The Gophers newest grappler has built an intimidating physique, standing 6-foot-4, weighing nearly 265 pounds and carrying less than 10 percent body fat. And since joining the team in early January, junior college transfer Brock Lesnar has earned the respect of spectators and opponents based solely on his appearance.
But Lesnar’s awe-striking exterior and prowess on the mat might come into question now that the 1999 Big Ten heavyweight champion has disclosed his sensitive side.
“I like the `Junglebook.’ I like the monkeys and the blue bear, I like those guys. I like the song the monkeys sing,” said Lesnar, a long-time follower of Disney movies. “My favorite is the `Fox and the Hound,’ though, just because of the friendship and how they got split up and when it came down to the end, the friendship was still there.”
Lesnar’s youthful personality belies his fervor on the mat. The junior has recorded eight falls this season behind a 20-1 mark and shows no mercy for his opponent, a trend that began in kindergarten.
“I only had one move, the bear hug. I used it so much they called it the Brock Lock,” Lesnar said. “I put everyone in the Brock Lock and pinned them.”
Gradually Lesnar added to his arsenal of wrestling moves, earning respect as a hardworking youngster. When he wasn’t carting around his friends in his four-wheeler after a day of Gopher hunting, Lesnar concentrated on his “desire to be big and scary.”
Lesnar transformed a machine shed on the family farm in Webster, S.D., into his personal weight room. The shed initially housed Lesnar’s older brother’s untouched weight set.
“I can remember spending hot summer days in that shed,” Lesnar said. “I had a wooden bench and I even welded some of my own weights. I was serious.”
It wasn’t until his senior year of high school, however, that Lesnar learned to value life and his talent as a wrestler. Having already signed to play football at Northern State University, Lesnar left home the summer before his senior year for a stint in the National Guard.
“That’s probably when I started to get serious about life,” Lesnar said. “I had enough respect, but not for the right people and not for myself.”
The Gophers grappler returned home more mature, both mentally and physically. Over the summer, Lesnar bulked up 25 pounds from what his mother, Stephanie, called “a string bean, just all arms and legs,” at 215 pounds.
The extra weight made Lesnar even more tenacious on the mat. A hyperextended knee suffered during the football season and a solid relationship with Webster’s wrestling coach, John Schilley, lured Lesnar into backing out of the Division II football scholarship.
“We were hoping he wouldn’t go that route and we thought it wasn’t for him,” said Stephanie of her son’s decision to concentrate on wrestling. “But wrestling was in his heart and it has been good to him.”
In his first season as a wrestler at Bismarck Junior College in North Dakota, Lesnar managed to impress Minnesota’s coaching staff. At the 1997 Bison Open, the Gophers claimed nine of 10 weight classes, suffering their only defeat to Lesnar.
The potential the Gophers saw developed into a 1998 NJCAA champion. Less than a year later, Lesnar was wearing a maroon and gold singlet.
“I liked Minnesota, I liked the big guys,” Lesnar said. “In high school I wrestled big, old fat guys who thought they knew how to wrestle. At Bismarck the guys weren’t that big.”
During his short time in Division I, Lesnar has rocketed from unranked in the national polls to No. 2. Only Cal State-Bakersfield’s top-ranked Stephen Neal, who Lesnar could dethrone next weekend, is in the way of Lesnar’s bid to be the nation’s premiere heavyweight.
Lesnar’s demeanor might not only help in his strive for a national championship, but also to meet his next goal. If he can work the ring like he does the mat, the Disney fan might one day become one of pro wrestling’s elite.
“I have thought about pro wrestling,” Lesnar said. “I’m pretty hard-nosed. I don’t like to lay down and die. I’m a warrior.”