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Earlier this week, former WWE announcer and executive (and Chael Sonnen’s announcing partner at Battlegrounds earlier this month) Jim Ross set off yet another wave of Brock Lesnar-related speculation in the MMA world when he told Fox Sports that the one-time UFC Heavyweight Champion might consider a return to mixed martial arts competition after Wrestlemania 31, when his current WWE contract expires.
Now this is probably just a good ol’ rasslin’ work perpetuated by Good Ol’ JR, even though he’s been gone from the WWE for over a year. Old habits die hard, and people who have spent most of their lives in the wrestling business are never quite able to shake their carny-like penchant for promotion and shit-stirring, even when—or especially when—their attention-grabbing has no actual basis in fact. The Ross interview itself is incredibly thin. He admits he hasn’t talked to Lesnar about it, and that he has no inside information. The closest he has to any expertise on the subject is that he has also suffered from diverticulitis, the illness that led to the Lesnar’s retirement from the UFC in 2011.
Even though I realize the flimsiness of this speculation, my first reaction wasn’t, “Good try, JR. Go back to making delicious BBQ sauce,” but “Oh god, no! I thought I was finally rid of him!”
See, I’ve been trying to like Brock Lesnar for over a decade now. I’ve come close a few times, but it’s never lasted.
I was a massive wrestling nerd when Brock Lesnar made his WWE debut in 2002, enough of a nerd, in fact, that I already knew a fair amount about him and was eagerly anticipating his first appearance in the major leagues. A friend and fellow geek had caught him wrestling as part of a developmental talent preview at WWE’s pre-Wrestlemania 18 Fan Fest and couldn’t shut up about him. This Brock guy, he told me, looked like a giant, but he wrestled with the speed and detail of a man half his size. He had so much charisma! It was impossible to take your eyes off of him! He was... the next big thing!
So imagine my disappointment when this sort of Box Head from Gumby made flesh lumbered through the crowd on the March 18, 2002 episode of Raw and tossed around Al Snow, Maven and Spike Dudley for a while. The only thing that redeemed the whole episode was that Paul Heyman, one of the most interesting people to ever hold a mic in pro wrestling, was there with him as a manager.
My friend had been right about the “Next Big Thing” assessment. That was, after all, his official title in the WWE. And he did go on to destroy everyone in his path while the brilliant Heyman caused an equal amount of verbal havoc. But I never really saw the appeal that was making my fellow fans so insane.
Lesnar’s schtick was supposed to be that he was a hybrid of two very different styles of wrestling: the big, muscular dude who can smash things, and the smaller guy who can actually move at some speed without gassing out or dying. But when he finally arrived in the WWE, he sort of just drifted into the first category by default.
When he wrestled smaller guys, he threw them around like rag dolls to demonstrate his physical superiority. When he picked on someone his own size, he was generally reduced to working at their speed. Which reduced him to just another impressive looking but essentially lumbering oaf. Heyman certainly made him sound impressive in his promos (and sometimes carried entire matches by himself—the only good part of Lesnar’s Hell In A Cell match against The Undertaker was Heyman rolling around on the floor outside of the cage wailing “BROCK! We’re LOOOOOSING!!”), but all of that went out the window when Paul E. turned on his client to align himself with The Big Show.
Leaving Brock alone to speak for himself was a terrible idea. He wasn’t good at talking or promoting himself, and his sub-Tyson-esque sqeak of a voice certainly didn’t help matters. But still, he continued his on screen reign of terror and everyone but me seemed to like it. Eventually, I drifted away from wrestling and started obsessing about MMA instead.
And then Brock followed me there.
I watched Lesnar’s UFC debut (after doing my best to ignore his previous MMA bouts) on the mats of the BJJ gym where I was training at the time. My teammates were cheering against him because they wanted the pro wrestler to fail at “real fighting.” As much as I still appreciated pro wrestling on a theatric level—and I will still argue, to the death, that it is a fascinated modern day passion play—and didn’t share my friend’s pompous dismissal of sports entertainment, I was also cheering against him. But my reason was because I just didn’t like him and wanted him to go away.
When Lesnar tapped to Frank Mir’s knee bar, we all cheered. But our satisfaction and/or schadenfreude was short lived. Lesnar went on to “dominate” Heath Herring, Randy Couture and Shane Carwin, although “dominate” is a bit strong for performances that were not always as definitive as they should have been. More often than not, Lesnar looked like a lion cub in the cage: he was dangerous, but still struggling to learn how to make the actual kill.
Lesnar was a frustrating star. This, because, as a fan who always cared about the intricacies of MMA, I could sense that he didn’t care. When asked about the rumors surrounding Lesnar’s return on a recent appearance on The Paul Allen Project, UFC announcer Mike Goldberg said “Brock never embraced the true game of mixed martial arts. He’s an alpha male, takes you down and beats you up. He didn’t embrace the striking, he didn’t embrace the submission game. He was like, ‘This is what I do, I’m good at it, and I’ll win by doing it.”
The lack of enjoyment that I got out of watching Lesnar win was because I didn’t care for him. The lack of enjoyment I got out of watching him fight was because I cared about MMA. And he, clearly, didn’t.
His persona was even more frustrating in the UFC than it had been in the WWE. He was constantly trying to play a traditional wrestling heel whenever anyone thrust a mic in his face. This failed for two reasons: 1) Playing the heel is possible in MMA (look at Ronda Rousey) but it takes a certain level of tweaking and sophistication. You can’t do it exactly the same way as you did in the squared circle; and 2) He was never even close to being good at it in the WWE to begin with.
The first time that Lesnar ever looked remotely real or human might have been the first time that he ever felt human in the public eye: when he absolutely fell apart after Alistair Overeem struck him in the stomach at UFC 141. Not only did Overeem knock the wind out of the ailing, diverticulitis-suffering Lesnar with that strike, he also knocked the posturing, the bragging, and the persona out of him. For that brief moment, we saw the real Brock Lesnar looking his mortality in the face.
And even more than my own selfish desire to rarely ever see his face again (I’ll admit, I’ve occasionally turned on WWE programming since his 2012 pro wrestling return to see what him Paul Heyman are up to now), this is the reason that I never want to see Lesnar in the Octagon again.
If he were to return to MMA, Brock Lesnar would be bringing a hallmark of pro wrestling to UFC far worse and sadder than his pathetic attempts to be a heel. He’d be the broken down, past-his-prime wrestling legend who somehow, without even realizing it, crossed the line from death-defying stunts to death-courting decisions, another notch in the wrestling world’s brutally long list of casualties and tragedies.
In the WWE, his opponents can work around his compromised body and protect him while they put on a physical show, and he can, apparently, take as much time off as he needs in between matches. In the UFC, he’d have no such luxuries.
And, as much as I dislike the guy, I don’t want Brock Lesnar risking his life for something he’s never been able to convince me that he even enjoys. I want him to live a long and happy life with his family. Far away from every form of combat-based entertainment I hold dear.
CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this story, Antonio Nogueira was named as one of Lesnar's opponents. This was an error, and has since been changed to Shane Carwin.
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