than what Lesnar had been training for in Choi, a gigantic South Korean kickboxer with a background in modified wrestling. An Olympic silver medal judoka during the 1996 Atlanta Games, Kim will happily engage Lesnar in the clinch.

In the wrestler's favor is the fact that Kim is, to put it mildly, a wet washcloth of an MMA fighter, with a 2-5 record and no significant wins to his credit. Against strikers, he's been knocked out four times. Against reformed pro wrestler Sean O'Haire, he pulled off a submission win. (O'Haire is 1-2 in the sport; Kim's other submission victim, Yoshihisa Yamamoto (Pictures), is 6-16.)

He's bulbous, with the physique of an athlete who enjoys his cheat meal on a daily, rather than weekly, basis. Completely ineffectual on his feet, he doesn't like being in the pocket: against Mighty Mo, he was positively bashful, keeping his distance before kissing canvas.

It's obvious that a fight between Lesnar and the unheralded South Korean won't pack the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, but K-1, mindful of financial support from Asian TV networks, needs Kim's ethnicity. And Lesnar, being a debuting MMA athlete, needs to cut his teeth with a pillow fight rather than a gunfight.

But a punch to the face is a punch to the face, and Kim has the benefit of being a ring veteran.

The closest approximation to this bout in terms of experience and style is a 2004 clash between Olympic wrestler Rulon Gardner and judoka Hidehiko Yoshida (Pictures). While Yoshida had logged plenty of time in the PRIDE ring, Gardner was making his MMA debut. The rookie battered Yoshida from ring post to ring post, laying heavy hands and imposing his will when it went to the ground. He won a decision.

Lesnar would certainly enjoy a similar outcome; beholden to the erratic and obtuse K-1 for only one bout, an impressive win would leave him open for generous offers from the UFC, Pro Elite, and other suitors. The elephant in the room is undoubtedly Kurt Angle, whose rivalry with Lesnar from their WWE days would make for explosive box office in a reality setting.

"I humbled him," Angle told Real Fighter magazine of their grappling contest behind closed doors. "Everybody knew who the man was."

Imagine that kind of talk from both men for months on end, and you can understand the kind of business a showdown would generate.

Future plans aside, the idea that a decorated wrestler with a desire to compete and the most complete athletic tools of any heavyweight fighter to date should be enough to bait observers into seeing what the "Next Big Thing" can do, regardless of their distaste for his prior vocation.

As for the outcome? Common sense gives the advantage to the bigger, stronger grappler, but that's the appeal of this bout: no one really knows what Lesnar has to offer. And that ignorance breeds a certain kind of suspense among fans, one that recalls the single-discipline ninjas and death-touch practitioners in the early days of the Octagon.

Lesnar may be turn out to be a mediocre mixed martial artist, but he possesses something that no amount of training, diet, or drills can teach: he's a charismatic presence that people will pay to see, an enigma that piques curiosity.

He is, in short, an attraction -- even if the FDA thinks he could drop a few pounds.

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