In our preparation for UFC 141 and Brock Lesnar vs. Alistair Overeem, we take a close look at the complete (and short) MMA career of former UFC Heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar. As I said in part 1, there is plenty to talk about with Brock, from his WWE days (already excellently covered by Matthew Roth) to his huge persona. But here, I'm focusing on his fights.
Part 1 took us from Lesnar's debut through his first UFC loss to his UFC Heavyweight title victory over Randy Couture at UFC 91. Here, we begin with Lesnar as the new Heavyweight champion, looking for vengeance against an old foe.
Brock Lesnar (3-1) vs. Frank Mir (12-3)
July 11, 2009 - UFC 100
I said we'll be focused on the fights and Lesnar's development as a fighter, and we will. But I just have to point out that this is his 5th ever pro fight and he is: a) defending the UFC Heavyweight title, b) looking to revenge the only blemish on his record, c) headlining the biggest UFC event of all time, and in the process d) setting a record for PPV buys with an astonishing 1.6 million buys. That is impressive indeed.
Right off the bat, you notice two things. First, Frank Mir in 2009 was lean - he looks very different from today. Second, Lesnar is coming into this fight with a plan. On the feet, Brock starts by using one strike - the inside leg kick. This is a very smart move, as Mir is fighting in south paw, and the inside front leg kick is a great weapon against someone fighting in an opposite stance. The danger of this kick (and most kicks) is that it could be caught and used against you for a takedown, but since Brock is happy to fight Mir on the ground, he doesn't worry about that. As we saw against Herring, Brock is fighting around his stand-up limitations nicely.
Once on the mat, Brock continues to show good strategic planning. He starts by establishing a slow, calculated pace that stands in sharp contrast to the frantic hammerfists of the first Mir bout. Once he has Mir down, Brock smothers him, keeping his chest tight to Mir and giving the submission expert no opportunity to work. He also chooses to stay in the half guard rather than risk trying to pass and opening himself up for submissions. Very smart defensive moves here from Brock.
Offensively, Brock again seems to have a plan. He isolates Mir's head with a sort of deep half nelson, and whenever he can, drops heavy fists in. Again, this is totally different from the high-volume, low-impact ground and pound last time.
Mir survives round 1, and has a little success in the striking to open round 2, as Brock drops his hands during the exchanges and Mir catches him. But it's not enough and they go back to the ground. Brock continues his methodical assault until he feels Mir is nearly done, then switches gears, goes into kill mode, and ends the fight.
This is Brock's best fight. He is calm, strategic, plays to his strengths, and minimizes his risks, all while still ending the fight relatively quickly. This was the fight that really made you feel that maybe, just maybe, Brock Lesnar would be champion for a really long time. Sadly, that feeling wouldn't last long.
More fights in the complete entry.
Brock Lesnar (4-1) vs. Shane Carwin (12-0)
July 3, 2010 - UFC 116
Here we arrive at a clear turning point in the career of the champion. This is an amazing fight in that it is both Brock's ultimate demise, and his greatest victory, all rolled into one. We'll start with the demise, as in this fight, Brock's greatest weakness becomes crystal clear. In his previous five fights, we've seen Lesnar struggle with stand-up, but make up for those struggle through a combination of power and strategy. But here, they catch up with him in a big way.
Brock starts by keeping his left hand out in a pawing jab to try and keep Carwin at bay. But it's not long before the challenger gets inside and connects, and that's when things fall apart. From that first big punch, Lesnar just folds. He retreats straight backwards, ducks his head (a bad move since at this point he's already been tagged by an uppercut), covers up, and puts himself into a position where he can not possibly strike back. Carwin keeps up the pressure, drops him, and starts the ground and pound.
And that leads us to part 2 of this epic - Brock's greatest victory. He does a good job blocking much of Shane's ground attack, and fighting back just enough to show that he is still in the fight, ultimately surviving round 1. Round 2 starts, Shane is gassed, Brock takes him down and, in an absolutely shocking turn that I can't imagine anyone saw coming, submits Carwin with a head and arm choke. The fact that Brock survives that early assault and comes back to win is impressive. The fact that he does it with this submission is astounding. Before this fight, Brock had shown absolutely not one moment of offensive submission skills. Here, he does an excellent job slowly setting up the choke, then sinking it in, tightening it up, and closing the fight. Truly, an incredible moment.
In the end, Brock defends the title thanks to superior cardio and a surprisingly skilled submission. But the big story coming out was the huge chink in his armor in the form of striking defense. The last time Brock showed a weakness, it was when Mir submitted him. Brock came back from that fight stronger, and clearly improved from his loss. Would the same thing happen again?
Brock Lesnar (5-1) vs. Cain Velasquez (8-0)
October 23, 2010 - UFC 121
Answer: No. No it would not. In Brock's third title defense, Cain Velasquez would attack that same defensive hole, but unlike Carwin, he would not let up until Brock was done.
From the beginning, Brock charges in with a reckless takedown attempt and, when that fails, a sloppy attempt to secure the clinch. Neither works, Cain begins firing back with punches, and you can immediately see what kind of trouble Brock is in here. With each punch Cain throws, Brock notably flinches, turning to avoid being hit. He seems totally lost in the stand-up here, recoiling from Cain, and carrying his hands very low at all times. Cain is far too skilled to let those mistakes go, and he just blasts Brock repeatedly. Even Brock's wrestling fails him here, as he is unable to keep Velasquez down. It is just a matter of time before Cain's hand is raised, and Brock falls, never having any success in this fight.
Watching all of these fights in order, you see that Brock has really regressed in this fight. In his last few outings, he had tightened up his game with smarter fighting and less recklessness. This time, he throws all of that out the window and turns in a very sloppy performance. That sloppiness is most clearly shown when Lesnar is trapped against the cage, and throws out a ridiculous backfist that has no chance of causing any damage. It's the kind of strike you expect an overwhelmed rookie to throw, not a UFC champion.
And so, with this fight and the Carwin fight, the narrative on Brock seems to be clear - he can't take a punch. And it's hard to argue with that.
Brock Lesnar (5-2) vs. Alistair Overeem (35-11; 1 NC)
December 30, 2011 - UFC 141
So if that is the case, what will happen when Brock faces the reigning K-1 Grand Prix champion, a fighter known for his ability to knock his opponents out in spectacular fashion? For Brock to win against The Reem, he will need to have two things in order. First, he'll need to be comfortable on his feet, and not show the kind of instinctual recoiling shown against Velasquez. If he does that at UFC 141, Reem will absolutely make him pay. Second, he'll need to refocus his wrestling. Cain is clearly a superior wrestler to Overeem, but Brock will need to prove that his inability to keep Cain down was an anomaly.
Given the way that Velasquez fight went, combined with the year of down time since that fight, I'm not sold that Brock can and will make those adjustments. But we won't know until Friday night. Against Overeem, will we see the Brock Lesnar who smashed Frank Mir at UFC 100? Or the Lesnar who fled from Cain Velasquez at 121?
Hope you will join us here at Bloody Elbow as we get our answers tonight.