Lesnar has had the most fascinating career I can think of for a combat sports athlete. The cross-pollination between the pro-wrestling and mixed martial arts industries is itself not wholly unique, but when placed alongside his NCAA accomplishments and his NFL stint, especially considering the heights he's risen in these professions, it makes Lesnar appear more and more a singular figure in this arena.
What follows is an overview of his career, from the hallways of NCAA Divsion I Championships, to the OVW, WWE, the NFL, New Japan, IGF, K-1, and the UFC, his current promotional home.
NCAA Division I Men's Wrestling
Before Frank Mir, there was Wes Hand, who he beat for the 2000 championship (chronicled in audience footage here and here). The import of Lesnar's celebrity career begins at the finals of the 1999 NCAA Division I Men's Wrestling National Championship. Lesnar loses to Stephen Neal, who would go on to have his own fascinating sports celebrity. Lesnar wrestles in an era of greatness: these two years would also see the emergence of Cael Sanderson, one of college wrestling's all-time greats, undefeated in his entire career with four national titles.
After his NCAA wrestling eligibility expires, Lesnar's story takes a turn towards the world of professional wrestling, as he is signed by Titan Sports, the then-name of the WWF brand holder. He would wrestle for its developmental arm, Ohio Valley Wrestling, debuting on September 16, 2000 to make the save for Shelton Benjamin (NCAA JuCo 1996 heavyweight wrestling champion) against Sylvester Turkay (himself a Pro-Wrestling/MMA hybrid).
Brock Lesnar's debut in OVW (via Showvideos1979)
Lesnar would spend little time at the OVW, though he notably faced future WWE alum Dave Batista, himself rumored to be heading for Strikeforce. The match borders on softcore pornography for some viewers.
Leviathan (batista) vs Brock Lesnar (ovw) (via fedofedofedo)
Lesnar would appear in OVW and some WWF dark matches with success, even hitting shooting star press maneuvers in both organizations (OVW and WWF versions, more on this later). He would make his TV debut on Monday Night RAW, March 18, 2002, accompanied by Paul Heyman, who would be a longtime friend, and now, his biographer.
Lesnar's WWE career is well known, but a few highlights must be mentioned.
The ring collapse
Brock Lesnar & The Big Show : Ring Collapse Superplex (via Vende11a)
Winning the WWE Undisputed Championship.
Brock Lesnar vs The Rock SummerSlam 2002 [Part 2] (via roofusgooner)
And my personal favorite Lesnar moment in WWE
Brock Lesnar Throws Zach Gowen Down Some Stairs-SMACKDOWN (via CC0Gunner)
Of course, we can't forget the botched shooting star press Lesnar attempted at WrestleMania XIX
Brock Lesnar Shooting Star Press At Wrestlemania 19 (via Charbyno57)
and Lesnar leaving the WWE, alongside Bill Goldberg, at WrestleMania XX, catching a stunner on his exit ... Note also the emergence of the double fisted birds he flies. They will reappear in his UFC promotional tenure.
Brock Lesnar Vs Goldberg (Special Referee Stone Cold Steve Austin) part 3 (via singfung)
Lesnar would then enter the world of Japanese choreographed combat, wrestling for New Japan, and winning the IWGP Heavyweight Title
Lesnar would also wrestle for Antonio Inoki's Genome Federation.
Post New Japan, Lesnar is essentially done with explicit Pro Wrestling (some view MMA as a sort of implicit pro wrestling), and he would begin to reappear on ESPN networks as they covered his attempt to make the NFL. He would work out with the Chiefs and Vikings, even making camp for the Vikings, but would be cut by both organizations.
Brock Lesnar NFL Highlights (via HarryNeedsTherapy)
It is at this point that Lesnar becomes important in MMA circles, as he appears on an american K1 promoted card, making cryptic remarks about his future in professional combat. The link between his K1 and New Japan/IGF career has been little explored, really unthinkable considering the draw Lesnar is in the world of professional and staged combat.
