UFC 141: Brock Lesnar Career Retrospective Part 1

Brock Lesnar celebrates after winning the UFC Heavyweight title from Randy Couture at UFC 91. Photo via UFC.com

This Friday, UFC 141: Lesnar vs. Overeem caps off the UFC's 2011 with a killer main event as former UFC Heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar faces former Strikeforce Heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem. It's an awesome fight between two very interesting figures in the world of MMA. For Lesnar, it's also a very odd fight as it is only his eighth ever pro MMA fight, but also has the potential to be one of his last.

Brock's rise from WWE champion to NFL drop-out to MMA superstar is well documented, but to gear up for Friday's fight, I wanted to take a look at his career and focus on just one thing - the fights. Here, we'll do our best to set aside the larger than life Brock Lesnar persona, and take a look at just what this champion has accomplished in the ring over the course of his seven fight career.

Today, part 1 starts at the very beginning, taking us from Brock's MMA debut through winning the UFC Heavyweight title (a journey that shockingly took only 4 fights and 18 months). Later this week, part 2 wraps it up.

Brock Lesnar (Debut) vs. Min Soo Kim (2-5)
June 2, 2007 - Dynamite!! USA

As I said in my career retrospective on Jon Jones - I love debut fights. It's fun to see what today's superstar was like when he was just starting out. For Brock, that debut came under the K-1 banner as he headlined the K-1 Dynamite!! USA show. A look at his opponent's record tells you all you need to know about who was expected to come out of this fight looking good. And Brock did not disappoint, taking only 69 seconds to end Kim's night and get his career started right. With such a short length, it's probably best you just watch the entire thing yourself. Fight starts at 2:55

Even though it doesn't last long, you pick up two signature aspects of Lesnar's game here - one positive, one negative. First, the negative: the stand-up. There's a very limited amount of stand-up or striking here, but in those opening seconds, Brock looks quite awkward. His movement is very jerky and not at all natural, and the little punches he throws are ugly. But that only lasts about eight seconds before Brock has Kim on the mat, and that's where the huge positive comes in. Right from his debut, Brock's ability to use his amateur wrestling experience in an MMA setting is impressive. He gets the takedown with ease, demonstrates nice top control, and shows good ground and pound. One moment that sticks out is his nice pass from half guard to mount - it's a small, relatively simple movement, but Lesnar executes it well for a man just getting started.

In the end, Kim taps quickly (he doesn't seem like a man who has any intention of actually winning this fight) and Brock Lesnar is 1-0.

More fights in the complete entry.

SBN coverage of UFC 141: Lesnar vs. Overeem

Brock Lesnar (1-0) vs. Frank Mir (10-3)
February 2, 2008 - UFC 81

Just two fights into Brock's career he is not only in the UFC, but he's facing former UFC Heavyweight champion Frank Mir. Of course, it's important to note that this was a very differently perceived Frank Mir. Mir was still not seen as 100% back from his motorcycle accident at this point - his last PPV fight had been a brutal loss to Brandon Vera, and his last outing (a good win over Antoni Hardonk) was an unaired prelim. So this 1-0 fighter vs. 10-3 former champion was actually much more even, and many were favoring Lesnar.

The big story here is the stand-up. Lesnar immediately takes Mir down with a takedown very similar to the one used against Kim. He starts landing hammerfists, Mir rolls into him, and one or two punches come down on the back of the head. Referee Steve Mazzagatti immediately stops the action and takes away a point. But the big thing is, he stands them up, and gives Mir a chance to recover. Rewatching, the stand-up is absurd. Yes, Lesnar hits the back of the head, but Mir moves into it and Brock is not targeting that area. Did it deserve a warning? Absolutely. But to immediately stand them up is just ridiculous.

Still, it is what it is. Back on the feet, Brock drops Mir with a punch, then starts throwing hammerfists again. And it must be said here that, while Brock gets a very high volume of those shots in on the ground, they are really weak and unimpressive, as he is focusing on speed, not power. Lesnar stands over Mir, and this is where his inexperience shows, as Frank Mir traps the leg and rolls for a lock. By the time Brock realizes he is in trouble, it's too late. Lesnar taps, and his ascent is derailed - for now.

The big lessons here for Lesnar are clear: 1. He has to be more cautious. 2. He has to avoid the submissions.

