Brock Lesnar’s MMA career is one of the more fascinating and unpredictable eight fight tenures in the sport you may ever see. In just eight fights he secured his status as one of the biggest draws the industry has had to date. In just eight fights he changed the opinions of fans and analysts on what a performer from the realm of pro-wrestling can do, when outcomes of fights weren’t predetermined. In just eight fights Lesnar showed that, while his amateur wrestling credentials gave him a base to build off of, his freakish athleticism propelled him to the top of his division faster than any pundit of MMA ever imagined.
On Saturday night Lesnar makes his return to the octagon against Mark Hunt, in his ninth fight. But first, let’s look at four of his previous eight fights, and the uncanny start this man had to his career.
Opponent One: Min Soo Kim
When looking at this fight, two industry terms from professional wrestling come to mind: “squash match” and “jobber.” A squash match is a bout where one of the performers is meant to look completely out-classed against his far superior opponent. Which perfectly segues into what a jobber is. A jobber is the aforementioned out-classed individual, who is out there to make his opponent look like a million bucks. This is not meant to demoralize Kim and his career. But with a record of 3-7 in his four years in the sport, he was a fighter that was often there to elevate his opponent.
However, that doesn’t make things easy. It is a real fight. And at the time, Kim had already fought seven times and faced luminaries of the industry such as Ray Sefo, Semmy Schilt and Don Frye. While he was handily beaten in those fights, he still had the guts to get in there and the experience of being matched up with talented pugilists. Good advantages against someone in their first bout, who didn’t even have experience in the amateur ranks to lean on. With all that said, the superior agility and brute force of Lesnar was just too much. The takedown was immediate and Lesnar earned a submission win (via punches) at 1:09 of the first round. It was the second fastest loss in Kim’s career.
Opponent Two: Frank Mir
This is where Lesnar’s career becomes remarkable. The absurdity of this match-making would be fodder for mocking tweets and posts all over social media today. But when it came to “The Next Big Thing,” his sporting life has always been about great challenges. And facing a former UFC Heavyweight Champion in just his second fight, was as big a challenge as he had ever had.
But when it came to “The Next Big Thing,” his sporting life has always been about great challenges.
At this point in his career, Mir was at one of his many crossroads. He had returned two years prior from a horrific motorcycle accident that almost took away his livelihood. But once he came back he went 2-2 and was viewed as a diminished fighter following his two-year recovery. The UFC most likely was banking on either maximizing what they assumed would be a very short stay for Lesnar in the company, or build off of his name recognition if he somehow pulled off the unthinkable.
He did not win. But he did surprise fans and experts of the sport with a very dominant performance in defeat. It was a classic “moral victory” experience for Lesnar. While the fight took place mostly on the ground, the NCAA Division I champion held his own despite grappling with one of the very best Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioners the sport has ever seen. He beat up Mir and displayed a strong top-game. It took the intervention of referee Steve Mazzagatti, and a questionable one point deduction for blows to the back of the head, to stop the bombardment of blows Mir was sustaining.
After some time to gather himself, and a newbie mistake by Lesnar to stand-up near Mir’s open guard, the former champion vined his legs between Lesnar’s and locked up a kneebar for the submission victory.
Opponent Three: Heath Herring
This was relatively sound match-making for the UFC. Well, as sound as it can be for a fighter in his third professional bout. Herring was a grizzled veteran of wars in Pride FC against stars like Gary Goodridge, Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera and Igor Vovchanchyn. Yet “The Texas Crazy Horse” was never viewed as a strong wrestler, despite his 16 submission wins. It seemed perfectly set-up to get Lesnar a safe win via wrestling and ground-and-pound.
Which is what Lesnar eventually did. Though, his wrestling was enhanced after the big man actually floored the much more experienced striker with a screaming overhand right that has been used in a multitude of highlight videos ever since. Lesnar showed a new wrinkle in his game. He actually could strike some. The respect in the industry was starting to grow after a dominant unanimous win for the South Dakota native.
Fun fact: Lesnar ended up being Herring’s final opponent in a very solid 32-fight career.
Opponent Four: Randy Couture
Okay, this fight really didn’t make a lot of sense at the time. It was a total money grab to try and get Lesnar into a major fight and hope the PPV numbers made up for any real competitive chance he should have had. After Couture returned from his hiatus from the company, due to a desire to fight Fedor Emelianenko, the UFC put together an unofficial heavyweight tournament featuring Lesnar vs. Couture (the current Heavyweight Champion) and Mir vs. Noguiera (in an interim-title match). The winner would become the undisputed champion.
At this time Couture was at the height of his Captain America powers, coming off of wins against Tim Sylvia and Gabriel Gonzaga. He was a living legend and one of only two men in UFC history to ever hold titles in two divisions. He was 44-years-old and some how aging like the finest wine you had ever tasted. How could a fighter–albeit physically gifted–with three fights under his belt, and still developing striking, stand a chance against the master strategist that was “The Natural?”
Not only did Lesnar win, he looked outstanding at times doing it.
Not only did Lesnar win, he looked outstanding at times doing it. He was able to secure at takedown on Couture, a prominent grappler in his own right, using his monster horse-power. His size, speed and length were a difficult problem for the legend to solve. It all came to a conclusion when Lesnar unfurled a big right hand and fell the champion. After a barrage of hammer fists a new UFC Heavyweight Champion was crowned and Lesnar had laid claim to being the baddest man on the planet.
In just four fights Lesnar was at the pinnacle of his new vocation. He was a world champion and one of the biggest stars in an industry that looked at his entrance into it with disapproval.
In part II of this story we look at the next four fights of Lesnar’s odyssey in the sport. And how it took an enemy from within to slow down the fighting force he had grown to become.