Quality means a lot in combat sports. It makes for not only compelling stories and fights, but also in retrospect when analyzing a legacy. A legacy like Ali’s is defined by names like “Frazier”, “Foreman”, ”Liston” and “Cooper”  who have their own illustrious careers-but prior to names with weight such as those, there were hundreds of fights and thousands of rounds fought without the bright lights, the overbearing pressure of stardom, and millions of eyes formulating your story.

Former Heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar (5-2) did not undergo the brutal luxury of elongated development prior to his explosion into MMA. Quality defines him, and from the looks of things, will continue to be the case, as he faces Junior Dos Santos, his fifth straight Top-5 tier ranked opponent this coming June, after coaching opposite Dos Santos on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’.

Lesnar’s amateur career as a mixed martial artist, where most find their identity as a fighter, is non-existent. He debuted at the “Dynamite!!! USA” event in June of 2007 against Min-Soo Kim, a (then) 2-5 Korean heavyweight. Kim, though no force in MMA, is an Olympic Judoka and has a theoretically imposing background for someone making their debut in a sport in which, despite a losing record, Kim has moderate experience. Lesnar, a 2000 NCAA Heavyweight Champion and 1999 runner-up, took Kim down and let his brick-sized fists fly until Kim submitted from strikes.

A UFC Acquisition immediately followed.

Exactly eight months later, Lesnar found himself staring across the cage at Frank Mir, a former Heavyweight Champion of the organization. From the opening bell, Lesnar was tenacious and moved with a fluid violence, throwing Mir on his back and hammer-fisting his way to what seemed like a definite win. His attack was momentarily interrupted, as he was deducted a point for strikes to the back of Mir’s head, but resumed business shortly after. It looked dim for Mir, but the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt caught Lesnar in one of the most memorable kneebars to date. It was crossroads from the WWE convert, and a catapult for a Mir comeback.

In only his second fight, Lesnar was moments away from besting a former champion; he made sure to erase the sour taste of that loss with a 15 minute domination of veteran Heath Herring, breaking Herrings orbital with a monumental right hand. Lesnar’s trial-by-fire within the top ranks for the Heavyweight division was set up with such an emphatic win.

Then-Champion Randy Couture was set to make his comeback from a 15 month layoff at UFC 91 against the 2-1 Lesnar. There was something very bone chilling about Brock’s entrance, he looked nervous, naturally, but there was just something very focused and very determined behind that 6’3, 280 lb frame. A second-round KO of Couture sealed Brock as the Heavyweight Champion, and at only 3-1, this was a very scary thought.

His first defense came at UFC 100 the following July against Mir, who had been the first man to KO legend and all time great Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. There was no “Hail Mary” kneebar this time around, just Lesnar dominating Mir and avenging his only blemish at the time. The 4-1 prospect was now undisputed as champion, and looking more violent than ever.

After a near-death battle with Diverticulitis, Lesnar’s 11 month absence had aligned him with Shane Carwin, the Interim Heavyweight champion, who himself matched Lesnar’s frame and had recently dominated Mir much more briskly than Lesnar had. This time, though, Lesnar did not have the same visible nerves of his UFC 91 bout with Couture; he possessed a confidence that not many 4-1 fighters, going into their third straight fight against a top-five opponent could even fathom.

Carwin came out strong, buckling Lesnar and doing to Brock what he had done to his previous three opponents. It looked like Lesnar’s inexperience was finally being exploited, but Brock survived and came back to win in the second round, with a smooth, smothering arm triangle. The 5-1 champion had faced near defeat and momentarily silenced his doubters/haters.

Four months later, Cain Velasquez made Lesnar look like someone who had only 6 prior fights with a first round TKO. Lesnar once again found himself at a turning point that many champions go through after losing their belt, the road back!

At 33, Lesnar has made a habit of fighting quality opponents, and whether he finishes his career as an all time great or a blip on the timescale of the Heavyweight division, it’s without a doubt that whatever legacy he has will have no shortage of prolific fights and match-ups.

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