"But if he really is done with the sport, will Lesnar be remembered as a great heavyweight, or simply a memorable one? There's no denying his star-power, but did he accomplish enough to be known as anything more than a lightning rod with incredible athletic ability and raw physical potential?"
So asks Ben Fowlkes at MMAFighting.com. And it's a good one, though I'm not sure I have the answer. Brock Lesnar began his MMA career as a spectacle, and ended it as a sportsmen. Originally slated to fight the 7 ft kickboxer Hong-Man Choi at the K-1 Dynamite USA event in 2007, it's amazing to think his career will be defined by his brief, but significant success in the UFC.
Strangely, people questioned that success at every turn. MMA fans don't take kindly to outsiders, and Lesnar was the worst kind of outsider: a former professional wrestler. What would it say about MMA if a guy cutting his teeth in the same arena as Doink the Clown managed to win UFC fights?
Lesnar's UFC debut was a validation for the critics. "Thank you Frank Mir", they said in unison. But then he beat Heath Herring, and even his wins inspired skepticism. "Heath looked terrible, Brock just laid on top of him", etc. Then Randy Couture. "Randy was old", etc. Then Frank Mir. And suddenly, the critics had nothing to say.
UFC 100 was a great performance, and proof that Lesnar was multidimensional. No, he couldn't strike, but his ability to neutralize Mir on the ground was a testament to his dedication to learn mixed martial arts (a fact explored brilliantly in Ben Thapa's piece the other day). There's a nice little flow chart to it all: first they questioned his skills, then they questioned his character, and now they question his legacy.
The last part is worthy criticism, and I'm not trying to dismiss it. His flaws were on full display at UFC 141. As soon as the takedown wasn't automatically there, and the strikes began to fall, Lesnar looked like a deer on roller skates. But is he "a quitter", as our own Brent Brookhouse asks?
I understand what Brent is asking. It's not about whether or not Brock is any less of a fighter. Only whether or not his pattern of short-lived adventures in other sports reflects the character we've seen of Brock in the cage.
It's a fair question, but I disagree with those that claim Brock is a quitter, or that his legacy was all smoke and mirrors. For one, Brock entered the sport an older man, and in his 4th professional fight became the UFC HW champion. He beat Couture, who took out Tim Sylvia and Gabriel Gonzaga prior: two fighters who were legitimate contenders for their time. He defended his belt twice. And somewhere in there dealt with diverticulitis.
While images of Brock on his "death bed" conjured up by Dana White might be hyperbolic, I'd say his sickness was an element of his deterioration. At a time when Brock was at his absolute peak, when gym time was at its most critical, Brock could neither fight nor train. 'Fever, abdominal tenderness, sudden and severe pain of the abdomen, nausea'...these are just a few symptoms you can read about from any medical cheat sheet on just what exactly was ailing Brock.
And I have no doubt this took a toll. There was the obvious physical toll, in conjunction with Brock's age, but there also the toll on Brock's much-needed experience. He fought once in 2009, twice in 2010, and just once in 2011.
To me, the truth about Brock is that he always had a limited window to be successful. And in that limited window, his career was halted on two important occasions. Would fighting three times a year every year until now have changed anything? Perhaps not. But at least we might have a clearer image of Brock the fighter.
At the same time, Brock's success is also a reflection of the HW division. Never a division of great depth, HW will always be home to flawed fighters on the biggest scale. Brock wanted to call himself a mixed martial artist, and he became that. He wanted to call himself a UFC champion, and he did. Brock doesn't necessarily leave a legacy so much as the legacy that exists on Brock Lesnar reflects the landscape of mixed martial arts. MMA hasn't experienced its own Cambrian explosion. Like Brock's game, our sport is still raw, uncut, and relatively unevolved. But boy is it fun to watch.