Brock Lesnar (1-1) vs. Heath Herring (28-13; 1 NC)
August 9, 2008 - UFC 87

Here, Brock is against the veteran Herring in what would turn out to be Herring's final fight (for now at least). Herring was only 2-2 in the UFC, but was coming in off a big win over Cheick Kongo.

Brock starts the fight with an absurd flying knee attempt. Goldie goes nuts over it, but really, it was pretty ugly and showed a lot of exuberance in place of skill on the feet. Right after that is the big highlight of the fight - Brock drills Herring with a straight right that drops the veteran, then charges like a bull and plows him over.

This sequence shows a lot about Brock. First, he has crazy power. That punch is not great, technically. It has good form, but it's outside of range, so that when Brock lands, his arm is fully extended and he is not punching through Herring. None the less, his power, and the mass behind that punch, is enough to send Herring comically flying backwards. Second, he is still fighting with a lot of instinct. That charge is the kind of move only a rookie would do, and as such, it's kind of brilliant because it catches Herring totally off guard.

After this, we see that Brock has clearly learned from the Mir fight, as he methodically breaks Herring down for 15 minutes. But unlike many (most) Heavyweight fights that go the distance, this one is not a drag, because Lesnar is constantly keeping the pressure on. His ground and pound attack is constant and nasty, particularly his huge knees to the body. He also again shows superb ground control, as he chooses to not always mount Herring, but instead ride him. Every time Herring rolls or changes position, Lesnar moves with him and maintains dominant positioning. That's high level wrestling right there as Brock uses his weight and his center of gravity to totally control Herring. Finally, Brock displays some excellent cardio as he never seems to tire over the 15 minutes, just beating Herring down in a great showing.

If there is a negative here it is again in the stand-up. Brock doesn't want to exchange with Herring (and he is wise not to) and so stands far outside of range often. It's a good strategy to work around his limitations, but he will need to fix those limitations to move forward.

Brock Lesnar (2-1) vs. Randy Couture (16-8)
November 15, 2008 - UFC 91

And here it is - at 2-1, and just 9 months since his UFC debut, Brock Lesnar challenges the legend Randy Couture for the UFC Heavyweight belt. This was Couture's first fight back after one of his many contractual disagreement walk-outs with the UFC - he had not fought since defeating Gabriel Gonzaga over a year ago. Youth, momentum and size (massive size) was on Lesnar's side, with experience and just plain guts and determination on Couture's.

Rewatching this fight, I was struck by what a great fight it is. It's a shame it didn't go longer, as the tactical battle at play here was tremendous. At first, Couture uses his Greco Roman wrestling very effectively, managing to actually avoid some of Lesnar's huge takedown attempts. Randy also is able to take control against the cage and use his dirty boxing against Brock, and he does well with it.

Once again (and I don't mean to harp on this, but it has to be said) we see some holes in Lesnar's stand-up game. His punches are often awakward, as Brock tends to throw them just from the arm, not getting his full body behind the punch. That's a particular sin for Lesnar, who has such a massive build that if he gets his body behind a punch it does serious damage, as seen against Herring. But here, Couture gets close, and Lesnar gets sloppy with the short arm punches. Randy is more crisp with his punches, and manages to catch Brock a number of times. This is notable because one of the big talking points about Lesnar in his last few fights has been his poor response when hit, but here, he eats the shots and is unphased.

Despite my hesitations about his stand-up, in the end, it is Brock's punches that end the day. Brock throws a jab-cross combo, Randy uses head movement to avoid the jab, and the cross catches him right behind the ear, dazing the champion and knocking him down. It's one of those punches that just lands perfectly, and with Brock's power, that's all it needs. The combo is nice, even if it lands mainly because of Randy's own movement, and not because of Brock's accuracy. But credit where it is due, Brock throws the combo, he has the power, and he has the killer instinct to swarm Couture and unleash those same rapid-fire hammerfists to get the stoppage win.

So in the end, power and size win the day. Brock Lesnar is your new UFC Heavyweight champion, and at 3-1, some are already asking if anyone can stop him. His power and his wrestling are scary indeed, but two questions remain at this point - can he tighten up that striking to augment his power, and has he improved his submission defense?

Next time out, Brock defends the title, and in trying to answer those questions, he creates a new one.

Check back later this week for part 2.

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