Brock Lesnar is a man that is true to the old adage of what you see if what you get, even when he appears within the inimitable universe of WWE. However, to truly appreciate why he is so effective as a character, you need to understand the history of the man. That is what will be detailed here first, before we explore what this exceptional past means for the character that currently holds the WWE Universal Heavyweight Championship.
Brock Edward Lesnar, raised on a dairy farm in South Dakota, was not built like next kid. He partook in both football and wrestling in high school, making him a perfect candidate for school bully, a title he later professed to. Lesnar moved on to college with a wrestling scholarship, where he racked up over 100 wins in his four years.
By the end of his amateur career, he could boast himself a two-time NJCAA All-American, the 1998 NJCAA Heavyweight Champion, two-time NCAA All-American, two-time Big Ten Conference Champion and the 2000 NCAA Heavyweight Champion. For those unfamiliar with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, it is the governing body for American college sports and by his senior year, of the thousands of young wrestlers across the country, Brock Lesnar was the best of them all.
WWE offered him more money than he would be likely to make at the Olympics and fast-tracked him to the top of the card amongst one of the most talent-packed wrestling rosters in history. After debuting on television in March of 2002, Lesnar won the King of the Ring tournament in June and went on to defeat The Rock in at SummerSlam – just 5 months after debuting – to become the youngest ever WWE Undisputed Champion, just shy of 25 years of age.
Across three World Championship reigns, he defended against and defeated the likes of The Undertaker, Kurt Angle, Big Show, Chris Benoit, Edge and John Cena. He was quite clearly built to be in the ring but correspondingly not built to be on a plane. Despite is immense success, the hectic travelling schedule of a WWE Superstar left Lesnar looking for other options.
Lots of young men played a bit of football in high school and as previously stated, Brock was no exception. The difference between all those kids and Brock Lesnar is that Brock took it back up at the highest level. He had the National Football League teams interested right away, purely on the basis of his freakish athletic ability, displayed at the NFL Combine. Unfortunately, just over a month later, he was struck by a minivan (you should have seen the minivan) whilst on his motorbike and suffered several significant injuries that hampered his ability to further impress in pre-season.
The Minnesota Vikings gave him several pre-season games upon his return but Lesnar just missed the cut for the final NFL squad. The Vikings wanted to keep him on in reserve but it would require Lesnar to move to Europe; a proposition further extreme than the reason he left WWE. Brock was in his physical prime and would not accept being stalled or left aside.
Instead, he decided to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in his debut match, defeating both a New Japan legend and a Pride MMA legend at the same time, inside the Toyko Dome. New Japan Pro Wrestling at this time was at a crossroads. Caught between trying to treat pro wrestling as a true discipline of the martial arts and the huge success of (the mostly non-rigged) mixed martial arts, NJPW was struggling with its identity, which lead to it struggling financially. Lesnar defended the IWGP Heavyweight Championship from October 2005 to May 2006 but by that stage the promotion wanted to decrease Lesnar’s pay per appearance.
They couldn’t fulfill the contract, so Lesnar didn’t show up – and he took the belt with him. It wasn’t until over a year later that IWGP Championship would be unified when Kurt Angle reappeared in Lesnar’s life to end his Pro Wrestling run in Japan.
By this time, however, Lesnar’s plans had changed, as he trained to become a mixed martial artist.
He made his debut in a cross-promotion bout against Korean Olympic judoka Kim Min-Soo and was successful in short order. The UFC came knocking and once again Lesnar was thrust into the top level of a new sport. Welcoming him to the Octagon was Frank Mir, a top UFC Heavyweight and former world champion, who was dominated by Lesnar but through experience, was still able to defeat him.
Brock won his next fight by unanimous decision, before controversially being granted a championship fight against UFC legend Randy Couture. Lesnar defeated Couture impressively and challenged Mir, who he went on beat on Pay-Per-View at the record-breaking UFC 100, before cutting a classic post-fight promo. Brock Lesnar was on top of the most brutal sport in the world within just five fights.
In October 2009, Lesnar pulled out of his next title defense due to illness; little did he know that he would soon be fighting for his life. First diagnosed with mononucleosis, or glandular fever, it was then revealed that the cause was a serious case of diverticulitis, which required immediate surgery. The surgeon estimated the damage sustained indicated the issue had been present for about a year. Nevertheless, Lesnar bounced back quickly and faced one of few fighters as big as he, Shane Carwin, to unify the heavyweight championship. Carwin came very close to finishing Lesnar in the first round but Brock showed the perseverance of a champion and came back in the second to win by submission.
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Just a few months later he faced the undefeated stand-out Cain Velasquez. Lesnar came out aggressively but tired quickly, allowing Velasquez to take advantage and take the title. It was soon thereafter revealed that diverticulitis had struck again and Brock underwent surgery to have 12 inches of his colon removed. After over a year of rehabilitation and training, Lesnar made his return against Alistair Overeem, one of the greatest heavyweight strikers of all time.
After several sick body shots, Lesnar fell and conceded defeat. Overeem, nicknamed ‘Ubereem’ at the time, tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone prior to his next fight, to no one’s surprise. Lesnar announced his retirement from MMA in the Octagon as 2011 came to a close with a record of 5 wins, 3 defeats. Of his 8 pro fights, 4 of them had a world championship on the line and of those, he won 3. Especially considering he never had a single amateur bout, this record is extraordinary.
At WrestleMania 28, in April of 2012, The Rock made his hugely anticipated return to the ring, defeating John Cena in a main event that could be described as Era versus Era. Cena, being the babyface that he is, graciously invited Rock to the ring the next night on RAW to shake his hand and admit face to face that the better man had won. Instead, a recognizable electric riff reverberated around the arena, quickly followed by the enormous roar of an audience that instantaneously associated its meaning. Brock Lesnar, the man that would have held Cena’s place as the face of WWE had he not chosen to leave, stepped foot within the universe he had abandoned eight years ago. Naively extending his hand, Cena was greeted with a signature form of violence, which left an unequivocal statement for anyone watching – Brock is back.
Brock Lesnar was thrust into the highest level of everything he did in his professional athletic career. That alone with worthy of praise – to be an athlete of such an exceptional breed that he attracts attention across multiple top sports. It is one thing to have gifted genes but it is quite another to use them to take the path less traveled. From his broad collegiate success, to the weight of being WWE’s youngest champion amongst a slew of successful veterans, to his unprecedented leap into football and then his instant success inside the cage – his ambition, drive and intensity is outstanding.
The determination it takes to fight against the greatest martial artists in the world while dealing with a life-threatening disease is almost hard to believe. Few could pull of such a feat. That is what separates Brock Lesnar from the pack, which has been replicated in this point in time, where he sits on top of WWE once again; the final boss of sports entertainment.
In part two, the history of Brock Lesnar will be linked with the character of Brock Lesnar and what makes his role in WWE so powerfully divisive.