April 3rd 2012
So Brock Lesnar has returned to the WWE as predicted.
To judge by the reaction of the fans that witnessed his return first-hand in a Miami arena on Monday night, his road back to the WWE had involved parting a sea and also walking upon it. Half of them probably expected him to produce a few loaves and fishes to feed the 14,000 punters attending this most anticipated return of their favourite son.
Lesnar strode in like a conquering hero, and the WWE fans acclaimed him like one. Never mind that his return was prompted only by two very one-sided beatings in the UFC; the average WWE fan probably doesn’t care about that. The fact he went and had any real fights at all means that to them, he is elevated somewhere close to the godhead.
His return – which for some reason he made while dressed like someone who had been sat in front of the TV eating chips before being prodded off the couch – will almost certainly be followed by him being made into the WWE ‘champion’ within a match or two. (Sales of WWE replica belts are about to shoot up, get yours while you can.)
He and the WWE are going to make big money together but surely even Lesnar must secretly be dwelling on the emptiness and pointlessness of the WWE even having ‘champions’ in the first place. What does that word ‘champion’ mean in the context of pro-wrestling? Certainly it has no relevance to the normal parameters of athletic competition, mixed martial arts included.
As WWE matches are predetermined, what factors are at play that decided who the company will confer the championship on? Money talks loudest of all so popularity with the fans must be the deciding factor – and yes that also applies in the UFC, but you still have to have a real fight, you don’t have a committee of people sitting down to decide which moves the referee is going to whisper to you on the way to your glorious ‘win’ over your equally clued-up ‘opponent’.
Popularity with the fans comes about via a mixture of image, persona and performance. Lesnar’s appeal is not hard to see. A huge muscular Caucasian, with some flashy moves such as his signature ‘F5’, resonates strongly with the WWE fan base. That’s all very nice, and logical, but to be declared a ‘champion’, and to strut and swagger as if this honorific has any real meaning, is beyond preposterous. It would be offensive except that the inherent ridiculousness of pro-wrestling thankfully precludes all but the most credulous taking it seriously.
Can you imagine having held the UFC heavyweight title, thus arguably being the best fighter on the planet at that point, only to find yourself twelve months down the line holding a WWE belt that you’ve been scripted to win because fans like your big muscles and you’ve got some good moves? That’s not a title belt, its a certificate of achievement. Its commendable in its own way, but in no way comparable to the real title belts that men and women fight, choke and bleed to earn and defend.
Lesnar probably feels similarly; he is probably a touch embarrassed himself. Despite his brash persona and redneck ways, he is not incapable of self-assessment or introspection and he does not lack intelligence. An alpha male to the core, Lesnar surely cannot be happy with having traded the real fight for the pantomime version, unless he feels that he accomplished all he set out to achieve and is now satisfied.
If that is the case, fair play to him. He can add some more numbers to his bank balance and have some fun at the same time. But if the UFC losses trouble him, if he goes to bed at night thinking of four-ounce gloves instead of F-5s, then it make the pre-scripted hollowness of the WWE ‘championship’ feel even deeper.
Now, lest I depict myself as some sort of Lesnar hater, let me make clear I am not. In fact quite the opposite. As galling as many hardcore MMA fans found it that Lesnar walked into the UFC and won the heavyweight title despite not being a mixed martial artist in any recognisable sense, it actually never bothered me.
I was fairly alone among my peers in that, while having nothing but scathing contempt for the world of pro-wrestling, I felt Lesnar was fundamentally a superb athlete. I am also someone who backs underdogs and, despite his size and explosiveness, Lesnar was going into his fights with half a toolbox – if that.
He knew that, and the other thing I liked about him was that he takes his competition seriously and so set about preparing in the right way. He recruited Greg Nelson, a coach who should really get as much limelight as his namesake Jackson, and he retained the services of the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu heavyweight Rodrigo ‘Comprido’ Medeiros. These were the moves of a man treating the martial arts with respect; with Comprido, he wore a gi and white belt. Ego went out the door.
Full credit must be given to him for this, and it paid off as he took consecutive wins over Heath Herring, Randy Couture, Frank Mir (in their rematch) and Shane Carwin. The latter he finished with an arm-triangle, something he had never even heard of prior to making the transition to MMA. When you consider the training histories that most MMA competitors have, you have to admit that Lesnar came on tremendously in his short time in the sport.
In fact had Lesnar been into MMA from the end of his college years then there is no doubt that he would have gone on to be one of, if not the, most dominant heavyweight champions ever. Can you imagine how Lesnar would have gone over in Saitama Arena in front of the gigantic Pride FC audiences?
He would have towered over his peers in the heavyweight MMA world – Fedor Emelianenko among them. Imagine fights with Mirko CroCop, Rodrigo Nogueira and the rest; that was a golden age for heavyweights and a martial arts background Lesnar would have beaten the lot.
But he didn’t and so we can’t spend too much time dwelling on what might have been. Instead we have to look at the hard facts: Lesnar was basically a walk-on in the UFC heavyweight division, learned a hard lesson in his first fight and then went on a run which, by rights, he should not have been able to go on at all. On the way he captured the heavyweight title. Full credit to him, but does it discredit the most prestigious belt in MMA?
I think in some ways it does. Balance has now been restored thanks to the hands of Cain Velasquez and the knees of Alistair Overeem, but the fact remains that the top belt in mixed martial arts was won by someone with no background in the martial arts bar wrestling and a short, though intense, period of training the skills that others in the division had spent a lifetime learning.
To have someone of Lesnar’s stature as their champion benefited the UFC in terms of profile and pay-per-view sales, but the last effect is that some shine has been taken off the belt. What is there to say that another pro-wrestler can’t wander over and capture it in the future? We can’t ever say that there won’t be another Lesnar down the line; Pro-wrestling fans can forever throw that in our faces.
His back to back losses – which diverticulitis might have had a hand in anyway – don’t matter to them. He made a foray into the cage, won the gold and came back to them. They will love him now more than they ever did before. The fact that he left the WWE, won then lost the UFC belt, then returned to the WWE to me seems that it would look – from an outsiders point of view – as if the UFC was somehow an inferior league.
Pro-wrestling baffles me, and will do until the end of my days. I cannot see how anyone over the age of twelve can profess to genuinely enjoy watching two juiced-up sunbed aficionados work through some routines on the way to a predetermined outcome, with lots of shouting and gurning along the way. But as much as I mock it, and will continue to mock it, I’m now forced to admit that the ranks of these pumped-up He-Men possibly contain future MMA champions.
And so as much as I salute Lesnar for achieving what he did in MMA, I hope that his success is never repeated. One such instance is acceptable, an anomaly, but if it were to happen again it would be insufferable. Should any pro-wrestlers cross over in future – such as CM Punk – then every opponent they face in the MMA world has a solemn duty to absolutely smash them to bits until they go back where they came from. The reputation of real fighting will be on the line.
Author- John Joe O’Regan. Fighers Only Magazine