Elliot Worsell, UFC - UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar boasts many things. He boasts a UFC title to his name, four mixed martial arts victories, top-drawer wrestling, vicious ground-and-pound and the unique ability to remove horseshoes from rear-ends.
One thing he doesn’t boast, however, is the E-word - Experience.
UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar boasts many things. He boasts a UFC title to his name, four mixed martial arts victories, top-drawer wrestling, vicious ground-and-pound and the unique ability to remove horseshoes from rear-ends.
One thing he doesn’t boast, however, is the E-word - Experience.
Though he looks anything but, Lesnar remains a baby in terms of mixed martial arts practice. Still in the opening chapter of what he hopes will be a classic novel, Lesnar’s sheer physical attributes and hard-nosed work ethic have seen him vault to a position it takes lesser men years to achieve.
A lack of experience is not a slight on Lesnar, of course. In fact, his achievement in only five bouts merely shows what an incredible athlete and willing student the Minnesota-resident is.
Seemingly immature and lacking certain knowledge 16 months ago, Lesnar’s improvements have been dramatic and destructive. The ‘gimme’ kneebar he offered Frank Mir last February was never likely to happen again when the pair met at UFC 100. It didn’t. Lesnar learned from the experience and point-blank refused to make the same mistake again.
With the Mir challenge passed with flying colours, Lesnar now sits on top of the UFC’s heavyweight pile. With wins over Mir, Randy Couture and Heath Herring, the 32-year-old is exactly where he deserves to be. He’s dusted off three respected veterans of the division and finished each with a don’t-look-now nastiness. Experience hasn’t mattered a jot since he leaped up from Mir’s introductory kneebar.
However, while Mir, Couture and Herring failed, Lesnar will now face a follow-up flurry of veteran heavyweights eager to teach him other lessons. Lesnar may have eventually neutralised Mir, but how will he deal with questions posed from other masters of the game? How will he deal with staring across the Octagon at legends, the kind that have seen things and been to places that are simply foreign to him at this point in time?
Here is a rundown of the ‘old’ guys - the last line of defence – who may be best equipped to teach braggadocios Brock a thing or two in the coming months and years.
Mirko Cro Cop (25-6-2, 1 NC)
Pedigree: Chief protagonist in the head-kick highlight reel, Mirko Cro Cop has wreaked havoc on the craniums of many of the world’s leading heavyweights. A former PRIDE favourite, Cro Cop has scored wins over Wanderlei Silva, Josh Barnett, Mark Coleman and Kevin Randleman to name a few and usually always guarantees thrills and excitement.
His precise, measured and clinical style of striking has resulted in some of the most dramatic bouts in mixed martial arts history. Equally dangerous with his fists as he is with his feet, Cro Cop is well deserving of his reputation as one of mixed martial arts’ greatest ever strikers.
Weapons: Cro Cop boasts all the traits of a brilliant kick boxer. A former K-1 standout, counter-punching Cro Cop can draw on a highlight reel of head-kick knockouts and does plenty of damage with his hands, too.
A master at dictating range and timing, Cro Cop has a knack of manoeuvring opponents to dance to his tune. His straight left-hand from the southpaw stance is a fearsome shot and one that has scrambled the senses of many a top fighter.
Timeframe: Cro Cop’s next Octagon outing will arrive at UFC 103 when he tests the credentials of rampaging Brazilian Junior Dos Santos. As well as acting as Dos Santos’ litmus test, Cro Cop’s date at UFC 103 will also provide the Croatian with his own testing examination.
Eager to carefully approach a run at the title, the 34-year-old Cro Cop will presumably only make the move when the time is right. A big win over Dos Santos will put the division on notice, and a further considerable scalp may set him up for a bash at Lesnar.
Chances: Most men will come off second best when electing to stand with Cro Cop. That much is a given. Aside from a standout example to the contrary, Cro Cop usually gets his way when he can keep things standing. There’s a better than fair chance Cro Cop possesses the sharp, southpaw counter-punching and kicking ability to give Lesnar all sorts of problems.
