LAS VEGAS - JULY 03: Brock Lesnar reacts after his second round submission victory against Shane Carwin to win the UFC Heavyweight Championship Unification bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on July 3 2010 in Las Vegas Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

UFC 121 Primer: Brock Lesnar's Journey From Athletic Freak To UFC Champion

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UFC 112 Primer: Brock Lesnar's Journey From Athletic Freak To UFC Champion

SB Nation will be running a series of primers for UFC 121 to bring casual fans of the sport up to speed on the fights and fighters of one of the biggest shows of the year. The articles should also serve as a tremendous refresher for long time fans of the sport.

When Brock Lesnar announced that he would be taking his gigantic frame to the world of mixed martial arts there was no end to the unease felt by fans of the sport. This was, after all, a man who had spent several years prior making his money and creating his name in "fake combat" for Vince McMahon's WWE. He had a reputation as a guy with attitude problems and a brief run trying out with the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL only served to confirm it. Lesnar repeatedly started minor scuffles on the practice field and drilled Kansas City Chiefs QB Damon Huard during a drill. Lesnar would not make the Vikings roster but was invited to participate as a Vikings representative in NFL Europa, an offer which Lesnar declined.

It's easy to write Lesnar's NFL experiment off as a failure, but the fact that he hadn't played football since high school and was able to walk onto an NFL team and be a late cut who was invited to play in the European development league showed just how gifted he truly was athletically. Here are some scary numbers from an ESPN article written at the start of his time with the Vikings:

The 6-foot-3, 290-pound Goliath, the guy who benches 475 pounds, squats 695 pounds, steamed.

...

A few weeks after his wrestling career came to an end with a Wrestlemania loss to Goldberg, Lesnar ran the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds, a blistering time for a man his size. He has a 10-foot standing broad jump. A 35-inch vertical leap, not to mention the bench and squat numbers. It's the tools of an NFL running back power packed into a gladiator's frame.

While in Japan it is common to see stars crossing back and forth from MMA and pro wrestling, to American fans there was still something unsavory about a former WWE champion deciding to try doing it "for real." But with that kind of raw athletic talent it was just too hard to write him off as a sure failure. Of course, the fact that Lesnar was also an accomplished amateur wrestler certainly helped his case.

After going undefeated in his senior year of high school, Brock ended up at Bismarck Junior College where he would put up a 56-3 record, twice winning the Bison Open Tournament and turning heads with a National Junior College Athletic Association win. When the BJC wrestling program was shut down Lesnar ended up going to the University of Minnesota to compete in the Big 10. It didn't take long to prove he belonged in the big leagues of college wrestling as he won the Big Ten championship in his junior season but suffered a loss in the finals of the NCAA championship tournament. Jonathan Snowden with more info on the loss and how Lesnar rebounded:

The loss didn't just cost Brock a national championship, it cost his team as well. Minnesota was a Lesnar win away from winning the NCAA Wrestling Championship. The loss burned in Lesnar, and he was committed to win at all costs in 2000. With Neal gone, his new top rival was Iowa's Wes Hand. Hand was the only man to beat Brock in his senior year. The two met again in the finals of the NCAA Championship, a tournament Lesnar ran through like Godzilla rampaging through Tokyo. This time he dispatched with Hand in a closely contested and cautious match. Lesnar made an escape in overtime. The one point was the difference. Lesnar won by the score of 3-2 and achieved his dream: he was the NCAA Champion. He finished his college career with an absurd record of 106-5.

So the combination of an incredibly successful amateur wrestling career and otherworldly athletic gifts meant that MMA fans would have to wait to see what Lesnar would be able to do in an MMA bout before writing him off as "just a pro wrestler."

That MMA debut was scheduled to come against the 7'2" pro kickboxer Hong Man Choi at K-1 Dynamite!! USA but Choi was denied his license to fight in California and was replaced by 2-5 Min Soo Kim. Lesnar would blast through Kim in just over a minute, forcing him to submit to strikes. It was an impressive debut but the show was a flop both at the live gate and on PPV.

