Retirements in professional wrestling are very meaningless, but those in MMA seem to stick a little stronger. At 34, Brock Lesnar would be in the prime of his career in any combat sport, but by announcing his retirement, he’s closing the door on one of the biggest experiments the sport has ever seen.
Despite a slightly less than stellar record, the drawing power of Lesnar was a success. At 5-3, his Mixed Martial Arts career isn’t bad by any analysis, but had he gone to 6-2, he would have established himself as a great. There simply aren’t that many guys who can take a delayed start in a combat sport, after having endured a significant run as a professional wrestler, having endured a motorcycle accident, having tried out for professional football, and most significant of all, having battled a few bouts of diverticulitis and having had surgery to repair his ailing intestines.
I write neither to praise Lesnar, nor to bury him, but to examine the surroundings of his sudden, but not so surprising retirement.
Lesnar announced his retirement shortly after having his liver struck by a powerful kick from Alistair Overeem.
In that brief fight last Friday, last year, Lesnar opened with some interesting low kicks, seemed primed for resuming his fighting career, and … and then once he was unable to take Overeem down, and after he felt a few punches, the energy and anticipating seemed to change.
But, it seems to me that it wasn’t Overeem that broke Brock Lesnar, he was just the guy in the ring when Brock Lesnar may have finally figured out that his career in fighting was over.
It reminded me a lot of Matt Hammil. Hammil was at the top of his weight class, was a very powerful wrestler, and his record was strong and he battled top names. But when he lost a decision to Rampage Jackson, there seemed to be a spark missing from his game.
Hammil was manhandled by a top notch Mixed Martial Artist, and seemed to lose something. Perhaps he lost the confidence in his wrestling ability, perhaps he awoke to the reality that he had to eat punches to survive in the sport, perhaps he realized getting beaten up wasn’t all that enjoyable.
When Hammil took on Alexander Gustafsson, an accomplished striker, the fight felt similar.
The once powerful wrestler could not take his opponent down, could only realize that he was going to be struck unmercifully, and seemed to realize that his career had reached a climax.
Lesnar, battling Alistair Overeem, looked a lot like that.
Moreso, we need to go back to his fight with Cain Velasquez, when he seemed to realize that his wrestling skills weren’t quite enough to allow him to bull his way past equally talented fighters, or talented fighters that could thwart his takedowns, counter his best moves, or simply withstand his onslaught.
Sure, when he fought Shane Carwin, he withstood the striking onslaught of a powerful opponent, and then reverted to basic, fundamentally strong wrestling to win. There was a decided look on Brock’s face after Round One against Carwin, and it was the look of realization that he took the worst, but would overcome a tiring foe.
But Cain Velasquez was tireless, and Alistair Overeem was relentless, and in the former fight, Lesnar was outmaneuvered, and then rocked and then stumbled into oblivion. In the latter, he took a few hits, then was crushed by a liver kick that showed him that a man with a serious issue with his abdomen should not be in a position to take such punishment.
I saw irony in the fact that Overeem’s pounding of Lesnar’s meathook covered head was surely headed towards a TKO, but once Overeem struck his equally huge opponent in the gut, Referee Mario Yamasaki quickly called it off. Timing? Sure, but there had to be some sense that Lesnar wasn’t about to take a pounding in the area where he had surgery seven months ago.
Lesnar’s three losses show the problem with his MMA talents.
Against Frank Mir, he made a rookie mistake. While he won the rematch, Frank Mir must have been salivating about a rubber match, in which a rededicated Frank Mir would be taking on a huge draw in Brock Lesnar, but a fighter who would be on the decline. Frank Mir did well against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, knocking out and submitting a guy who was legendary in the sport.
Against Velasquez, a younger, likely equally talented wrestler (but not ten years removed from glory, not ten years of professional wrestling (not a trivial career), accidents and bouts with diverticulitis) but vastly more trained and experienced with MMA top talent, Lesnar had little chance in hindsight. Velasquez was hungrier, fresher and more dominating.
But that was a pyrrhic victory for Cain Velasquez, as he injured his shoulder and subsequently lost to Junior Dos Santos after a long delay.
Which, once again, shows just how powerful Brock Lesnar has been in the sport. Perhaps talking about his surgery is a cheap excuse, but the reality of his recover shows the level of his athleticism. Unfortunately, Lesnar’s mental will, in this violent, fighting sport, might have let him down.
Overeem showed the world that Lesnar is not quite as dangerous fighter as his reputation and drawing power suggest. That look on Brock’s face told the tale.
The images of Lesnar tapping to Mir, stumbling wildly from a strike by Velasquez, and the look of shock/pain/fear after having his liver rocked by Overeem are images that will fade, however.
While the WWE must be excited about any prospect of reclaiming a former Champion, in an era where new talent is hard to develop, it’s obvious to any industry expert that Lesnar will never be a full time professional wrestler. He’s stated that he hates the travel, he’s now got a family that he will loathe to leave (ironically married to former wrestling draw, Sable), and he’s very well likely financially secure, having earned many millions and living a lifestyle that doesn’t seem to be anything near extravagant.
The thought of Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, however, is an intriguing one.
Probably not this year, as The Rock vs. John Cena is set in stone, and the most likely Lesnar opponent, The Undertaker, is almost set to take on future WWE head honcho HHH. While the NBA coming back disrupts any celebrity hoops star involvement, there’s not much room for a high-priced MMA celebrity fighter.
But the future, with the WWE seeing that long range planning is gold, may be another story.
There’s no doubt that Brock Lesnar has the aptitude, look and demeanor for pro wrestling. He left the WWE disgusted with many things, by most reports, but now commands a role of being one of the biggest PPV draws in MMA, and could readily bring a lot of those fans over (back, as most insiders would suggest) to the WWE.
There have already been stories told about Lesnar and The Undertaker, and their friendship (dare I suggest) would allow them to work well together. Last year they teased something. This year, don’t be surprised if a war of words equal to Nate Diaz/Donald Cerrone erupts along the way, fostering animosity, generating interest, leading to WrestleMania 29, and a streak that could be 20-0 might be challenged by a guy that all fans, both MMA and Pro Wrestling, would acknowledge as one of the baddest men on the planet.
Even thought the UFC has three guys who would state otherwise.
But in another year, Brock Lesnar may want a big payday, and wrestling fans will want to welcome him back into the fold. The chances of any sort of full time career seem slim and none, but maybe, just maybe Brock Lesnar can once again be the Next Big Thing in the WWE.
And maybe, just maybe, the world of professional wrestling will realize that minimizing the big fights and enhancing the big feuds, just like the UFC does, might be an interesting way to spark a business cycle in the industry.