When a Viking king would shuffle off his mortal coil and ascend to whatever afterlife awaits great warriors, his men would give him such a grand send-off, there would be drinking, tributes of food and valuables, a funeral pyre, and sometimes even a maiden would be sacrificed. Because hey, the old bastard probably did great things in his life and contributed much to the well-being of the clan, so why not honor him the way a king should be honored? On Friday night, after his UFC 141 bout against Dutch superhero Alistair Overeem ended in the kind of one-sided beatdown usually only seen on World Star Hiphop, former UFC champ Brock Lesnar announced his retirement from MMA competition. His career in the sport spanned all of eight fights, three of which ended in unequivocal defeat, and it took a gutsy title defense against Shane Carwin to quell questions of how the former WWE star had even deserved a title shot in the first place. But at the end of the day, Lesnar did wonders in helping our little “MMA clan” grow, and for that, the Viking king of the heavyweight division deserves loads of respect.
I’ll admit, when he first stepped into the Octagon to face Frank Mir at UFC 81, after a whopping one MMA fight, I thought Lesnar was being brought in as a gimmick. He was an ex-pro wrestler with a boatload of fans, after all, and if he got crushed in the cage, so what? That would just reinforce to the world what we already knew, that pro wrestling was fake and MMA was real and never the twain should meet. The perceived downside, however, was that if Lesnar was ultimately successful, well, damn would that cheapen our “real” sport.
Thankfully, Mir dispatched Lesnar in a minute and a half, and the precious sanctity of our combative endeavor remained intact. For a while, at least. Then Lesnar came back, defeated Heath Herring, TKO’d an aging Randy Couture for the belt (if you recall, the heavyweight was in a sad state of flux at the time, so why not give Lesnar a shot at the title?), and when the grappling behemoth rematched Mir, he crushed him.
I remained a naysayer, an ardent apostate of the Cult of Brock. What I couldn’t ignore, though, was how much every yahoo in the locker room at my gym – the New York Sports Club, where yuppies and other non-MMAers go to lift weights – talked about Lesnar before and after his fights. If ever there was empirical evidence that the man was reaching the masses and making them discuss a sport they’d otherwise never even know about, this was it. Average Joes who couldn’t tell a rear naked choke from an armbar were suddenly giving a crap if Lesnar could remain the champ. For Zuffa, it was all there in the monster pay-per-view sales Lesnar drove, but for me, it was the overheard chatter from Joe Q. Public.
God bless Lesnar for withstanding Carwin’s best and pulling off the win, because suddenly there were no more questions – in my mind at least – that the man was worthy of the crown. He was no longer some WWE refugee at that point, he was a legitimate mixed martial artist and badass mofo.
You could blame his subsequent losses to Cain Velasquez and Overeem on any number of things, but it’s impossible to ignore the role his life-threatening diverticulitis has played, and Lesnar would know better than any of us if his expiration date has passed. Regardless, forever more, whatever his future endeavors, Lesnar will be that skilled MMAer and badass mofo who rose to the top and defended his belt under the most adverse of circumstances possible.
A true Viking king if ever there was one.