UFC 87 Flashback: Brock Lesnar Comes Of Age

By Ross Everett

The last time that Georges St. Pierre defended his UFC welterweight title, it quickly turned into the low point of his career. Already facing a number of personal issues away from the cage, he looked sloppy and distracted as Matt Serra defeated him by brutal TKO. This time, things were different–before an enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowd at Minneapolis Target Center arena GSP brutalized Jon Fitch over five rounds to win an easy unanimous decision. The judges scores of 50-43, 50-44, 50-44 underscored the one sided victory, though Jon Fitch showed a lot of heart and toughness to go the distance.

After a dominant takedown to open the fight, followed by a barrage of GSP punches it looked as if Fitch wouldn’t make it out of the first round. He managed to survive, though generated little offense the rest of the way as the champion had his way with him both on the ground and in standup striking exchanges. Fitch landed enough counterpunches to open a cut near the champions eye, but never even came close to winning a round. Fitch had to gut his way through another tough moment in the 4th, where a big knee followed by a flurry of kicks and punches had him on the verge of a TKO loss yet again.

As the final horn sounded, GSP bowed down in front of Fitch in a nice, Muay Thai inspired show of respect. In yet another moment that is thankfully commonplace in fighting and all too rare in other sports, Fitch and GSP sat knee to knee in the center of the cage congratulating each other for over a minute as their respective cutmen worked on their wounds. The sportsmanship and mutual respect continued after the decision was announced, when Fitch embraced GSP and hoisted him into the air in celebration. To paraphrase HBO boxing announcer Jim Lampley there is no sport like fighting, and there are no athletes like fighters.

And there’s very likely not another athlete like Brock Lesnar even within the ranks of fightsport competitors. In his 3rd professional MMA bout the amateur wrestling legend turned WWE champion displayed a brutally effective new fighting style along with stellar patience and cage control as he obliterated tough and highly experienced Heath Herring. Lesnar received a thunderous ovation from his adopted home state as he entered the cage to the sounds of Motley Crue’s ‘Shout at the Devil’.

From that point forward, Herring was completely out of the fight though he repeatedly demonstrated his toughness by staying in the fight and not tapping out to strikes as had Min Soo Kim in Lesnar’s MMA debut. Unlike Lesnar’s gameplan against Frank Mir in his UFC debut–when he clearly wanted to overwhelm his opponent for a quick win–perhaps the most impressive element of his improvement as a fighter was his patience. There were a number of occasions where Lesnar could have tried and finished the fight by placing himself at greater risk, but took the conservative approach.

Overall, Lesnar’s performance bordered on amazing”a serious case could be made that he won all three rounds by 10-8 margins, though all three judges scored the fight 30-26. He repeatedly took down and threw around the 64 250 Herring like he was a welterweight, and controlled the fight to such a degree that his opponent didn’t land more than a half dozen strikes during the entire fight–and none which were particularly effective. A few more metrics to put Lesnar’s dominance into perspective–Herring hasn’t been dominated to such a degree in his entire career which comprises 42 fights against opponents like Fedor Emelianenko, Vitor Belfort, Mirko Cro Cop and Antonio Rodgrio Nogueira.

Lesnar’s win gives a much needed boost to the UFC’s barren heavyweight division. While it may be premature to consider him a top 10 heavyweight, should Lesnar continue to develop his potential in the sport is limitless.

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