Elliot Worsell, UFC - No, it’s not a rhetorical question. As unlikely as it may seem right now, somebody – surely, somebody – must find a cure for cancer, halt the crashing economy and figure a way to beat Brock Lesnar.
No, it’s not a rhetorical question. As unlikely as it may seem right now, somebody – surely, somebody – must find a cure for cancer, halt the crashing economy and figure a way to beat Brock Lesnar.
Eighteen months ago, Lesnar had a queue of willing participants lined outside the door of his Minnesota ranch. There were sweepstakes to decide which lucky fighter would be one to expose the former WWE poster boy.
Four fights later and the queue has swiftly disappeared - for the time being at least. There will no doubt be others who will shuffle on past Lesnar’s home and bravely knock at the door of the Big Bad Wolf. But, for now, the critics, naysayers and so-called ‘proper’ fighters have been rendered as eerily silent as the Minnesota backdrop Lesnar chooses to immerse himself in when preparing for battle.
Incredibly, Lesnar has flipped the heavyweight division on its head within a matter of only five professional mixed martial arts bouts. With dominant wins over Frank Mir, Randy Couture and Heath Herring, Lesnar has quickly transcended from ‘that WWE guy’ and an easy target, to UFC heavyweight champion and one of the most head-scratching athletic challenges in any sport.
Having seemingly struck a deal with the devil for his immense physical gifts, Lesnar stands as a 265-pound behemoth that has to work hard just to call himself a heavyweight. This isn’t a heavyweight who enjoys the division simply because it allows him to relax his mind and belt buckle. No, Lesnar is a different kind of heavyweight – a different kind of animal.
The 32-year-old Lesnar isn’t 265-pounds of slow, lumbering and wasted muscle or fat. He’s an athletic specimen – someone just as likely to out sprint you in a 100-metre dash, as he is to pick you up and toss you on your head. Blessed with a freakish amount of fast-twitch muscle fibres, Lesnar’s speed and dynamism makes him as dangerous on his feet with both hands cocked as he is shooting for a trademark takedown.
This, naturally, presents a headache for any man brave enough to attempt to steal back their lunch money from Lesnar. Essentially, when opposing Lesnar, you’re dealing with a wrestling powerhouse – and one of the largest men to ever call himself a mixed martial artist – who also happens to be blessed with the short-distance speed and explosiveness of someone half his size. It doesn’t even sound fair.
Yet through a combination of hard work and a willingness to master the intricacies of the game, Lesnar has utilised these God-given gifts to rise to the summit of the UFC’s heavyweight division. Having avenged his sole defeat to Frank Mir at UFC 100, there is no longer even a question mark, less a black mark, on the Minnesota-native’s resume.
The merciless ferocity he exhibited when ground-and-pounding Mir with his now infamous ‘lunchboxes’ was a sight to behold. Sure, it wasn’t Anderson Silva dissecting a man with almost balletic striking or Demian Maia sinking in a picture-perfect triangle choke. However, Lesnar’s vicious ground attack was his version of such beauty. This was as aesthetically pleasing as Lesnar is ever going to get and it works for him. He takes people down, beats them up to the point where you want to look away and then guzzles a beer or two.
What is now clear to almost everyone – whether they like to admit it or not – is that Lesnar’s undoubted style and flamboyance is backed up by a heavy dose of substance. The former 2000 NCAA champion can truly fight and perform as a mixed martial artist.
You don’t run through men like Couture, Mir and Herring with some amusing patter and an evil snarl. You have to get in there and fight. Lesnar has done exactly that with each opponent and come out all smiles and spit at the conclusion. Take one look at the disfigured faces of the aforementioned and you’d mistake them for having barely survived some sort of apocalypse.
Lesnar isn’t just beating top heavyweights – he’s blowing them out of the water. Like the Big Bad Wolf himself, Lesnar is essentially cleaning out the heavyweight house with a gust of wind these fellow heavyweights – powerful juggernauts in their own right – have never before experienced.
Before Lesnar can officially claim the heavyweight division as his ranch, there remains a number of contenders plotting to outsmart the wolf from inside:
The New Breed:
Cain Velasquez (6-0)
Pedigree: Currently one of the hottest prospects in the heavyweight division, Cain Velasquez is unbeaten in six mixed martial arts bouts and has won five via stoppage. The California-native is a heavy-handed puncher and a top-drawer wrestler, possessing a knack of either subduing foes on the floor or simply submitting them.
