Watching Brock Lesnar engage in no-contact sparring is like watching a polar bear perform an interpretive dance. At the Minnesota Mixed Martial Arts Academy in Brooklyn Center, his hulking, six-foot-three, 265-pound frame contorts and contracts as he lightly grapples with his sparring partner. Muscles ripple and flare through his gi, as if they’re calling out, demanding to be put to more visceral use. He barely breaks a sweat, save for a few beads clinging to his ample brow.

There’s no pummeling, tackling, or suplexes for Lesnar today. He’s training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu—“the gentle art.” The fighting style, popularized in America by Royce Gracie, who used it to beat much larger opponents in the first UFC, eschews brute power in favor of technique and physical dexterity. The goal is not to knock out your opponent, but to submit him with arm bars, leg locks, and choke holds.

“I’m focusing on my submission game,” says Lesnar. “And learning how to defend against arm locks and leg locks.”

The 30-year-old will need these skills when he makes his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut tomorrow at UFC 81: Breaking Point. When Lesnar announced his entrance into the world of Mixed Martial Arts in August of 2006, fans and industry insiders wondered: Could a former professional wrestler tough it out in the unchoreographed fury of the Octagon?

There’s reason enough to think so.

“We’re talking about a former NCAA champion here,” says Dave Meltzer, editor of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. “Athletically, there’s never been anything like him in the UFC. He could be a real superstar heavyweight.”

Lesnar’s career has followed a winding and turbulent path since his days as a dominating heavyweight at the University of Minnesota. Upon graduation, the Webster, South Dakota native signed with the World Wrestling Federation (later known as World Wrestling Entertainment). WWE chairman Vince McMahon fast-tracked the physically gifted Lesnar to superstardom, billing him as “The Next Big Thing.” At 25, Lesnar became the youngest man ever to “win” the WWE heavyweight championship belt.

But Lesnar soon grew disenchanted with the gig and quit in March of 2004. “I really disliked the travel,” he says. “And I wanted to compete.”

To that end, he signed on with the Minnesota Vikings the following season as a defensive lineman. But his lack of experience (he hadn’t played football in nine years), coupled with a groin injury sustained in an April motorcycle accident, put a quick end to his NFL dreams. The Vikings cut Lesnar that November.

After a brief return to pro wrestling—this time abroad with New Japan Pro Wrestling—Lesnar turned his attention to the budding sport of Mixed Martial Arts. He began training with Marty Morgan, his assistant coach at the U of M.

“He transferred his wrestling skills into the martial arts realm extremely well,” says Morgan, who puts in 20 to 30 hours a week with Lesnar. “He came in with a really open mind and picks up everything very quick.”

Lesnar’s first match will be a strong test of how quickly he has adapted to the new game. He faces Frank Mir, a six-foot-one, 240-pound, submission artist best known for breaking brawny former UFC champion Tim Sylvia’s forearm using an arm bar (ironically, Sylvia is fighting at the top of Saturday’s card). Mir is himself is a former UFC champion looking to get another shot at the belt after breaking his leg in a 2004 motorcycle accident.

While Lesnar looked strong in his MMA debut—he defeated Korean Min Soo Kim by submission in just one minute and nine seconds—the Mir fight is sure to be a tougher challenge.

“Stylistically, I don’t know if it’s the right opponent: a new guy versus experienced former world champion,” says Meltzer. “He’s gotta watch out for Mir’s submission game. I think [UFC president Dana White’s] hope is that he goes in there and destroys Mir and turns out to be a heavyweight monster. There’s great marketing potential for him if things go right.”

Mir showed a fair amount of chutzpah during an interview with Internet TV channel Raw Vegas last month.

“The fact that [Lesnar] was willing to take this fight in the UFC as his debut, that makes me a little mad,” he said. “So yeah, I want to fight him and show him what kind of mistake he made.” UPDATE: A video of the fight was posted on YouTube. Here's the embed (at least until the UFC gets it taken down):

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >