Lesnar Paves Road From Wrestling To UFC

Trevor Born

For his home crowd, Brock Lesnar’s victory was never in question.

The former Gophers wrestler beat Heath Herring by a unanimous decision in just his third career mixed martial arts bout at UFC 87: “Seek and Destroy” Saturday night at the Target Center.

Lesnar improved to 2-1 in his career, and 1-1 in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The former Gopher lost to Frank Mir in his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut , but dominated Herring from start to finish, leaving Herring bloodied to the point that he wasn’t available for the post-fight press conference.

“I’ll be honest, I didn’t think he could come in and fight on this level, and he proved me wrong,” UFC President Dana White said. “One of our guys said it looks like he’s hitting him with lunch boxes out there, his hands are so big.”

Lesnar was given a roaring ovation from the sellout Target Center crowd, who was seeing the first UFC event in Minnesota since the state sanctioned mixed martial arts in 2007. Tickets ranged from $50 to $600, and the four main card fights were shown on pay-per-view television for $44.95.

The fight grossed $2.2 million, edging Billy Joel and Elton John for a Target Center record.

Former Augsburg wrestler Roger Huerta lost to Kenny Florian in a lightweight bout, missing an opportunity at the lightweight title.

Huerta, who was homeless at the age of 11 and adopted by his high school English teacher , was a media darling coming into the match, but said the attention didn’t distract him from the match.

“I felt fine for the match,” Huerta said. “I was prepared. I had a smile on my face, coming in. I was energized; he just fought a good, technical fight.”

Lesnar knocked Herring to the mat with a punch just 10 seconds into the match, bloodying Herring’s left eye. From that point, Lesnar used overpowering strength and wrestling skills to stay on top of Herring.

With three seconds left in the match, Lesnar got off of his opponent and began pumping his fist, narrowly missing being punched, himself. As Herring walked away, Lesnar pretended to lasso him – a reference to Harring’s nickname, “The Texas Crazy Horse.”

The sequence elicited a few boos from the previously Lesnar-crazy crowd.

“That was just me. I was excited,” Lesnar said. “That was for Heath’s camp because on the way out to the octagon tonight there were some things said before the fight. But I had the last laugh and the last thing to say and that’s all that matters to me.”

The antics were reminiscent of Lesnar’s pro wrestling days, when he first gained national fame. After leaving the University without graduating , Lesnar was dubbed “the next big thing,” and quickly became one of the top names in pro wrestling and the youngest champion in WWE history.

But toward the end of his pro wrestling career, Lesnar began looking at other athletic professions, which eventually led him to mixed martial arts.

“It became very stale to me, and that’s why I was only in it for four and a half years. I missed the competitiveness,” Lesnar told the Daily in July. “No matter how hard I tried to go out of the curtain every night and get it in my head that ‘I’m competing tonight,’ I still realized it’s purely entertainment.”

After a failed attempt to catch on with the Vikings in the NFL in 2004 and a brief return to pro wrestling in Japan, Lesnar fought his first mixed martial arts match in 2007 and joined the UFC in 2008.

For this fight, Lesnar trained at the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy in Fridley, with Gophers assistant Marty Morgan as his conditioning coach.

The UFC bills itself as the best way for amateur wrestlers to be able to make a living after college, and Lesnar said he’s encouraged some current Gophers wrestlers to give the sport a try.

2007 graduate and two-time heavyweight national champion Cole Konrad helped Lesnar train for Saturday’s fight, and could be a candidate to make the transition.

“(Former Gopher wrestler) Jacob Volkman made the transition, and you’ve got a few other guys trying to make the transition,” Lesnar said in July. “I think you’re going to see a lot of University of Minnesota wrestlers thinking about making the transition.”