Lesnar would then sign with the UFC where no time would be wasted on development or easy fights as his first bout would come at UFC 81: Breaking Point against former heavyweight champion Frank Mir. Brock would fly out of his corner and secure a takedown before unleashing a flurry of punches and hammerfists. Unfortunately, aim was not a focus of Lesnar's at that moment and after a few blows to the back of Mir's head a point was deducted and the fight restarted. Lesnar managed another quick takedown but Mir, a submission specialist, grabbed Brock's leg and applied a kneebar that forced Lesnar to tap. In total the bout had lasted only ninety seconds and while the world saw that Lesnar had areas that needed work, his raw size and ferocity had stunned a champion and put him on the verge of a tremendous win.

Next up was a bout with crafty veteran Heath Herring at UFC 87. It was a bout that showed a more patient Lesnar as he would spend the majority of the fight in dominant position grinding his way to a decision win. That isn't to say that the mean streak wasn't there against Herring as Lesnar broke Heath's orbital bone with a single straight right hand early in the fight.

The win provided a chance for the UFC to once again push Lesnar hard, this time with a UFC championship bout with MMA legend Randy Couture. Couture would try to engage Lesnar in a grappling match and even managed to control the wrestling at times but in the second round Brock would land a punch that dropped Randy and from there he pounced, landing a flurry of blows that caused the referee to stop the fight in the second round. Four fights into his career and Lesnar was now the heavyweight championship of the world. While many claimed (and many still claim to this day) that Lesnar was unfairly given a title shot based on celebrity over accomplishment, results matter more than speculation and the belt was around Brock's waist.

A rematch with Mir was in order and would happen at UFC 100. Frank was coming off a shocking TKO win over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and was full of bravado claiming he'd submit Lesnar again and become the undisputed champion. Unfortunately for Mir, this was not the same Lesnar he fought the first time around. Brock would brutalize Mir for just over a round, landing hard punches and causing the referee to step in to prevent any further damage.

Lesnar was drawing huge crowds, which in some ways was also occasionally a curse as the more than one and a half million viewers on pay-per-view for UFC 100 heard Lesnar speak ill of long time UFC sponsor Bud Light saying that they don't pay him anything and that he would go home, have a coors light and get on top of his wife. It was a black eye on an otherwise incredibly successful event.

Shane Carwin was supposed to be Lesnar's next opponent but the MMA world was turned upside down when Lesnar became seriously ill. An initial diagnosis of mononucleosis turned out to also involve a very bad case of diverticulitis. The condition required surgery to fix and had some worried that he may never be able to compete athletically again. Instead, Lesnar was back by UFC 116 just eight months later to face Carwin.

Shane had recently dispatched of Frank Mir in a bout to crown an interim champion in Lesnar's absence. Carwin is a huge man who cuts weight to make the 265 pound heavyweight limit and had never been out of the first round while going 12-0 for his career. Carwin swarmed the champion early landing hard punches and putting Lesnar flat on his back. It appeared that the fight would be stopped before the first round ended as Carwin pounded away from on top but Lesnar managed to remain composed enough to defend and survive to the bell. While Brock was bloodied up he looked like the fresher man in the corner and he would quickly score a takedown in the second round, move to mount and secure an arm triangle choke that forced his foe to submit.

While Lesnar had been submitted by Mir, the Carwin fight was the first time in wrestling or MMA that Lesnar had been dominated for a sustained length of time. But Lesnar survived and retained his title. It was a true championship performance and one that showed that Brock has the guts and heart to be more than a frontrunning powerhouse.

Against Cain Velasquez at UFC 112 we're going to see Lesnar as he's more experienced and, unlike the training camp against Carwin where he trying to get his body back to where it needed to be, he will be healthy and training a specific gameplan. Cain is fast, has good wrestling and solid striking technique. A win against him would prove Lesnar's place in the heavyweight hierarchy is a lot more solid than anyone could have ever predicted for an athletic freak who'd devoted much time to pursuing sports entertainment and an out of the blue shot at a football career.

But even back when he was trying to beat the odds and make it in the NFL I think Brock had a pretty good idea of the kind of man he is:

"If it was legal and I wouldn't get in trouble, I'd pick a fight on every street. If I wouldn't lose any money or nothing, I would fight. I'd fight every day."

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