Monster of the Moment: Brock Lesnar

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Pro wrestling isn’t real, but the athletes doing it are; anyone who watched Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler knows the human body wasn’t meant to withstand attacks with chairs and staple guns, no matter how carefully they’re choreographed. Brock Lesnar is the ultimate example of this. The NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion in college, he moved on to a career in the WWE (formerly the WWF, before a lawsuit by the World Wildlife Fund forced the World Wrestling Federation to change initials) and “won” a championship there, before growing bored and trying out for the NFL and at last settling on mixed martial arts. His freakish size (at 6’3″ and 265 pounds of muscle, he is the closest I have seen a human being come to the He-Man action figures of my childhood — check out a youtube clip of him in a bizarre exhibition against a former sumo) and athleticism earned him immediate attention, resulting in a fight for the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s heavyweight title after a whopping three fights (one of which he lost). He took the belt and this weekend avenged his sole defeat, utterly destroying Frank Mir.

The best part is that Lesnar has chosen to keep his pro wrestling “heel” persona as he pursues his new career. His last match included taunting a barely conscious opponent, flipping off fans, talking about going home to bang his wife in post-fight interviews, and mocking one of the UFC’s corporate sponsors (this last one earned him a stern lecture: there are some things even a heavyweight champ cannot get away with doing). My reaction to this general jerkiness is understandable: I think it’s great. There are two main reasons for this. First, it’s such a cliche that fighters going into a bout must talk about how much they want to eat other’s children blah blah blah while building a buzz for ticket sales… only immediately after the final bell to announce, “Hey, that was all in good fun. I don’t want to devour his kids, after all!” It’s nice to see a fighter with an Andy Kaufman-like commitment to his character, who’ll stay with a bit even after it only earns him boos.

Second, it promises to set up a true dream match for mixed martial arts. It’s likely the best fighter in the world (regardless of weight class or fighting style) is Fedor Emelianenko. Fedor is a former member of the Russian military, and he seems like Vladimir Putin if Putin ruled not through political intrigue, but by personally twisting people’s arms out of their sockets. I had the pleasure of interviewing him once. While I found him to be extremely polite, I was always aware that, if I inadvertently insulted him, he could snap me like a matchstick. Emelianenko has feuded with the UFC and hence fights independently, but there’s too much money to made from battling Brock for a bout not to be arranged. It will be a largely silent, sinister Russian with a shaved head versus an unbelievably bulky American who can’t shut the hell up.

There will be mind-blowing amounts of smack dished out by Brock before this fight. Fedor will either respond in kind or, better, do what Joe Frazier did when confronted with the relentless trash talk of Muhammad Ali: stay quiet and take it personally. And then one day, we’ll have two utterly unique physical specimens face off, both with everything in the balance. Showmanship without substance is pointless. Substance without showmanship is too often dull. Lesnar-Emelianenko promises to have the perfect balance, reminding us that hype and heart aren’t mutually exclusive.

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