The 26-year-old dazzled in a first-round victory over Jake O’Brien, looked powerful when overwhelming Denis Stojnic and then passed a gut-check against Cheick Kongo at UFC 99 in June. Dropped more than once by Kongo’s sledgehammer right hand, Velasquez managed to survive under fire and think his way to victory, cleverly capitalising on Kongo’s inadequacies on the ground to nab a decision.
Weapons: With five knockouts from six victories, it’s fair to say Velasquez can wallop with either fist. He’s also incredibly mobile and quick for a heavyweight. Able to put together rapid punch combinations, Velasquez possesses the kind of hand speed that can assure he reaches the target first.
Needless to say, Velasquez’ tremendous wrestling ability remains his strongest attribute. He was outgunned in the stand-up with Kongo, yet simply outmanoeuvred the Frenchman when he dragged him to the ground. Velasquez can outwrestle most of the heavyweight division and his submission skills are more than noteworthy for a big man.
Timeframe: In line to meet fellow up-and-comer Shane Carwin towards the end of 2009, Velasquez will presumably have the UFC title in his sights during the mid-point of 2010. There’s no need to rush – bad timing may be one of the only things stopping Velasquez from fulfilling his dream.
Chances: Size could be a problem, but if anyone can at least match Lesnar for wrestling ability it could be Velasquez. A quick learner and clearly eager to take chances, Velasquez will only become a better fighter in the coming months and years. Although he has engaged in a similar amount of pro bouts to Lesnar, Velasquez may not be as ready for the big show as his 32-year-old counterpart is.
Shane Carwin (11-0)
Pedigree: Colorado’s Shane Carwin may be the heavyweight best placed to equal Lesnar in the intimidation stakes. Similarly imposing at 6’3 and 260-pounds, Carwin is a well-oiled machine of muscle and mean intentions. He boasts a stunning one-punch knockout of Christian Wellisch, a ground-and-pound destruction of Neil Wain and a career-best stoppage of Gabriel Gonzaga.
The former college wrestler and football star rallied back superbly against Gonzaga, having been badly rocked in the opening moments. Hurt by a Gonzaga right hand, Carwin almost instantly and instinctively responded with a right cross of his own. The result was devastating. Carwin’s power has caused each of his bouts to be cut short before entering the second round. Scorecards are pointless when Carwin’s around.
Weapons: Big power in his hands and vicious ground-and-pound. Carwin’s high calibre wrestling allows him to grab positions on the mat and his heavy-hands take it from there. Carwin is one of the most frightening ground-and-pound exponents competing today.
Timeframe: At 34, Carwin may be advised to ascent sooner rather than later. Still relatively inexperienced as a mixed martial artist, Carwin proved his quality with the stunning victory over Gonzaga.
Chances: Carwin’s right hand would appear powerful enough to fell most heavyweights, including Lesnar. Thrown either long or short, Carwin generates enough power to chop down a Minnesota pine tree.
His wrestling ability and sheer physical size will also neutralise a lot of what Lesnar achieves against smaller men. Shaken momentarily by both Gonzaga and Wain, it remains to be seen whether Carwin could deal with Lesnar’s sheer power, standing or on the ground.
Junior Dos Santos (8-1)
Pedigree: Junior Dos Santos erupted on the heavyweight scene last October when he dipped down, launched a heavy uppercut and scrambled the senses of leading contender Fabricio Werdum. A UFC newcomer at the time – and something of an unknown commodity – Dos Santos instantly signalled his credentials as a major player in the division.
Still only 25 years of age, Dos Santos has won eight mixed martial arts bouts inside the very first round, either by knockout or submission. He followed up the Werdum shocker with a similarly destructive slaying of Stefan Struve in February – also inside the first round.
Weapons: Yet to go into the second round as a pro, Dos Santos’ danger comes early and it happens quickly. Terrifying with his fists and kicks, ‘Cigano’ possesses enough TNT to switch out the lights of most top heavyweights. An undefeated kick boxer, Dos Santos also boasts a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Timeframe: At 25 years of age, there’s no particular rush with Dos Santos. Despite already claiming the scalp of Werdum on his resume, Dos Santos remains relatively inexperienced as a mixed martial artist and will receive a further examination of his credentials at UFC 103 when he meets Mirko Cro Cop.
Chances: Should Dos Santos be able to live with and beat Cro Cop in the stand-up, we could be looking at the real deal. Clearly powerful on his feet, Dos Santos’ jiu-jitsu also gives him another dimension in any impending bout with Lesnar. With plenty of time on his side, Dos Santos – providing he can ace the Cro Cop test - looks like good value.