At K1's Dynamite!! USA card, Lesnar was scheduled to face potential Shaquille O'Neal opponent, Hong Man Choi, but Choi was pulled at the last minute due to an inability to get a CSAC license. Lesnar would eventually engage in human combat versus The Shark, Min Soo Kim, a future Minowaman conqueror. The bout would feature color commentary by Lesnar's one-time WWE foe, Bill Goldberg. At the bout's conclusion, note Goldberg's evident excitement, one of the many faux paus throughout Goldberg's ridiculed career as an MMA broadcaster.
Brock Lesnar MMA Debut (via IKApeXz)
In October of 2007, four months after the Kim bout (and K1 appearance), Lesnar would sign with the UFC. He would train out of his own dojo, as well as the Minnesota Mixed Martial Arts Academy. In a rare move, he would launch his own clothing line, co-financed by UFC head honcho Dana White, and call it DeathClutch. The UFC, it seemed, was ready to ride Lesnar's popularity wherever it took them.
His first bout paired him with Frank Mir, and was excitement for all that it lasted, Lesnar pasting Mir with his reportedly 4XL gloves before his greenness on the mat was exposed. Lesnar succumbs to an early kneebar, 1:30 into the first round. As if scripted, promotional newcomer and apparent heel Lesnar (there are audible boos for him during introductions), in the midst of disposing of Mir, has the bout temporarily halted by referee Steve Mazzagatti, who additionally deducts Lesnar a point for illegal blows to the back of Mir's head. Is it a bit of MMA institutional righteous indignation (work with me here), or simply Steve Mazzagatti blowing yet another fight? Regardless, Mir is given a chance to recover, gets mashed again, but manages to lock in the kneebar.
His next appearance found him fighting in front of his home crowd at the Target Center. He would sensationally pummel Heath Herring, a stalwart of the heavyweight MMA scene for a decade, and deliver one of the more savage beatings Herring has taken, akin to Herring's 2002 bout with Fedor Emelianenko.
Enter Randy Couture, UFC champion in self-imposed exile. Enter also, the era of the Lesnar buyrate spectacular. UFC 81, Lesnar's debut, registered the UFC's third highest ever buyrate at the time, selling ~650,000 buys, a good number by today's standards, but not sensational. UFC 91, Lesnar's championship opportunity, would be the first UFC card to eclipse a million buys since the Liddell/Ortiz rematch. That number, along with future Lesnar numbers, remain sensational today in any industry, boxing, wrestling... what have you.
UFC 91 BROCK LESNAR VS RANDY COUTURE ESPN HIGHLIGHTS (via hemanshuw)
Lesnar would defeat Couture and go on to fight Frank Mir, himself holding a share of the Heavyweight title, in a rematch at UFC 100.
Brock Lesnar Destroys Frank Mir For Heavyweight Title - will defend title in UFC 121 (via ESPN)
Post UFC 100, Lesnar's life became an MMA tabloid sensation. He was confirmed for the UFC 106 card, then pulled, then scheduled for UFC 108 (or was he?), then pulled. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that he was suffering from diverticulitis, and who knew when he would return?
Lesnar, in a fortunate set of circumstances, would go on to be cleared of diverticulitis, and would resume his UFC career at UFC 116, defeating Shane Carwin, but raising a whole host of questions in the process. His next bout saw him lose his UFC title to Cain Velasquez, and further cemented some opinions of Lesnar's willingness to be hit. Surprising to some, he's signed on to face a striker in his next bout, Brazil's Junior Dos Santos. In preparation of the bout, he has coaching duties opposite Dos Santos at UFC's ratings juggernaut, The Ultimate Fighter 13.
Judging by the title of Lesnar's upcoming book, it seems as if it will heavily feature information from his bout with diverticulitis. It's my hope that the Lesnar book will be revealing of all aspects of his career, though at 208 pages, I wonder how revealing it can be. I'd like to read about his thoughts on travelling to WWE shows, dealing with Vince and co-workers, and locker room pressures. I'd like to read about his dealings with Japanese promoters, and his (unexpurgated) views on the culture disparities and similarities. I'd even like to hear his thoughts on the role faith plays in his life (he is from the midwest), how having children has affected his life and his various career endeavors, and who he prefers sparring and rolling with. At two hundred pages, I'm sure he has enough to cover his NFL career, but not much else. I'm taking a wait and see approach in purchasing the book.