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UFC 100: The UFC at a CrossRoads

by Ted Worzel (Scribe) – Bleacher Report (Original here)

Not too long ago, a friend and I had the following conversation:

Nameless friend (NF): “Did you hear Brock Lesnar is going to fight in the UFC?”
Me: “No [censored] way. Does he belong there?”
NF: “Well, he fought in K-1 and won, so I guess…”

Fast forward to present day. Lesnar now has four, count them, four mixed martial arts fights under his belt and is (fanfare, please) the Ultimate Fighting Championship Heavyweight Champion. Now, I’m not going to take anything away from him, as I wouldn’t want to risk him trying to get it back: dude is big. But does four fights really qualify you to be UFC champion, or is Brock wearing the belt by his name value only? The case can be made that Royce Gracie had fewer UFC fights when he first earned the UFC championship, but there weren’t any zeroes after the 1 in the event title. So what qualifies Brock Lesnar to wear a share of the UFC heavyweight crown? Has he earned it? Let’s review his career, shall we?

To understand Lesnar’s seemingly meteoric rise to the pinnacle of the UFC heavyweight mountain, we need to go back to his amateur wrestling days. An exceptionally good high school and college wrestler, Brock earned many marks of distinction, including two time NCAA All American, two time Big Ten champion and two time NCAA heavyweight champion (1998 and 2000). After graduation, Lesnar spent two years in professional wrestling’s midwestern minor leagues, to enter into the ring for a major professional promotion, in the name of WWE. Success in the WWE is no small feat, as surviving in the two to three nights of punishment in ring front of those audiences week after week for three years, while maintaining the charisma to carry on an in-ring and out of ring persona is real, as are the bumps, bruises, and worse, that really befall the athletes of the fake sport. Mind you, the WWE is sports entertainment, but there are still physical risks.

While still at the top of that promotion, Brock made his exit to try his hand in the NFL, a big change in physical demand over the world of professional wrestling, but did not experience the same success as in the pro-wrestling world. Lesnar gave it the college try, but did not make it out of the preseason. Japan rekindled Brock’s wrestling career temporarily, but his heart was in genuine, non-scripted competition, which brought him to K1, and ultimately to the UFC. His three fights in the UFC, a loss by a kneebar submission at the hands Frank Mir, a three round decision against Heath Herring and a TKO against The Natural Randy Couture – which earned him his weight title, were well received and show that Lesnar can compete at this level, but hardly show enough of a body of MMA work to call him champ.

In contrast, Frank Mir has true MMA mettle, with 15 bouts and 12 wins under his belt. Mir has been around the Ultimate Fighting Championship since the early days of the Zuffa era, starting in UFC 34. He’s faced and defeated top MMA competition with MMA rules, in MMA circles, including a legendary battle with Tim Sylvia that Sylvia’s forearm reminds him of every time the weather changes. Mir currently wears an interim championship belt, which is kind of ridiculous by its own right; a promotion like the UFC does not need multiple belts for the same weight division, and by doing so, has run the risk giving its’ titles the same confusion that we see with other forms of sports entertainment. Does the UFC really want a Monday night and Thursday night champ? An Intercontinental champ? Frank probably would be wearing the legitimate heavyweight belt, had he been given the chance to face Randy Couture in the ring, but Couture’s one year sabbatical from the octagon resulted in the creation of the interim belt that Mir presently wears. In head to head competition Mir already has one victory over Lesnar, and that was all of three fights ago for Brock. A win either way on July 16th and the UFC Heavyweight title is unified. A win for Mir is a win for technique, for training in the martial arts and for professional martial artists. Should Herb Dean raise Lesnar’s hand, it is a victory for the ground and pound, for superstar status, and for the casual fan of the UFC. Lesnar brings a level of attraction to the casual fan and novice, and his MMA technique has improved in his successive bouts, since Min-Soo Kim seeming to hang on for dear life in 2007s Dynamite! USA tapping not as much to injury as to an admission that there was no getting away from the XXXXL gloves that were pummeling the sides of his head (there were no real flush punches landed, but you still couldn’t have paid me to be in his place). There has been a steady improvement in Lesna r’s game, but he’s learning on the job.

We can see that Lesnar’s athletic credentials are real, but think of time when we saw this jump in reverse – Ken Shamrock. Raise your hand if you, like me, cringed outside, but were secretly excited when Shamrock moved from the UFC to the WWE in 1997, and hoped that a legitimate fighter in the squared circle would lead to more reality in what was, at the time, the best fake thing on t.v.; for the briefest moment, it looked like Vince McMahon might bring legitimate sport to the world of sports entertainment, giving the promotion’s lesser names the chance to strap on gloves and beat each other Tough Man style. Thankfully, given the quality of the ensuing fights, the decision was short lived. What becomes obvious is that real athletes seek real competition over real paydays, and Shamrock eventually returned to the octagon, a little the worse for wear, having to shed some of his WWE bulk before becoming a legitimate MMA competitor again.

To the rest of UFC 100’s card, it’s one that makes any fight fan salivate. George St. Pierre vs. Thiago Alves could prove to be one for the ages, with St. Pierre’s all-around fight game against Alves punishing Muay Thai skills. This fight could prove to be a major slobber-knocker, which could come at the cost of some extensive dental work.

Enough bad blood was built up between the coaches of The Ultimate Fighter: United States vs. United Kingdom to spill out well beyond the Vegas strip. Hard hitting wrestler Dan Henderson and kick boxing jujitsu practitioner Michael Bisping have a well worn dislike for each other that should make for a wild time in the old octagon. Michael Bisping puts his 17-1 pro record against perennial nice guy Henderson, who brings 31 fights and 24 wins worth of MMA experience in to the octagon. With a shot at Anderson Silva’s title guaranteed to the winner, there’s no reason to expect that they won’t leave it all in the ring.

While we’re on the subject of The Ultimate Fighter, season 10 with Quinton Jackson and Rashad Evans coaching a house full of heavyweight and light heavyweights through the TUF elimination tournament including the notable heavyweight Kimbo Slice, who made his way into the world of MMA out of back yard bare knuckles and foul mouthed brawling. Kimbo’s first fight with rules, an exhibition against Ray Mercer, looked very much like his back yard brawls for the bulk of the contest, but was decided by a guillotine tap little over one minute into the first round. With the exception of James Thompson, who took Kimbo to the 3rd round, Slice has a total of 2 minutes 28 seconds fighting experience; his loss to Seth Petrozelli came at 14 seconds of the first round as well. Slice, like Brock Lesnar, is a less than established MMA fighter, but he has a wealth of fighting experience and a heavy handed reputation. Should Slice move all the way through the TUF season, it will go a long way towards establishing him as a legitimate MMA fighter. If nothing else, though, Kimbo Slice will keep the censors busy and may provide enough expletive deleted rants to make Ozzy Osbourne blush.

Dana White has made great strides at taking the UFC from John McCain’s threats of Congressional investigation to being a billion dollar enterprise. This is the promotion that made Chuck Liddell and Anderson Silva household names. It has built its reputation on elite fighters testing their abilities against other elite fighters, playing strength against strength, technique against technique. It’s seen the rise and fall of great grapplers, strikers, submission experts, and proven that proficiency in all domains of fighting is necessary to defend against all comers. Brock Lesnar and Kimbo Slice are both notables, with unique fighting experiences all their own, but the question still remains: do they belong in the UFC, or does having them cheapen the promotion? Only time will tell.

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