Dana White announced today that Brock Lesnar and Junior Dos Santos will be the coaches on this season (TUF 13) of The Ultimate Fighter. The two fighters will continue the tradition of concluding the season by facing each other in the Octagon. Only two things were assured by Dana’s announcement. The first is that there would be instant controversy amongst keyboard warriors everywhere on the blogosphere. Lesnar’s authoritative coaching role relative to his inexperience as a mixed martial artist will add to his already considerable base of critics. The second guarantee is that TUF 13 will be ratings gold! Lesnar has proven time and again that if nothing else he draws eyeballs. Whatever method you use to track popularity, whether its Google searches, or pay-per-view buys, Lesnar is undeniably the proverbial goose that lays the golden ratings egg.
Once one get past the initial awkwardness of appointing an intensely private individual with relatively little experience in MMA as a coach, this season offers many intriguing questions. First and foremost, what will Brock’s attitude and personality be? Or rather, maybe the question should be how will the UFC choose to portray Lesnar? Lesnar has described himself as a lone wolf type of individual before BRI. He hates large cities (instead of moving to an established gym he chose to build his own in rural Alexandria Minnesota) and must dread spending all that time in Vegas. Lesnar was recently quoted while describing himself:
“It’s very basic for me. When I go home, I don’t buy into any of the b.s. Like I said, it’s pretty basic: Train, sleep, family, fight. It’s my life. I like it. I’ve been in front of the cameras for 10, 12 years. I was a star at the University of Minnesota. I went on to World Wrestling Entertainment. Wannabe NFL player. And here I am, the UFC heavyweight champion. I just don’t put myself out there to the fans and prostitute my private life to everybody. In today’s day and age, with the Internet and cameras and cell phones, I just like being old school and living in the woods and living my life. I came from nothing and at any moment, you can go back to having nothing”
What in that statement leads anyone to believe that he wants to spend over a month in Sin City, away from his family, under the glare of cameras? My guess is that the UFC must have paid him a mint to do this ratings stunt. Clearly they didn’t do it for the fighters who will all be Welterweights (by necessity that makes the show different than this seasons’ where GSP was a consistent training partner for his team). There is a rumour circling on many internet forums that Lesnar has made a backroom deal with White that sees him propping up The Ultimate Fighter franchise in exchange for being allowed to do Wrestlemania this year (which would likely pay Lesnar an even more obscene amount of money). While this would be great for Spike’s ratings, it would likely turn many traditional fans of the sport off. The greying of the line between MMA and professional wrestling has a long standing history that many fans find frustrating. Lesnar seems to have become the symbol for this hatred, as well as for the predictable backlash from ‘original’ MMA fans toward the newer, more mainstream group (aka ‘Ultimate Fighter Newbs’) that Lesnar is a huge crossover hit with.
But the question remains: How will Lesnar be received? When the cameras turn on will he revert back to the brash, controversial, WWE-bred character that he showed when he initially came into the UFC? Or will he continue to reaveal his much more humble side that we have seen since his near death experience last year? Will he seek to intimidate Dos Santos, or accept his recent failings in the name of improvement? Will he gain a grudging respect from MMA insiders (as Kimbo Slice did a few seasons ago) or will he give them further ammunition to use against him? Lesnar has never even been part of a MMA team in the traditional sense of the word before (he hires fighters to come in and train with him in Alexandria on a fight-by-fight basis, but to my knowledge doesn’t regularly attend other gyms) how will he adapt to camaraderie-oriented setting of TUF? Finally, as I mentioned before, how Lesnar acts on the show and wishes himself to be portrayed might be immaterial in the end. The real question is likely what Zuffa’s editing crew will do with the footage of Lesnar. Does the UFC need another humble fighter in the Cain Velasquez mould? Or would it instead be further ahead to encourage the view of Lesnar as a controversial figure that many would pay big bucks to see get beaten? The answers to these questions will be very interesting to say the least.
The biggest issue that the show will no doubt have to deal with is the legitimacy of Lesnar as a coach, as well as the team he will bring with him. While JDS has experience as a professional boxer, and trains BJJ with the famous Nogueira brothers at Team Black House (his belt rank is widely speculated to be brown… good thing I don’t place much value in belt ranks anyway) what does Lesnar really bring to the table? Well, he definitely brings wrestling chops. This is no small matter in the current climate of MMA. In my opinion this is without a doubt the most important base for a fighter. However, other than that, does he truly excel anywhere else? Can he really teach Welterweights to be a genetic freak like himself? With such little time with the fighters I often think that the coaching of the headliners is overblown. If Lesnar can communicate (such an overlooked aspect of coaching) his wrestling knowledge and work ethic, this might actually prove to be fairly valuable. Besides, it’s the guys that you bring in that could really make or break a contestant’s experience.
On that note, it is always fun to speculate which coaches each fighter might bring in. JDS would appear to have a natural advantage in coming from one of the most experienced teams in the world in the aforementioned team Black House based out of Brazil. With such notable training partners as the Nogueira brothers, Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida, there is a bevy of options for Dos Santos to choose from. Interestingly, very few of the team’s members are known for having any real wrestling background.
I would assume Brock will bring his boy Greg Nelson along for the ride (this is likely who will pick the other coaches and ultimately shape the training for Team Lesnar). He is fairly experienced in the world of MMA and has clearly done an excellent job in bring Lesnar up to speed in the relatively short time they have been training. I think the real wild card as far as Lesnar is concerned will be whose arm he or the UFC can twist in order to appear on the show. With the UFC having such a strong interest in promoting Lesnar I wouldn’t really be surprised to hear any name at all thrown in. Any of the current WWs, MWs, and/or LHWs could asked to appear by Dana and Co. As well, if Nelson and Lesnar have any designs on improving his striking (which they should given recent results) they should spare no expense in bringing in a top flight striking coach (just pay whatever sum it takes to get Duke Roufus Brock). This would leave the door open for any number of trainers since both Brock’s and Dana’s cheque books and promotional pull could garner an appearance from pretty much anyone out there.
It is a long road leading up to when the two giants will step into the Octagon together, but the inner prognosticator in me can’t help but speculate on the eventual outcome. Early poll results on several websites showed Dos Santos’ to have a 60-40 edge in the minds of fight fans. The fighters are great opponents for each other. JDS’ technical boxing acumen and overall power have left a laundry list of destruction in his wake as he has climbed the Heavyweight ladder. When you combine this with Brock’s complete lack of kickboxing training, and subsequent inexperience with being hit, it seems like a large advantage for ‘Cigano’. However, we have yet to see Dos Santos’ ground game tested in the UFC. He does train with some great BJJ players, but that is no guarantee of anything. Lesnar was able to completely suffocate Frank Mir on the ground, and JDS is no Cain Velasquez in terms of takedown defence. At this point it is a complete crap shoot in my opinion. Both fighters have truly improved each time they have fought (this is an often overused cliché, but I really believe it in the case of these two behemoths). To think that they will not have worked on their respective weaknesses is ridiculous. I am interested to see what each man brings to the table for the show.