In light of the upcoming Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Couture fight, I am reminded of my childhood.
Twenty-one years ago, I recall the anticipation felt by myself and all my twelve-year-old friends of the upcoming epic, the fight for the ages, the clash of the titans. We were waiting for Hulk Hogan to square off against Andre The Giant.
Andre was my favorite wrestler. Sure, I had hardly seen any Andre matches but there was a mystique to him that was unmatched. After all, he was the guy who had always stood by the fans and had never lost but still had never received a title match. I sympathized with the man and wanted to be second in line to slap Hulk Hogan upside the head. I thanked Roddy Piper for providing Piper's Pit as a forum to set this up.
Hulk Hogan was the unstoppable force to Andre's immovable object. He was the only world champion I had ever known. He was the reason I started to watch wrestling. I was enthralled when he played Thunderlips in Rocky III. I was in awe when he accompanied Ciny Lauper to an awards show, flexed to the crowd and my brother said "He's a real wrestler, you know". I sought him out and realized that I liked Andre better. But Hogan won all his matches right? Andre had never been bodyslammed but if anyone could do it the Hulkster could, right?
Most importantly, it was the first match between them and none of us knew what would happen. We talked about it at our Scouts meetings. I picked Andre. Jeff picked Hogan. And of course we were both right and noone could convince us otherwise.
Of course, there was a lot of myth in this. Andre had done plenty of work as a "bad guy" in Japan which I enjoy much more when I watch it as an adult. Andre had lost plenty of times, including to El Canek in Mexico. He had been bodyslammed by Harley Race, Killer Kowalski, and El Canek (that guy again). And he had faced Hogan in Japan, in Memphis and most importantly on the 1980 Shea Stadium card, a predecessor to Wrestlemania.
But we didn't know these things. And we didn't need to know them. I could have felt betrayed when I learned these things later but I'm glad we didn't know. What mattered was that we believed. And the day after Wrestlemania III the result was the buzz of the playground at school. Hogan won. Hogan bodyslammed Andre. When I got to see the show a couple months later, my family cheered as Hogan bodyslammed Andre, dropped the leg and pinned him. My father simply said "Yup, that's it, he's the best". It didn't even matter that the match kind of sucked, the hype and belief had captured our imaginations and put enough people in the Pontiac Silverdome that Vince McMahon could lie and say it was 93,000.
Fast forward to 2008. Brock Lesnar and Randy Couture are set to meet in the modern fight for the ages. And yes, they've both lost inside the octagon of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Those losses actually and vulnerabilities actually add intrigue and everyone is sure they know who will win.
The third fight between Randy Couture and Chuck Lidell drew me into starting to watch UFC again, much like Hulk Hogan in 1986. Randy is like Andre in this fight with the size difference reversed. He's the old soldier of Mixed Martial Arts, the man who perseveres against all odds. He has fought the greatest mixed martial artists inside the cage and bureaucracy of promoting outside it (whether you think he was right or not, he did fight). He is every thing that an Ultimate Fighter should be: a world class athlete who brought his specialty (wrestling) into MMA, learned other skills and tied it together with the most important thing, heart. He has probably been in UFC a comparable amount to what Andre had been in the World Wrestling Federation (eleven years compared to fourteen years).
And then along came Brock Lesnar. The amateur wrestler turned professional wrestler turned mixed martial artist. The man who was seen as a bland, Bob Backlund-type in pro wrestling but is a colorful personality and promo man in MMA. Not because everyone else is bland in comparison but because there is such an air of legitimacy to this once "fake fighter". There has never been anyone like him. He exploded out of the gates to attack former UFC champion Frank Mir in February at a pace never before seen before getting caught in a kneebar. Then in August he spent three rounds bouncing around former Pride fighter Heath Herring, looking like a tiger playing with its catch before sinking in the killing blow.
Randy has never faced anyone like Brock. Tim Sylvia was bigger but Brock will be cutting to 265 pounds of muscle and strength, like any of the lower weight class champions, just way bigger. Randy's advantage is often wrestling, a hard advantage to have over Brock. And Brock's aptitude for picking up pro wrestling faster than most has transferred to his ability to pick up MMA faster than most.
Brock has never faced anyone like Randy. Randy always figures out a way to beat his opponents. even if he doesn't win, he seems to know how. Randy has as much experience as just about any MMA fighter you'll find, at least any one that is still good. And Brock was just a "fake wrester".
Is Brock too young? Is Randy too old? Is Brock too powerful? Is Randy too experienced? Is Brock too good for Randy? Is Randy too good for Brock?
Everyone thinks they know the answers. And everyone is sure they're right. Me, I think Brock will win. The harcore fan in me thinks that it is the best thing for business long-term, for both MMA and pro wrestling as Brock's exposure could be capitalized on by wrestling promoters (which doesn't mean they will do it). But more important than any such analysis, I just think it would be really cool. Of course, I will still cheer to see Randy win, just like I did when my father said "Yup, that's it, he's the best".
None of us know for sure. And it doesn't really matter what we think ahead of time. What does matter is that we believe.