Commentary

Lesnar proves he belongs in the Octagon

Brock Lesnar earned more than just a unanimous decision over Heath Herring at UFC 87 on Saturday -- he won the respect and adoration of MMA fans as well.

Originally Published: August 10, 2008
By Franklin McNeil | Special to ESPN.com

Brock LesnarEd Mulholland for ESPN.comBrock Lesnar, right, fought like a man with something to prove against Heath Herring.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The moment Brock Lesnar entered the Target Center, a sellout crowd of 15,082 was on its feet cheering wildly. Making only his second Octagon appearance and vying for his first win there, Lesnar soaked up the support on Saturday at UFC 87 in his hometown.

That ovation served to reassure Lesnar this night would be different. Against Heath Herring, one of the world's top heavyweights, Lesnar proved he deserved to be called a mixed martial artist and belonged in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

"Did you hear that when I came out? It was like Muhammad Ali 'float like a butterfly' … I floated out to the Octagon," Lesnar said. "I've heard that before as an amateur wrestler and as a professional wrestler. It's a great feeling.

"For me, it was important to be composed tonight. … It was very important for me to be here."

Truly, there is no place like home.

After coming up short during his UFC debut on Feb. 2 against former champ Frank Mir in a much-hyped affair, Lesnar went to work on Herring immediately. He dropped the Las Vegas resident with a right hand seconds into the bout.

A half-second later, Lesnar was on top of Herring, punching him, kneeing him and smothering him. From that moment on, Lesnar would dominate every aspect of the fight.

Whether standing or on the ground, at no point was Lesnar threatened -- he overwhelmed Herring for 15 minutes. After three rounds of punishment, Herring's face was a bloody, swollen mess.

It was an easy fight to score. All three judges -- Doug Crosby, Jeff Mullen and Cecil Peoples -- had Lesnar winning by an impressive 30-26 margin. Crosby and Mullen gave him a two-point first round; Peoples had Lesnar winning the third by a 10-8 margin.

With such an eye-opening victory under his belt, Lesnar officially knocked the monkey off his back and silenced his doubters. It is something he waited several months to accomplish.

"Anytime you're in a situation you might not have ever been in … I've been in front of a lot of crowds, but one thing I'd never been in is the Octagon, fighting a former champion," Lesnar said. "I put a lot of pressure on myself that first fight. I had more pressure in my first fight than in this fight.

"I was not coming out of there without my hand being raised tonight. That wasn't a possibility."

When Lesnar asked Dana White for a chance to compete against the world's top fighters, the UFC president advised him to test his skills in smaller circuits. Lesnar, who made a name for himself as a professional wrestler, had just one mixed martial arts bout under his belt.

But he remained persistent. Eventually, White gave in.

"To be honest, I didn't think he could come in here with no fights and compete at this level," White said. "He proved me wrong."

But many MMA die-hards refused to cut Lesnar any slack. And when Mir submitted him in just a minute and 30 seconds, it gave the skeptics more ammunition.

The loss to Mir, however, served to strengthen Lesnar's resolve. Rather than take a step back, he asked White for another top-level opponent.

He got Herring and made the most of his second chance. Beating Herring gave Lesnar the opportunity to finally answer his critics directly.

"First and foremost I'm an amateur wrestler," said the 6-foot-3, 265-pound Lesnar, who improved to 2-1 in MMA. "I was in the entertainment business for four and a half years; I didn't forget who I was, nor will I ever forget.

"I started wrestling when I was 5 years old; nobody gave me anything in my entire life. I've had to fight for every damn thing that I've got and I'm proud of it. I'm proud to be here."

Here, for Lesnar, is in the UFC. After the performance he put on Saturday, Lesnar no longer has to prove he is a mixed martial artist.

"Brock Lesnar is a mixed martial artist," White said. "If Heath Herring is 29-13 [now 29-14-1], he's fought all over the world -- Holland, Pride, he's been here [in UFC] for two years, he's fought the best fighters in the world -- and he got dominated tonight, dominated by Brock Lesnar.

"Brock Lesnar is a mixed martial artist. No doubt about it."

Franklin McNeil covers boxing and mixed martial arts for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.