Yesterday, I looked at Shane Carwin in the lead up to his UFC Heavyweight Title Unification match with Brock Lesnar. Today I'll be looking at the champion, Brock Lesnar.
6'3" 275 lbs., NCAA Division I champion in collegiate wrestling, as strong as a bull, but as quick as a cat. Brock Lesnar squares off with literally his biggest challenge yet in the undefeated Interim champion Shane Carwin on Saturday July 3rd at UFC 116. Can Brock deal with someone just as big and powerful as he is and use his speed and wrestling to fend off the challenger?
Brock Lesnar is a power puncher who uses his strikes to setup his takedowns. Lesnar doesn't favor himself to be a striker, so he doesn't expose himself to much danger on the feet. It should be noted that Brock has dropped each of his opponents with punches, so power is a factor.
- Stance - Brock Lesnar's stance has evolved. In his first fights, he had a textbook stance. He kept his hands up when within range and his chin is tucked. His base is solid and he stands at a correct angle. However, in Brock's last fight, he modified his stance. I don't know his reasoning for doing so. This new stance was not good. His legs were too wide and he was flat-footed. His right hand was up (perhaps a little low), but his left was out in a pawing motion, apparently to feel the range. When I analyze his fight on Thursday, you'll see where this can be trouble against the right opponent. Hopefully, this was a temporary thing for Lesnar. If not, there could be problems.
- Head Movement - Brock Lesnar has decent head movement. There's no side-to-side weaving, per se, but he has shown the ability to slip punches. He shows good front-to-back head movement in the avoidance of strikes, but an opponent with hand speed would be able to catch him with a shot or two. Brock, thus far, has had good "punch avoidance".
- Footwork - This is an area that Brock does well in. While his head movement is lacking, he is quick enough on the feet to avoid most strikes if his guard does not catch them. The biggest aspects of his footwork that he needs to work on are 1) side-to-side shuffling and 2) staying on the balls of his feet at all times. I've seen Brock in a flat-footed stance that will leave him open to counter punches.
- Versatility - Lesnar's variance in his striking attack is underrated. His arsenal includes punches, elbows, knees, and leg kicks and he has hurt his opponents with all of them. Brock's jab is poor. The couple of jabs he threw had no snap on them; he was better off throwing a straight. With Brock's mammoth reach advantage over most HWs, it should be an integral part of his game to learn a jab to keep his opponents out of striking range. A good jab will open up his combos. Brock also needs to throw more elbows and leg kicks. The one elbow he threw rocked his opponent and his powerful leg kicks will hurt his opponent's front leg forcing them to not lead it out there as much which will not allow them to defend his shot.
- Technique - Like I stated earlier, Brock's jab leaves much to be desired. The rest of his punches are passable. You can tell that he worked on technique when he throws punches. He uses his legs and base more when throwing punches and is able to generate more power. He still tends to drop that left hand a little bit when throwing the right and a good counter puncher can exploit that hole. His leg kicks, while strong, are technically bad. Lesnar keeps his leg stiff while throwing the kick and anyone versed in Muay-Thai will tell you, leave the leg limp, allow your hips to get the torque and chop down, creating a whipping effect that will increase the strength in your kicks while allowing you to sustain minimal damage. That will come with time and practice and is only a minor quibble.
- Chin - The big question mark. Or so it seems. This seems to be the question on everyone's mind. Can Brock take a punch? The answer to that question is "Yes....maybe." Lesnar has been hit with shots, we're all familiar with them. The question is whether he was "rocked" by them. Every shot that Lesnar ate did not change his game plan. He didn't stumble, nor was he put on the defensive, so in that aspect, yes Lesnar can take a punch. On the other hand, when Lesnar was hit with those shots, he neutralized his opponents and they were not able to capitalize on the perceived opening.
- Wrestling - Brock Lesnar is an NCAA Division I champion and a Division I runner up, so there's no denying he is an elite wrestler. We've seen his wrestling in action in all his fights. He's been able to take down everyone of his opponents in each of his fights, some multiple times. Lesnar has faced a world-class wrestler before and, though he had some problems, he was able to take him down as well. In that same fight, we saw Lesnar use his wrestling in reverse to avoid being taken down to his back and wall walk and get back to his feet. There are some things technically that he can do to improve his take down defense, but that will be discussed later when I analyze his fights on Thursday.
