ST. LOUIS — It was the talk around the Gateway city all weekend, by the media, fans and wrestlers. They talked about it at Kiel Center, at restaurants and on the Anheuser-Busch brewery tour.
They weren’t talking about the team title race between Iowa and Iowa State. Their attention was on Minnesota senior Brock Lesnar, the 2000 national champion at heavyweight.
“You’re from Minnesota?” they would ask. “That Lesnar is a monster.”
At 6-foot-4 and coming in at about 270 pounds, Lesnar loomed large on the mats like the Gateway Arch over the St. Louis skyline.
After winning his first-round match by a 4-2 decision, Lesnar rolled over his next three opponents — pinning them all — to reach the finals.
That set up a showdown with Wes Hand, the only wrestler to defeat Lesnar all season. Hand defeated Lesnar in a dual meet at Williams Arena in February.
Two weeks later, Lesnar defeated Hand for the Big Ten conference title. But Saturday night’s encounter was the meeting that both had waited for all season.
The two took to the mats with each side of the arena picking its favorite wrestler.
The chants of “Let’s go, Brock” and “Let’s go, Wes” echoed off each other from the Minnesota and Iowa sections of Kiel Center when the two were introduced.
After a scoreless first period, Lesnar escaped twice in the second to take the lead. But in third, Lesnar was called for stalling twice, and Hand tied it up, forcing overtime.
The first OT went scoreless, as both wrestlers were being careful not to give up any open shots at a point. It went to double overtime, when the referee tossed the coin to see who would go down.
It landed red, and Lesnar went on his knees. All the senior needed to do was escape, and he was the champ.
A stalemate 16 seconds in sent Lesnar back down to the mat. Five ticks later, Lesnar freed himself and jumped for joy.
He was a national champion.
“What was going through my head was, ‘I got 14 seconds left to get out for the rest of my entire life,'” Lesnar said. “If I don’t get out now, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.”
It wasn’t a pretty win, but Lesnar will have no regrets now.
Minnesota coach J Robinson said his new national champion — the first Minnesota heavyweight to win since Verne Gagne in 1949 — could have been more aggressive, but a win is a win.
“He could have shot a lot more,” Robinson said. “But he did what he had to do to win, and that is what’s important in the end.”
With his career at Minnesota over, Lesnar is weighing his options.
Next year will bring a season without college grappling for Lesnar. It had been rumored Lesnar might suit up for Glen Mason and play for the Gophers football team.
But that won’t happen.
“No football,” he said. “Football is out.”
So what’s next for Lesnar?
Although he said he’d like to finish his one more year of school, Lesnar confirmed he has been contacted about turning professional.
That means the WWF.
“That’s a good possibility,” he said. “But I haven’t decided on what I’m going to do yet.”
But if Lesnar chooses that road, he’ll have to pick a new nickname.
“The Rock” is already taken.
John R. Carter covers wrestling and welcomes comments at [email protected]