Written By Trevor Lane
Go to any number of message boards or even your local MMA-savvy watering hole and toss out the name “Brock Lesnar.”
Watch how quickly the people dig their trenches, put up barbed wire, and start lobbing grenades at each other. You might as well be saying “Kobe or LeBron” or “Cristiano Ronaldo.”
The current UFC Heavyweight Champion has vocal and passionate fans on both ends of the spectrum, with some seeing him as a modern-day Hercules, sent to bewilder and amaze us with strength beyond that of mere mortals.
Others see him as Darth Vader, a man who is very naturally skilled, but putting faith in him will ultimately lead to the downfall of the UFC.
Where do I stand in all this chaos? Well, I’m stuck in no man’s land, and anyone who knows their history will tell you that it’s a very bad place to be.
I can empathize with both sides of the argument, but it’s time for me to finally choose a side and determine whether or not I will support Lesnar.
To do so I’m going to carefully examine the arguments and decide, once and for all, whether Brock Lesnar is a Hero or a Villain.
Brock Lesnar is a living example of everything that is wrong with the UFC today. With an MMA record of 3-1 (2-1 in the UFC), he received not only a title shot, but also a match against one of the greatest and most beloved fighters in the world, Randy Couture.
The interim champ at the time was Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira, so shouldn’t Couture and Nogueira fought to unify the belt?
Instead of doing the right thing, Dana White had dollar signs in his eyes and knew that a big name like Lesnar would generate plenty of pay-per-view buys.
If MMA is truly going to become a mainstay in the sports world, then fights have to be awarded on merit, not popularity.
The UFC now has a guy with very little MMA experience as its Heavyweight Champion. To make matters worse, Lesnar’s background in professional wrestling drags the UFC’s name down into the mud.
MMA is a legitimate sport and moving quickly to become a larger part of the sports world. Pro wrestling is like that distant cousin that no one takes seriously and is only tolerated because technically he’s still part of the family. Despite Lesnar’s success in MMA, he will always have the stink of the WWE on him.
Brock isn’t exactly the greatest ambassador to the sport, either. After leaving the WWE, he first tried to make it as a professional football player, and it was only after he failed that he turned to fighting.
The UFC started growing and Lesnar thought he’d give it a try, figuring his size, strength, and wrestling ability would give him an advantage and make him some money.
He was right, of course, but the truly great fighters are the ones that would be fighting even if they weren’t making anything.
If Lesnar wasn’t making enormous amounts of money from the UFC, he would be trying to catch on with some other sport. It’s tough to believe that MMA is truly a passion for him.
The UFC should be promoting guys who have paid their dues and worked their way up the ladder, not genetic lottery winners who are just looking for a paycheck.
Lesnar sets a terrible precedent in the sport and will only lead to more washed up athletes trying to make a quick buck by fighting. Will we see Shaquille O’Neal next?
To make matters worse, he seems to have bought into his own hype. After losing to Frank Mir, he came out and destroyed Heath Herring, but his antics while doing so showed very little respect to his veteran opponent.
Lesnar played to the crowd, shoved Herring after the bell, and even pointed and laughed at Herring after the fight was over. Apparently, sportsmanship and class weren’t taught in the WWE.
This is not the man the UFC wants other fighters to model their careers after. A UFC full of Brock Lesnar disciples would be a very scary place indeed.
Brock Lesnar is exactly what the UFC needs right now. He’s a recognizable face and a big-time athlete that can help open up the UFC brand to more fans.
Casual fans will tune in to see a guy like Lesnar, whose size and strength are nearly superhuman. Lesnar has all the physical tools to be an incredibly dominant fighter. The only question is how long it will take him to master the MMA game.
Perhaps that’s the most exciting thing about Lesnar: as good as he is, he is still getting better. Every time he steps into the octagon, he is better than the time before.
Coming into the UFC, he was already a world-class wrestler with a huge size and strength advantage.
His striking game is steadily improving, and his speed is surprising for a man of his stature. No one wants to miss the fight when he finally puts it all together.
Where Lesnar really stands out is in his long-term impact to the sport. He sets a great precedent of high-level athletes coming into MMA.
While it’s true that he doesn’t have the experience that most would like him to have, he is still a big asset to the UFC’s popularity.
The more popular the UFC becomes, the more young athletes will start getting involved in the sport, and that’s a very, very good thing for the future.
Having top athletes competing in a given sport is crucial to its overall success. Look at the current state of football (soccer) in the US. Most young kids in the States grow up and are steered towards sports like American football, baseball, and basketball.
Football is seen as a second-class sport, while in most of the rest of the world it takes top priority. Imagine if Chris Paul or LeBron James had grown up playing football instead of basketball. The American squad and MLS would look very different today.
The same is true for MMA. If top stars like Lesnar inspire more young athletes to get into MMA rather than the traditional sports, then MMA as a whole will improve. We have already seen the MMA world go through a huge transition over the past five years or so. Fighters who were dominant champions by specializing in one style struggle to hang with the young, well-rounded up-and-comers.
As the sport evolves and continues to attract attention I expect top athletes, wrestlers in particular, to look at what Lesnar is doing and follow his lead. Bobby Lashley already has.
While guys like Randy Couture and Dan Henderson may be reason enough for high-level wrestlers to pursue an MMA career, a big name like Brock Lesnar certainly won’t hurt the recruiting drive.
The scariest thing to think about is what if Lesnar had started his MMA career directly out of college rather than going to the WWE?
Imagine what he would be like today. Because of Brock’s success, we might not have to think of what could have been with the next phenom.
So where does all of this leave me? While I don’t agree with some of Lesnar’s actions, and do think he was given a title shot prematurely, I can’t deny his potential impact in the sport.
If Lesnar only lasts a few years and then bounces off to some other venture then I’ll be wrong, but if he lives up to his potential and continues to be a dedicated student of the game then the ends will more than justify the means.
I’m in No Man’s Land no longer, I say Brock Lesnar falls under the hero category. I will cheer for him wholeheartedly, and hope he continues to find success and improve his skills as a Mixed Martial Artist.
I’m not saying that the sport can’t exist without him, or that he doesn’t have the potential to damage the reputation of the UFC and MMA as a whole.
However, if Brock continues on his current path he also has a chance to play a big role in the development of the sport, and I prefer to look at his career with optimism.
As for his less than admirable personality traits, well, sometimes villains make the best heroes.
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