Yesterday we met Brock Lesnar, one of two coaches on the new season of The Ultimate Fighter. Lesnar has done it all in his athletic career, winning an NCAA, WWE, and UFC championship. Not bad for a small time farm boy, one of just 2000 residents of tiny Webster, South Dakota. Before Lesnar, Webster was best known as the home of NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw. Now talk in town turns to the suplex instead of the Sudan, the double leg takedown rather than double digit inflation. That's how big a star Brock Lesnar has become.
His success has been so profound that limiting his great accomplishments to just five standouts is like trying to choose your favorite Beatles song. There are just too many in the mix. But who am I to give up, to lay down my keyboard and admit defeat? Would Brock Lesnar quit? So without further adieu, I present Brock Lesnar's top five moments, counting down from five to number one Seacrest style.
5. Winning the NCAA championship
Lesnar burst onto the scene in 1999, going straight from tiny Bismark College to the University of Minnesota and the very top of the heavyweight class in amateur wrestling. Lesnar made it all the way to the NCAA finals where he lost to Stephen Neal, a future New England Patriots lineman and wrestling world champion. The next year, Lesnar was the favorite to win it all, becoming a local celebrity and winning most matches with disturbing ease. As I wrote at UGO.com, Lesnar had only one rival in 2000, but it was a man who could push him to his limit:
With Neal gone, his new top rival was Iowa's Wes Hand. Hand was the only man to beat Brock in his senior year. The two met again in the finals of the NCAA Championship, a tournament Lesnar ran through like Godzilla rampaging through Tokyo. This time he dispatched with Hand in a closely contested and cautious match. Lesnar made an escape in overtime. The one point was the difference. Lesnar won by the score of 3-2 and achieved his dream: he was the NCAA Champion. He finished his college career with an absurd record of 106-5.
4. Beating Randy Couture for the UFC Heavyweight Title
Randy Couture, when history is written, will be considered one of the all-time greats. A multi-weight class champion, the wrestler has done it all in the sport, beating a who's who of greats including Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. But at a lean 220 pounds, he was no match for the enormous Lesnar. I was live on the scene with UGO.com that night and remember the electricity in the air. It was a changing of the guard - the sport, it seemed, would never be the same:
"I don't remember the punch. The only thing I remember is hitting him about 40 times on the ground. I was wondering when the ref would stop it," Brock said. Lesnar won the heavyweight title in just his fourth professional fight, silencing critics who thought he was moved into the title picture early. Lesnar's sustained ground attack was too much for a 45 year-old man. "Those are some big ass hamhocks coming at you," Couture said with a grin.
3. Leaving the WWE
For a time, leaving Vince McMahon's WWE surely seemed like a huge mistake. Lesnar was leaving behind millions, at the height of a promising career, for an unclear future. But it was something that had to be done. Wrestling had become a wasteland and as Lesnar looked around the locker room and his fellow wrestlers, he saw men in a haze of pain killers and the constant grind of the road. According to wrestling historian Karl Stern, wrestlers die early and often, many times before they turn 40:
It's alarming and sobering. Professional wrestling almost certainly has the highest pre-forty death rate of any professional sport. The problems and situations that have lead to such a high mortality rate are many. Frequent travel over long distances increase the risk for automobile wrecks and plane crashes. No off season leads to cumulative injuries. Cumulative injuries sometimes lead to dependence on medication and prescription pain relievers, and so on.
It was a brave choice for Lesnar. The allure of easy money and the siren song of the wrestling life call to many men. The roar of the crowd can be as addictive as the pain killers wrestlers pop to make it through night after night of pratfalls and suplexes. Lesnar walked away. It was the best decision of his life.
After the Break: Lesnar's Top Two Moments
2. UFC 100
Much of the focus after Lesnar's epic win at UFC 100 was on the post fight shenanigans. Lesnar had lost his UFC debut to opponent Frank Mir and there was plenty of bad blood. Lost in the whirl of spittle and lite beer debate, was a very cerebral performance by Lesnar. Our own Kid Nate broke it down in one of his famous Judo Chops:
Lesnar's years on the mat as a top flight competitor in amateur wrestling clearly paid dividends in the fight.
He also showed both strategic and tactical acumen in the fight. Strategic by restraining himself from bull-rushing Mir. More importantly, he kept the fight where he wanted it -- in Mir's half-guard.
Mike Goldberg pointed out during the fight that the only time one of Lesnar's takedowns landed him in Mir's full guard, he backed right up to his feet. Clearly Lesnar's camp emphasized staying out of Mir's full guard.
Tactically, Lesnar's control of Mir from inside his half-guard was a study in utter dominance. Of course Lesnar's huge mass, incredible strength and insanely long arms allowed him to do things many other competitors couldn't do, but his application of grappling technique made him an irresistible force.
1. The Comeback
In October of 2009, months after winning the title, life changed for Brock Lesnar. He faced an opponent even tougher than any man who'd ever stood across the cage from him - his own body. Tired of years of no vegetables (seriously) Lesnar's insides went on the attack. He had felt ill, even been diagnosed with mononucleosis, and was recovering in Canada, supposedly relaxing, hunting, and soaking in life. When he awoke with a high fever and intense pains, he and his wife raced across Canada and back into the United States:
Unable to find the medical care he needed in the Canadian wilderness, Lesnar's wife Rena drove like a bat out of hell to get him back to the States, to the civilized part of the world we call North Dakota. He spent eleven days there, eating from a tube, losing almost 50 pounds battling his own innards. Things started to look desperate. Facing a potentially career ending surgery to combat the diverticulitis, Lesnar prayed for a cure. Luckily for the UFC champion, and promoter Dana White who has gotten used to collected multi-million dollar checks every time Lesnar fights, there was a cure within. When Lesnar returned to the doctor to check on his progress, he had found his miracle.
"They found absolutely nothing," Lesnar said. 'The doctors came in and their whole panel at the Mayo Clinic just said, 'You just got a winning lottery ticket. We don't need to do surgery on you.'"
The culprit, it turns out, was a diet heavy on meat and potatoes and light on anything green. Lesnar, a self-described carnivore, has a new battle in front of him. Instead of worrying solely about the winner of March's Carwin-Mir fight, he has another opponent to confront: broccoli.
His first match back after the illness was against another oversized and powerful wrestler, Shane Carwin. Carwin made Lesnar pay early, shrugging off takedowns and then nearly beating him unconscious with a sustained ground and pound attack. But Lesnar had faced his own mortality in the previous year - he was going to take all Carwin had and smile. In the second round, an exhausted Carwin could do little more than watch as Lesnar took him down and submitted him. It was an amazing comeback, a triumph over more than Carwin. Lesnar had comeback from his ordeal as a better person. There were no postfight taunts or trash talk. Lesnar, emotion written on his face had one thought on his mind: "I have been blessed by God."