- Submissions - Brock tapped out to Frank Mir via kneebar. He stood up in the deadly guard of Mir and basically fed him his leg. Rookie mistake? Mental lapse? Sign of a lack of submission defense? That's a tough call to make. It was his first fight, but it was such a basic mistake that should have been covered in Jiu Jitsu 101. One could make the argument that Lesnar panicked and jumped into the submission once caught. Lesnar did show aptitude seconds earlier in rolling out of two armbars. As seen in those defended subs, Brock's power and quickness are a key attribute to have. With his strength, I don't think you'll be able to catch him in an armbar, especially from the bottom. On the offensive side, Brock has shown no aptitude for submissions. He had the back of Herring several times and did not even attempt to get hooks in. Does he not know how to apply submissions or is that just not in his game? We don't know.
- Top Control - Lesnar has been on top in all of his fights. Over the course of these fights we've seen his top game evolve. Lesnar controls his opponents well, but has made mistakes in a couple fights that allowed his opponents to get back to their feet (which I will document in-depth on Thursday). His latest fight, however, shows the evolution of his top game. With the help of Matty Morgan and BJJ World Champion Rodrido Medeiros, Lesnar has been able to develop his top game to establish total control of his opponent. Was that a temporary solution or a permanent fix?
Lesnar's clinch game is well-versed. His Muay-Thai plum is strong and he's able to deliver strong knees to the head and body. While his back is against the cage, he still has the ability to lean on his opponents, forcing them to carry his weight and fatiguing them while establishing defensive hooks to prevent a takedown or reverse the position. Even in the defensive, he's able to deliver strong knees to the legs and body when he creates space. While pushing his opponent against the cage, Lesnar leans on them to wear down the gas tank all while displaying a good acumen for Greco-Roman wrestling to try and establish the proper hooks to take his opponent down.
- Camp DeathClutch - Brock Lesnar's camp is top of the line. Why? Because it's literally Brock Lesnar's camp. Lesnar's money from the WWF has afforded him a luxury no one else can claim, the ability to train with the best, no expense spared. Train BJJ? Fly in 7-time BJJ champion Comprido Medeiros. Need some wrestling? Throw in a coach from one of the best wrestling programs in the country. Striking? Erik Paulson. Throw in the MMA mind of Greg Nelson and a who's who of behemoth wrestlers as sparring partners like Cole Konrad, Chris Tuchscherer, etc and you've got yourself a camp. Not only the above advantages, but it's a camp totally focused on Brock. There's no focusing on another fighter's upcoming fight, it serves one purpose and that's to improve Lesnar.
- Experience - Lesnar only has 5 fights. That is not a lot of fights. He's been in the cage less than 30 minutes. A plus for Lesnar is that he has been in the main event or co-main event in all of his fights. He's used to the spotlight and won't wilt under the pressure. Another experience factor for Brock is that he's been cut and overcame it. He's been rocked and overcame that. He's been in adverse situations and overcome them so he doesn't fold under the pressure with the exception of his tapout loss (which again some can argue that he panicked).
- Physical - We've heard over and over what an athletic specimen Lesnar is. Super-strong and moves like a welterweight. He's been able to apply that athleticism to his advantages in his fights. Lesnar also has a long reach, one of the longest in the HW division. He has been able to use that to stay out of range of strikes and avoid damages. As stated before, establishing a jab would make his reach advantage even deadlier. Lesnar's size is smothering. While he weighs in at the HW limit of 265 (like a few other HWs), a higher ratio of Lesnar's weight is in his upper body which means when he gets on top of you, it's as if a larger man is controlling you.
- Cardio - Can Brock go five rounds? We've seen him go three and look in good shape afterwards. On the contrary, some will say he gassed in the first round of his championship fight. Which performance is more indicative of his cardio capabilities? Looking at Lesnar's performance in the second round in that championship fight, he did not look slowed down, so I lean towards the three round performance..
- The Return - Lesnar is coming back from a near-fatal case of diverticulitis. Lesnar lost over 50 pounds in the span of a couple of weeks. He was able to gain them back and by all accounts is back at his past size. However, that has to take a tremendous toll on his body and mind. Lesnar hasn't been inside the cage in nearly a year. An empirical study has shown that fighters coming off a long layoff are suspectible to defeat. How will this affect Lesnarr in the future? It is a LARGE question mark.
Lesnar's strengths are evident: elite wrestling, striking versatility, strength and power, all amplified by his athleticism. His weaknesses are glaring as well: submission defense, head movement and his new stance. Lesnar's submission defense has been exploited once; the fact if it was a fluke or an accurate depiction of his skills has not been determined. The biggest question mark for Lesnar coming forward is how will he come back from his return. If Lesnar isn't at 100%, then the dominant Lesnar we saw in the past won't be seen in the future.
(Writer’s note: This is the second in a series of 5 articles I plan to write in the week leading up to the Brock Lesnar vs Shane Carwin fight at UFC 116, Saturday, July 3rd. Up tomorrow, my actual fight analysis of the challenger, Shane Carwin.)