Is It a Mistake for Brock Lesnar to Abandon His Pro Wrestling Persona?

Photo by James Law for Heavy.com

Brock Lesnar is a natural heel. Maybe it's his sneer, maybe it's his innate "jockness," an aggressive ignorance that some think defines a new generation of Americans.  As a pro wrestler, Lesnar made his money playing up this side of his personality.  He challenged beloved figures like the Rock and Hulk Hogan and seemed destined for a long run near the top of the sport.

When he jumped ship for the world of legitimate sport, Brock Lesnar brought the "Brock Lesnar" character with him. He and the promotion played up his outsider status. He did interviews that were poltiically incorrect:

God gave me this body: Are you jealous of it or what? Give me a break. I got the genetics of—not to get into racism or anything—but I’m built like a black man. ...It’s all genetics. I wouldn’t say we’re all created equal. That’s just to make the other guys feel good who don’t have what you’ve got."

And downright homophobic:

The cute and curvy blonde 20-something had no idea what she was getting herself into. In her barely-there halter-top and her glossy red lipstick, she slithered into the giant's arms, set her chin on his chest, looked up into his eyes and delivered the message she had been sent to ask.

"My friend Shawn thinks you're kinda cute," she said.

Not Shawna. Not Shana.

Shawn.

The 6-foot-3, 290-pound Goliath, the guy who benches 475 pounds, squats 695 pounds, steamed.

"Yeah?" the former pro wrestler said, his voice growing louder, his eyes getting bigger. "Well you tell that ..."

To print what Brock Lesnar said might make even John Rocker blush. But after his curse-laden outburst, he turned to a nearby reporter and explained, "I don't like gays. Write that down in your little notebook. I don't like gays."

In a sport that makes a big deal of respect, he didn't embrace a humbled Frank Mir-he yelled, spit, and cursed (and then presumably jumped on his old lady and drank Coors Light until he passed out). Even Dana White thought the champion took it too far that night:

“I was blown away,” White said. “I don’t think in the history of the UFC we’ve had anybody do that. It’s not who we are, and, to be honest, it’s not who he is. You hang with these guys personally, and you get to know them. If he was a dick, I’d tell you right now this guy is a psycho and I don’t know what I’m going to do with him. He’s not. He’s a smart guy. The sponsorship thing was the craziest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”

To say Lesnar was a hostile interview is not really indicative of just how angry, hostile, and uncooperative he was. It wasn't just guys like me that had bad experiences. Even the goliaths at ESPN couldn't temper Brock's behavior long enough to ask any real questions.

Of course, like Tank Abbott and Tito Ortiz before him, the negativity and bad boy aura helped make Brock a star. People either loved his attitude, a welcome breath of fresh air after one too many mid-round glove touches, or hated him with a passion beyond reason. There was very little middle ground. For the UFC, this was pure gold-Brock allowed Zuffa to simply hold open a bag and collect piles of MMA fan's cash. He was the most compelling, most popular, most hated, and most bankable fighter in the sport.

This week reporters saw a different Lesnar. Fans saw him last night too. It begs the question: what in the world is Brock Lesnar thinking?

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My friends on the road with Zuffa alerted me to the fact that something was very different leading into the fight. Brock Lesnar was laughing, joking around, even treating reporters like human beings. It was a different side of Lesnar, one no one outside of his tight inner circle had ever seen. Heavy.com's Jeremy Botter explains:

This is a very different version of Brock Lesnar. He has a renewed lease on life. He’s smiling and joking with us, and it’s uncomfortable. We’re not used to happy Brock Lesnar. We’re not entirely sure what to expect, but Lesnar puts us (partially) at ease.

“I’m just glad to be here. It feels good. It feels like an eternity since I was here. I’ve been through a lot this year, you know? I just feel fortunate,” Lesnar says. “It was a lot of hard work, to come from November 6th and being in the hospital to being here and being healthy and ready to defend the title? It’s pretty remarkable.”

It was one thing to change things up backstage. After all, no one expects Jon Voight or Alan Rickman to be jerks off-screen as well as in the pictures. But this new Lesnar made his way into public too.

"This isn't about me tonight," Brock told the world post fight. "It's about my family, it's about my doctors. This is about my training partners. My training staff. I am blessed by God. Ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you a humble champion-and I'm still the toughest S.O.B. around baby."

It's great that Lesnar has a new lease on life. He overcame tremendous punishment to beat Shane Carwin in a super fight. He survived a health scare that must have been perspective altering. He has a new baby at home to temper his anger. But, business is business. Will fans pay to see the humble giant? Would a grill happy George Foreman still have been money in the bank during his muscle bound prime? I'm not sure of the answer-but my gut tells me someone from the UFC will be in Lesnar's ear before his next fight, looking for that old spark, the one that made Brock Lesnar the biggest star in all of MMA. Lesnar can be fun loving and sensitive-until the camera's red light turns on. Then it's time to dance with what brought him to the big leagues and that's being the jerk fans love to hate.

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