From WWE to MMA: Brock Lesnar's MMA Debut

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

Gaining a huge fanbase from pro wrestling with WWE, Brock Lesnar was in need of a new life after wrestling and his failed attempt at joining the NFL. It was not long before he turned to MMA at an event that would go on to become one of the worst MMA shows of all time.

By the time Brock Lesnar left the WWE after Wrestlemania 20 in 2004, he had accomplished much in terms of pro wrestling accolades. Already an accomplished NCAA Heavyweight Wrestling Champion, Lesnar had won three world titles in WWE, as well as becoming "King of the Ring" in 2002 and winning the 2003 Royal Rumble. By the end of his run, Brock was burnt out and frustrated of working with Vince McMahon.

Along with those championship belts came an addiction to Vicodin and a battle with alcoholism, fueled by his depression from lawsuits that the WWE kept piling onto him for trying to wrestle overseas after his departure from the company, plus being cut from the Minnesota Vikings in his attempt to join the NFL. Lesnar knew it was time for a big change in his life, and he saw MMA as his way to escape and start a new chapter in his life.

Before he had even been booked for a fight, Brock began searching for a place to train, and ended up with Pat Miletich in early 2006. From the moment Brock announced he was training full-time and working with Pat, offers flooded in from promotions making offers. Promoters were aware of his mainstream appeal, and those fans from WWE were quick to follow "The Next Big Thing" into his next venture. It was K-1 that drew the most interest, and Brock's management team set up an official meet with their parent company, FEG, in April. Business meetings with the Japanese can be very touchy things, so Brock's people advised him to be patient in their first meeting. However, in Brock's autobiography, Death Clutch: My Story of Determination, Domination, and Survival, he explains how his impatience led to his first fight:

I thought they would never get down to the bottom line, so against my lawyers’ advice, I spoke up and cut to the chase. Right in the middle of the California rolls, I told them how much I needed for one fight or there was nothing further to talk about.... I went outside with David and Brian, and we just looked at one another. I was supposed to let them do the talking and negotiating, but I’d felt like the meeting was going nowhere with everyone just smiling at each other and telling stories.

My lawyers were in disbelief, because by handling the meeting the way I’d done, they thought I might have killed my MMA career before it started, and I wasn’t about to disagree... David bet me the FEG execs would be sitting in a cab on their way to the airport by the time we returned. When we walked back into the restaurant, though, they were still sitting at the table. They told us they could probably make the deal work, but that they would need to confirm the details with some people in Japan before they could commit. The fact that they weren’t already halfway back to Tokyo seemed like a very good sign.


After signing with K-1, Brock began training in anticipation of a fight in October, which would be the company's American MMA debut, working with ProElite to create an event that they wanted to turn into a huge spectacle to rival the UFC. However, K-1 had difficulty finding a venue in the states, which worked in favor for Lesnar. Each time they were unable to secure a spot, in order to keep Brock from leaving his contract and fighting elsewhere, FEG had no choice but to give him a contract extension, which meant more money for the wrestler. Brock also decided to leave the Miletich camp, and began to train with Greg Nelson, as well as officially opening his "DeathClutch" gym and business.


Eventually, FEG made things official by setting up a fight for May, 2007, at the Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles against a new star in K-1, "The Techno Goliath" from Korea, Hong Man Choi. At the time, Choi was 10-3 in kickboxing, and made his successful MMA debut against the underwhelming Bobby Ologun in December, 2006. Choi was the perfect choice since FEG was looking to reach into the Asian market of Los Angeles, specifically the Korean-American sports fans. As the event continued to grow, FEG added the rematch from the Pride Grand Prix 2000 between Royce Gracie and Kazushi Sakuraba, as well as Brad Pickett VS Hideo Tokoro and Dong Sik Yoon against Melvin Manhoef.


In an interview with Between The Ropes, Brock discussed the downsides of fighting such a large opponent. "The guy is taller, so I've got to move my hands higher, the advantage is that he has a big-ass head which makes for a nice target...We've got to watch out for his reach, I just don't want to be at the end of his punches...If I can get inside and take this thing to the ground I think he's really going to be in trouble."


In order to train for the fight the way he wanted, Brock attempted to enlist some seven-foot tall fighters to spar with, as well as members from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Unfortunately, none of the football players were ready to jump in the cage, and while he was unable to find people as tall as Choi, he was able to work with fighters taller than him, as well as working with coaches who held pads above his head to make sure he was used to striking higher. It was also around this time that Brock began to train with Cole Konrad, who would go on to become one of his main sparring partners before becoming the Bellator FC Heavyweight champion.


K-1 ran into many issues before their big "K-1 Dynamite USA!!" event (as well as plenty afterwards which deserves an article of its own), the first one being that their event had to get pushed back a month to June, and also ended up going to a new venue, the LA. Memorial Coliseum. The biggest blow to their event was yet to come, as they were about to lose one-half of their main event. Choi was denied his license on May 23, a mere ten days before the show was scheduled to happen. Word was that CSAC doctors doing their pre-fight medicals on Choi discovered a benign tumor on his pituitary gland that could have been life-threatening, so they were forced to take him off the card. Replacing Choi was another Korean fighter (K-1 was banking on a large Korean-American audience for this event), "Mr. Shark" Min Soo Kim.


Kim was a Judo silver medalist at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, as well as holding other accolades in "the gentle way", and was a very different fighter than who Brock was originally training for. Much shorter than Choi and more squat, Kim was technically an MMA veteran at the time with seven fights under his belt. However, of those seven matches, five of them were losses, the majority of them being knock outs. The main advantage that Kim would have over Brock would be ring experience, since power and size were clearly going to Brock.

Brock's debut at the abysmal Dynamite show was the main event of the evening, taking precedence over the Royce VS Sak rematch. Fans of Brock were ecstatic to finally see him in real combat, while pundits were hopeful that this muscle-bound one-dimensional wrestler would get tooled. When referee Steve Mazzigati (who would go on to piss off Lesnar later on in his career) ran down the rules moments before the fight, Brock and Kim began jawing at each other and butting heads. "Min Soo Ki, Mr. Shark, is he being fed to the sharks here tonight?" asked commentator Mauro Ranallo to Jay Glazer. The answer was an obvious yes.

The bout lasted 69 seconds, with Brock slapping down Kim's attempt to touch gloves after the bell rang. After eight seconds, Lesnar had put Kim on his back from catching a slow low kick and ended up in his opponent's guard. Using sheer power, Lesnar forced his way to mount and picked his shots on Kim's head until the Korean fighter tapped out to give Brock his first win. "Is he the next big thing in MMA?" exclaimed Ranallo after the fight.

Lesnar walked away from the fight completely unscathed with a great start and a huge payday, while Kim could barely stand after his beating. In his post-fight interview with Jay Glazer, Brock announced his desire to continue his MMA career, "I want to keep fighting and, I don't know, we will see what happens. We will see what promoter wants to step up and hand out some money and let's get some heavyweight titles on the line." The next person to make that offer was Dana White and the UFC, and the heavyweight gold was not too far away either.

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