However, it goes without saying that Cro Cop would undoubtedly find himself the target of a fusillade of takedown attempts should he face Lesnar. Though no slouch on his feet himself, Lesnar would be foolish to even contemplate standing with Cro Cop. Once he gets his way and takes things south, very few have the skills to stop Lesnar doing what he wants to do down there.
Antonio Nogueira (31-5-1, 1 NC)
Pedigree: Nobody’s tougher and very few are more decorated than Brazilian jiu-jitsu whiz Antonio Nogueira. He practically reinvented the art of jiu-jitsu amongst the world’s big men and can boast both UFC and PRIDE heavyweight titles to his legendary name.
Wins over Mirko Cro Cop, Josh Barnett, Dan Henderson, Mark Coleman and Tim Sylvia only further the legacy. Even in defeat to the world’s best, Nogueira is rarely dominated and has only even been stopped once, last time out against Frank Mir.
Weapons: Tough in the stand-up and a killer on the ground, Nogueira also boasts the chin and heart to ensure he’s a threat in most scenarios. Wherever the fight may end up going, Nogueira has the ability to end matters. That alone makes him dangerous against any heavyweight in the world.
At 33, and with a stoppage defeat to Mir still fresh in the memory, Nogueira may conceivably be on the downslide. However, his wealth of experience and sheer fighting instincts will always present ‘Minotauro’ with opportunities to shock the world.
Timeframe: Nogueira meets Randy Couture on August 29 at UFC 102 and will look to resume his climb back towards title contention. Should he look impressive in defeating Couture, a title shot may not be too far off. Nogueira will hope to prove the Mir setback was just an unfortunate blip when he squares off with Couture.
Chances: Nogueira’s sheer experience and toughness will give him all the confidence he needs against Lesnar. He’s been involved in the sort of battles Lesnar can only watch on YouTube. He’s had to dig to places Lesnar doesn’t know exist yet. Nogueira’s been in with more-skilled fighters than Lesnar and come out smiling. Should Lesnar present him with a limb on the ground, Nogueira won’t ask for a second invitation.
However, wear-and-tear and the side effects of age may also be working against the ‘Minotauro’ of 2009.
Randy Couture (16-9)
Pedigree: If ‘Captain America’ can’t tame the beast, who can? Sure, he’s already tasted the content of Lesnar’s ‘lunchboxes’, but defeat has never deterred Randy Couture in the past. Famed for his ability to bounce back and achieve the impossible, a Couture win over Lesnar would unquestionably mark the crowning achievement of a 12-year mixed martial arts career.
Pedigree? Well, wins over Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Pedro Rizzo, Vitor Belfort and Tim Sylvia will do for starters. UFC light heavyweight and UFC heavyweight titles can also be thrown into the mix. The appeal of Couture is more than those titles and all those famous wins, however. Couture will forever be remembered as the man who never knows when he’s beaten. Never knows when to call it a day. Always has that little something left…
Weapons: We can talk physical attributes all day, but Couture’s biggest weapon will always remain his heart, determination and unbreakable will. He has guts like no other competitor and carries unwavering self-belief even when the world writes him off. Those intangibles can often count for more than any physical skills.
Oh, his wrestling and stand-up aren't half-bad, either.
Timeframe: Couture battles fellow vet Nogueira at UFC 102 on August 29. Should the 46-year-old Couture prove there’s still life in the old dog yet, another stab at Lesnar’s title may not be beyond the realms of possibility. A win over Nogueira will be huge for Couture, even at this late, late, very late stage in his career.
Chances: Well, it’s already happened once. Couture suffered a crushing second-round stoppage defeat to Lesnar at the back end of 2008. However, Couture will take heart from the fact he was competitive with Lesnar in round one and the world will take heart from the fact that ‘Captain America’ is never done until he says he’s done.