What's Brock Lesnar's best chance to foil Cain Velasquez' challenge for his UFC heavyweight championship belt on Saturday night in Anaheim? Read on to find out...
Brock Lesnar is one of those once-in-a-generation athletes. Think about his accomplishments for a moment.
Lesnar was a two-time All-American wrestler at the University of Minnesota and won the NCAA National Championship in 2000. He followed that up with three-year hiatus from real competition while performing World Wrestling Entertainment. Lesnar then decided that he wanted to play professional football. Keep in mind that he did not play football in college. Yet, he secured a tryout with the Minnesota Vikings and made it to one of the last round of cuts. His potential was clear to everyone, so the Vikings invited him to play in NFL Europe to develop his skills for a potential future opportunity in the NFL.
Lesnar declined and instead decided to toss his hat into the world of mixed martial arts. It took him all of four fights to win the UFC Heavyweight Championship. That is downright absurd.
Most elite mixed martial artists are excellent athletes. There is no heavyweight mixed martial artist on the planet who can hold an athletic candle to Lesnar. I'm certain about that statement.
Lesnar's successes have largely been due to his amazing blend of size, explosive speed, strength and general coordination. The guy is a mere cheeseburger away from tipping the scales at a very lean, extremely muscled 300 lbs, has hands the size of a catcher's mitt, can deadlift a small car, explodes into takedowns and rolls around on the mat like a middleweight, and has yet to show any deficiencies in the size of his gas tank. There aren't many guys alive who can match him in each of those areas. Lesnar can basically do whatever he wants in the world of sports.
But, alas, fighting isn't just about athleticism. It is also about technique, conditioning and heart. Lesnar will have all three of those things tested when he defends his UFC crown for the third time against what I believe to be the toughest challenge of his young career: Cain Velasquez.
For all of Lesnar's athletic accomplishments and freakish physical gifts, Velasquez brings to the table one of the most well rounded games that we have seen in the heavyweight division in quite some time. I remember first hearing about the guy through Javier Mendez, his head trainer and the founder of the American Kickboxing Academy.
Velasquez had no professional fights under his belt at the time, and Mendez, who is brutally honest when giving his opinion about a fighter, said without hesitation that Velasquez had more potential in the sport than anyone he had ever met. His description was something along these lines: he kicks like Cro Cop, punches like Liddell, was an All-American wrestler at Arizona State University and never, ever gets tired….oh yeah, and he is addicted to training.
Eight unbeaten fights later, there are many who believe that Velasquez is the best heavyweight in the world, despite the fact that Lesnar is the champion. He will have the opportunity to definitively answer that question on Saturday night when he collides with the most dominant athlete in the UFC.
If Lesnar wants to continue his reign as champion, he needs to remain committed to a game plan that heavily relies on takedowns and ground control. That isn't to suggest that his standup game is rubbish, because it certainly is not. Nevertheless, there is a stark contrast between his wrestling and striking games.
Lesnar's wrestling proved to be the difference in each of his wins, other than his bout with Couture where he won after landing a circuit-shorting right hand on the temple. Shane Carwin, who is a behemoth former college wrestler, much like Lesnar, enjoyed some early success avoiding the takedown by not sitting down on his early punches and keeping his hands low enough to effectively sprawl. But that didn't last long. As soon as he tired just a bit, Lesnar was able to take him down with ease.
Velasquez was a more accomplished amateur wrestler than Carwin--by a wide margin, actually. And he has a much deeper gas tank, so I don't see him tiring early in the fight. Yet, the size and strength differentials are so great that Lesnar should be able to basically bull rush him to the ground, something he couldn't do against Carwin, who isn't quite as big or strong as Lesnar, but is one of the bigger, stronger heavyweights in the sport.
On the other side of the equation, it is Velasquez who holds all of the advantages in the standup realm. All except for the sheer force behind the blows, where Lesnar takes a back seat to nobody, other than Carwin. Lesnar is the kind of guy who can land a shot on a covered-up opponent's forearms and still knock him down. That is only relevant if he is able to squarely land against Velasquez. Otherwise, the challenger's edge in technique, hand speed and foot speed will lead to Lesnar getting sliced and diced on the feet.
Team Lesnar knows all of that, but I still suspect that Lesnar will come out early and see how he stacks up with Velasquez on the feet. That is a mistake, in my opinion. One that could be fatal to his title reign. But Lesnar is the type of guy who wants to make a statement each time he steps in to the Octagon. Tell him that he is weak in an area, and Lesnar will seek to prove you wrong.
I would much prefer to see him come out and use a lead right hand as a Trojan Horse to change levels and explode into a double-leg takedown. Velasquez will probably look to counter in the opening seconds, so he will plant his feet and try to time a Lesnar lead right with either a left hook or by slightly changing angles and firing his own right. Either way, if Lesnar's right is nothing more than a feinting arm punch that corrals Velasquez into a double-leg, he should be successful in taking the fight to the ground.
If not, try again. Don't get frustrated. And don't decide to recklessly stand and bang. Commit to the takedown and it will come.
Once the action hits the ground, the champion knows what to do. He must remain calm and focus first on maintaining the position. That means keeping a wide base with his hips down and his upper body low to Velasquez's chest so that there isn't room for the challenger to post up on his arms and stand or work for submissions.
From there, Lesnar can fire short right or left hands, just like he did when he had Frank Mir on the ground in their second fight. None of the individual punches are designed to bring the fight to an instant end. They are instead designed to wear down an opponent, and that is precisely what will happen.
Velasquez won't be comfortable carrying all of Lesnar's weight and getting punched in the face. His Energizer Bunny gas tank will take a hit. Trust me on that one. And after a full round of getting pounded on--assuming he doesn't succumb to the punishment sooner--he will become more desperate on the feet, which will make him that much easier to take down for however long the fight lasts.
Cain Velasquez may be the most difficult challenge of Brock Lesnar's career to date, but this is a very winnable fight for the champion. It starts and ends with takedowns and ground control. If Lesnar remains fully committed to those two notions and executes, he should walk out of the cage the same way that he entered it--as the UFC Heavyweight Champion.
• 33 years old
• 6'3, 265 lbs
• 81-inch reach
• 5-1 professional record (4-1 UFC)
• 83.3% of fights have ended inside the distance (4-1 in those fights)
• Last 3 fights ended in the 2nd round (3-0 in those fights)
• 2 wins by submission, 2 wins by knockout
• 3-0 in championship fights
• Two-time All-American wrestler at the University of Minnesota (1999 and 2000)
• 2000 NCAA National Champion in wrestling
• 1999 NCAA Runner-Up in wrestling
• 1998 Junior College National Champion