Brock Lesnar is a formidable MMA fighter. He’s one of the biggest, strongest men to ever enter the sport. This is a man who is solid muscle and needs to cut weight to fight at heavyweight. He is likely the most athletic heavyweight fighter in UFC history if athleticism is defined as having both strength and quickness. As a NCAA Division I national wrestling champion his pedigree is impeccable and he possesses arguably the best foundational sport for MMA. Anyone watching his fight with Shane Carwin would have to admit that he has a fighter’s heart—after being pummeled in the first round with strikes that would have felled most he came back in the second round with a submission victory. That victory also proved he is a serious student of the game, willing to go beyond his wrestling comfort zone to learn submission moves like an arm triangle. It could also be fairly pointed out that despite having defended the championship belt he has relatively few fights and could still have a fair amount of unrealized potential due simply to inexperience.
All that is true, but I’ve also become convinced after watching Lesnar’s fights that he has an Achilles’ heel. He’s not flexible. I don’t mean he lacks the flexibility needed for rubber guard. I don’t even mean he lacks the flexibility necessary for a head kick or to pull butterfly guard, as Cain Velasquez did to counter his takedowns. He actually lacks the commonplace flexibility to properly throw a punch. Forget uppercuts, hooks or jabs and just take a good look at the simplest of boxing punches, the cross. Brock’s cross has always looked weird to me, and I finally realized why. He throws his whole body into his punches. Watch him and you will see him trying to generate power off his back leg, attempting to roll his hips into the punch and wanting to roll his shoulder up and send the punch straight. He initiates all the proper steps in testament to time spent with skilled trainers, but his body doesn’t cooperate. All those motions turn into him just rolling his whole body into the punch, as his lack of flexibility means that drive off the foot and roll of the hips takes most of Brock along for the ride.
Along with those big motions come some big implications. Brock can’t get that snap to his punches, which is key to scoring knockouts. He can make up for some of that with sheer strength, but this is the least of the issues. That bigger motion means throwing fewer powerful strikes than a tighter more efficient motion would allow in the same amount of time. More importantly that big motion creates big openings for an opponent’s counter strikes. Quick, snapping, straight punches with the shoulder rolling up present a very small opportunity window of time and space for an adversary to exploit. Conversely, Brock’s punches leave his head very vulnerable throughout. Of course he still has amazing strength, a good reach and an explosive takedown. That combination is enough to make him one of the best heavyweights on the planet. But against a fighter like Velasquez, who can counter the takedowns and throws technically sound punches, he is simply outclassed. And if his problem is a lack of flexibility there is little he can do to improve himself when it comes to striking.
My eyes tell me that Brock may have a severe lack of flexibility. I don’t know the why. Plenty of guys do serious weight lifting, like Shane Carwin, without noticeably losing flexibility. Maybe it’s genetic. Then again maybe Brock’s training regime did have something to do with it. After all we are talking about a man who in order to build muscle ate so much protein to the exclusion of everything else that he nearly died. It’s not hard to believe that along with skipping his fruits and vegetables he also skipped any pretense at stretching between weight lifting sessions or even some full range of motion exercises that would have made a difference. At the very least he didn’t make flexibility the priority a longtime martial artist makes over his life. The lack of flexibility is an Achilles’ heel that isn’t going to go away and means Brock’s striking will always have big holes that anyone who can counter his takedowns and get inside his reach will be able to exploit. If I am right and he simply lacks the flexibility to throw a proper strike no amount of training or experience will change things—a fighter like Cain Velasquez is going to always have his number. If I am wrong and he has the flexibility then my critique of the weaknesses in his punching still stand. But in that case all he needs is some serious sparing time and technique work to put him back in contention for baddest man on the planet.