–Kenny Rice

His resolution came a good twenty-four hours before the ball dropped on 2012. It was a large statement, somewhat surprising to those outside that very closed circle he has kept. Minutes after being pummeled by Alistair Overeem, Brock Lesnar called it quits from the mercurial MMA career of being a champion, losing his belt, delaying fights and being a polarizing massive figure in the sport.

It was painfully obvious his striking prowess had not improved nor had his defense for it as the more experienced kickboxer and puncher Overeem was taking him apart, with Lesnar’s gigantic frame bending over the three foot long tattoo of a sword running from neck to waistline on his oversized frame. A symbolic sight as it turned out.

The sport will never again see a more popular 5-3 (4-3 in UFC) fighter. A fighter who received national attention in major newspapers with his announcement. He should be remembered as much for the pro wrestling following that is still very much, too much perhaps in some ways, that permeates the legit world of MMA. It was that WWE flair, bordering on silliness that made him a pay-per-view magnate and as ESPN the Magazine listed this year, a money making machine with $5.3 million coming in.

But as far as a MMA fighter who was hustled to the front of the line for a title shot simply because of the puny supply in the heavyweight division, the mammoth Lesnar was hardly around long enough to assess his skills to sustain a career in the UFC.  His retraction of a pitch after a win for a beer that was not a UFC sponsor will linger in the mind as long as any of his four wins.

“Tonight is the last time you’ll see me in the octagon,” he succinctly bid adieu to the fighting at the post fight press conference. Adding when asked why, “I’ve had a really difficult couple of years with my disease.”

And that is solid, respectable reason to say goodbye. His battle with the intestinal disorder diverticulitis has limited his training, delayed scheduled fights and possibly hurt his growth as more than a brutish ground specialist. The former NCAA heavyweight wrestling champ at the University of Minnesota was called “the best wrestler in the UFC heavyweight ranks,” by Overeem who dominated with knees and punches exposing Lesnar’s weakness as a standup fighter.

It was similar to his first round TKO loss to Cain Velasquez October 30, 2010 in UFC 121 where Lesnar lost his title after two successful defenses. Even in the hold of his title to Shane Carwin he showed his ability to take some punches but was struggling to finish Carwin with those of his own. Eventually winning that fight with a second round submission.

Ironically his two biggest UFC victories were by TKO. The first in taking the title from Randy Couture on November 15,2008 after the then champion had returned to the UFC fold after an almost fifteen month self imposed exiled in an effort to void his contract with the Zuffa organization and become a free agent. Lesnar then defeated Frank Mir with punches to avenge his first MMA loss. Granted both Couture and Mir are wrestling based fighters known more for their all around games than big hitting abilities.

During all his preparations Lesnar had sequestered himself in an isolated camp, with those brought in sworn to secrecy about the training. A few sources had leaked it that Lesnar preferred to basically shadow box through his rounds, abstaining from real contact from sparring partners. It looked that way in most of his fights.

But with any athlete in any sport, injuries are always the key. The stomach problems, the bout with mononucleosis, made for too many long gaps between fights. Fourteen months since his loss to Velasquez was a huge absence to comeback against another giant with more versatility in Overeem.

That will always be the question, what if he had been healthy throughout? Maybe the biggest, real force ever to step into the octagon before Overeem, could’ve developed into an unstoppable machine with a long reign in a still comparatively weak heavyweight division.

What shouldn’t be dismissed though is the impact he had on the UFC, however brief. There are rumors he may return to the WWE. They have a substantial amount of air time to fill with all their TV deals and he is still a recognized and in some corners, revered wrestler. He is an unabashed showman with a screw authority attitude that resonates with college age followers and a few who wish they never had to leave the friendly confines of dormitory life. Brock Lesnar will always have a fan base, will always make a good living.

Saying retirement and staying retired are two different things. He still has fights remaining on his UFC contract. But the hope is he can get his health problems fixed before anything else. Looking back on barely four years and seven UFC fights, the hope is to someday figure out if he was just so athletically gifted he had a degree of success built on that alone. Or was it another lark like his Minnesota Viking training camp period seven years ago. A failed NFL bid that still brought an amazing amount of attention to a powerhouse, loud mouth man who is like a car pile up on the interstate,  you can not keep from watching.

Whatever was going through the mind of Lesnar, he leaves as a one time champ of the UFC. And leaves as the fighter MMA fans hardly knew except for his considerable exploits away from the cage.

Watch Kenny Rice along with Bas Rutten this Monday Jan. 2, as we celebrate the best of Inside MMA 2011.  Share your favorite moments of the year with us on facebook, or twitter.

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