Former U of M wrestler Brock Lesnar keeps bouncing between brawn-based careers

At the rate Brock Lesnar is going, moving from one brawn-based career to another to another, all in the public arena, it is essential to keep his list of remaining options updated. So we offer a few for the next time he’s ready to dabble:

Let’s see, there’s Hollywood action hero. New meat for the updated version of “American Gladiators.” Bow anchor for the QE2. Model for the “after” photos of Dennis Kucinich’s new workout regimen. Immovable object to Rachael Ray’s unstoppable force.

Oh, and Minnesota gubernatorial candidate, of course.

At the moment, though, Lesnar is staying busy — with plenty of time to bleed — as a newcomer on the Ultimate Fighting Championship circuit. The former NCAA wrestling champion for the University of Minnesota, turned professionally scripted and marketed World Wrestling Entertainment megastar, turned wannabe Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman, is back.

He makes Ultimate Fighting debut Saturday
He is scheduled to step into the UFC’s trademarked Octagon Saturday night in Las Vegas (see video above) to battle Frank Mir, a former heavyweight champion on the circuit who, according to the sport’s website, holds a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, is a former Nevada state wrestling champ and is “well-versed in the tenets of Muay Thai.”

Hmm, maybe Rachael Ray is involved in this after all.

Actually, rather than being a tasty dish, Muay Thai is known as The Art of the Eight Limbs, built on using the hands, shins, knees and elbows as striking points and a staple of the mixed martial arts (MMA) world Lesnar  has entered. Reinventing himself nearly as often as Sean “Diddy” Combs, Lesnar has prepared for two years for this move to an M-rated video game brought to bruised and bloodied life. If you played a word association game of professions, where professor gets you “tweedy,” politician gets you “oily” and print journalist gets you “beleaguered,” the correct response to UFC combatant would be “Ouch!”

Too bad baseball’s Frank Thomas still is using his nickname, because “The Next Big Thing” (as Lesnar was known in pro wrestling) really ought to be known now as “The Big Hurt.”

“It’s really a pretty natural transition for him, coming from professional wrestling and being such a good athlete,” said Marty Morgan, head assistant coach to J Robinson for the Gophers’ wrestling team. “He’s been training at it for a while now, working on everything he needs, from stand-up to ground submission. He has only had one fight so far, but after [Saturday], we’ll have a good indication of where he’s at.”

Former coach squarely in his corner
Morgan, in his 16th season as a coach with the Gophers squad, planned to fly to Las Vegas Saturday morning, taking a spot in Lesnar’s corner in the evening at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. (You can be there, too, for $44.95 for the live pay-per-view TV event, starting at 9 p.m.) It’s a rugged weekend for Morgan — Minnesota was scheduled to face top-ranked Iowa Friday night at Williams Arena, then travel to Stillwater, Okla., for a meet with Oklahoma State Sunday afternoon.

In between, though, Morgan intended to have Lesnar’s back in Vegas. The two spent long hours preparing the 6-foot-3, 265-pound strongman for this moment — Morgan was one of several men with whom Lesnar trained at the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy — and the Gophers coach was pumped about it.

“Brock is doing this more for a competitive sport than for money,” Morgan told me Friday. “He went into the ‘entertainment business’ [the WWE]. He knows what it takes to entertain people. But his desire is to get away from all the theatrics. He wants actual competition.”‘

Lesnar, who became the WWE’s youngest undisputed champion in 2002 when he defeated The Rock as scripted, reportedly never warmed up to pro wrestling’s phoniness or the sideshow antics and plot lines pushed by ring impresario Vince McMahon. Still, as career moves go, this seems like Jethro Bodine’s quandary from the old “Beverly Hillbillies” show: Should he be a brain surgeon or a fry cook? From Vikings training camp in Mankato to a mat and a cage in a casino hotel, facing an opponent (Mir) who broke a man’s arm in 2004.

“This is something I wanted to do a long time ago,” Lesnar told reporters this week in Las Vegas. “When I won my NCAA title [2000], there weren’t a lot of options for an amateur wrestler. You can be a coach or go to the Olympics. Vince had $250,000 waiting for me. I was 21 years old — what would you do?”

Brighter lights, if not bigger city
Theatrics also are in play now, of course. These are brighter lights, if not in a bigger city, than Lesnar worked under in his bout with Min Soo Kim (a 69-second TKO for Lesnar) in the K-1 Dynamite event in Los Angeles last June. UFC President Dana White craved the built-in audience for mayhem that the former pro wrestler brings to MMA, potentially giving this sport its Next Big Thing. Even if Lesnar falters, ultimate fighting fans will be able to cackle at someone who ruled in one PPV staple but might not be able to hack it in another.

Within the sport — which has attracted 14 former NCAA champions, counting Lesnar, to careers of various lengths — some feel that the big fellow’s celebrity handed him a shortcut to premature prominence. Veteran fighter Tim Sylvia (whose arm Mir snapped in their 2004 match) was especially critical.

“I trained with Brock,”‘ Sylvia told FoxSports.com. “I don’t think he’s going to have a future in MMA. He’s a baby. Don’t kick him, he doesn’t want to get hurt. He’s a helluva wrestler and he’s strong. But he can’t punch and doesn’t know how to kick. He can only go straightforward. He can’t survive as just a takedown guy. I think Frank Mir is going to beat him.”

Let it be known that, should Lesnar win, his next match is projected to be against Sylvia. So even jealousy can be a good thing if it boosts a future gate.

In the meantime, though, there is that little matter of . . . pain. Severe, intense pain from things like this and this and this. 

“‘Lots of people’s exposure to it is at the local scenes, where you don’t see a lot of science,” Morgan said. “But in ultimate fighting, probably 50 percent of the fighters are former wrestlers. They don’t go into the cage like animals. They go in there with skills. It’s a very technical sport.”‘

A long way, though, from the mats of Dan Gable and J Robinson, isn’t it?

“Aw, they understand that when your adrenaline’s going,” Morgan said, “you don’t really feel anything out there.”‘ 

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