There’s a thin line between ornery and annoying. Annoying is manageable. The kids have to go to bed sometime. When the yappy dog down the street starts barking, you can close the windows. And nobody’s making you watch Leno.
But ornery? Ornery you can slap down and it’ll pop right back up – angrier. Ornery like the thick, spiny weeds in the garden. Ornery like Courtney Love’s career.
There’s resilience in ornery – fierce, nasty resilience. So when the book on Brock Lesnar is written, any sportswriter who focuses on the Minnesotan’s famous surly reticence will likewise have to acknowledge that the things that make Lesnar so damn unlikeable may just be the things that make him so damn good.
The human Timex celebrates a gold-plated victory at UFC 116
That Lesnar returned to the MMA cage – one of sports’ least hospitable environments – is story enough. Ravaged by diverticulitis, the UFC heavyweight champion spent the year after his 2009 title win over Frank Mir out of action. The belt was taken up by Shane Carwin in Lesnar’s absence, and we had one of the year’s most intriguing match-ups. Lesnar had previously relied on monstrous size for intimidation, outweighing Mir by 20 pounds at UFC 100, but in Carwin he’d be facing a near-clone. Without a size disparity and coming off a crippling illness, would Lesnar be able to exploit a psychological edge?
It turns out he didn’t have to. Carwin had no problems getting to Lesnar early and often, peppering him with shots that put Lesnar on his back and in deep trouble. But for all the punches Carwin landed, he just didn’t quite have enough to finish off Lesnar. Not that it wasn’t close. Inferior referees would have stopped the fight after witnessing Carwin’s hurricane of blows, but Lesnar was defending himself and Josh Rosenthal rightly and admirably let the fight continue to see if Lesnar could weather the punishment.
When the bell rang for the second round, it was Carwin that had wilted. Cut near both eyes, Lesnar nonetheless had the bigger gas tank. He used it to take Carwin down, grapple to a dominant back position, and – shocker of shockers – finish the fight the one way nobody thought it would end: a submission hold. One well-cinched arm triangle choke later, Lesnar popped up to the top of the cage, undisputed title waiting for him, and mimicked Carwin’s shots landing on his chin. But this time, Brock was smiling, not wobbling.
While Lesnar was happy, UFC president Dana White has to be downright giddy. With Fedor Emilianenko’s stunning late June loss to Fabricio Werdum, White can now stake a legitimate claim to having the top fighter in every men’s weight class, from WEC’s Dominic Cruz all the way up to big Brock. As if that wasn’t enough, the UFC turned in an excellent top-to-bottom card that more than met the hype, adding two excellent stories in Stephan Bonnar’s comeback and Chris Leben’s surprising third round victory in a fight fought on only three weeks’ rest.
But it was the biggest name on the card that was the biggest story. Next up for the heavyweight champ is a battle with Cain Velasquez, likely to be followed (if he wins) with a Carwin rematch or a tilt against other top contender Junior Dos Santos.
A popular sentiment among MMA fans was that Brock got his title shot too soon. It’s a complaint that even dogged Lesnar in his professional wrestling days, when writers thought that Lesnar was made champion before his time. (Scripted as the WWE is, that was as relevant as arguing that Hamlet should have had some more seasoning before being crowned Prince of Denmark.) Lesnar’s size and talent made him deserving of a title shot, but now that he has the strap, it’s his toughness that has made him worthy enough to keep it.
Now, can we get some spikes or something on that championship belt? It’s not nearly thorny enough for its bearer.
Brock Lesnar image is from Getty Images.