Brock Lesnar's notoriety as a World Wrestling Entertainment champion and headliner has created great interest in his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut on Saturday night against former UFC champion Frank Mir.
But because his fame comes from scripted entertainment, many aren't aware of his successes in legitimate athletic competition.
Lesnar was 106-5 in four years of college wrestling, winning the junior college national championship in 1998 and the Division I championship for the University of Minnesota in 2000, both as a heavyweight.
High-level amateur wrestling is a great asset in mixed martial arts, as many of UFC's biggest stars all have a substantial wrestling background, Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, Quinton Jackson, Dan Henderson, Matt Hughes, Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch, Diego Sanchez, Rashad Evans, Tito Ortiz, Clay Guida, Keith Jardine, Roger Huerta, Jake O'Brien, Frankie Edgar, Matt Hamill, Brandon Vera, Gray Maynard, Corey Hill, Matt Grice and others.
But wrestling success is no guarantee of MMA success. For every Couture or Dan Severn, both of whom competed on the U.S. national team in international competition and are among only a few fighters in the UFC Hall of Fame, there are great wrestlers, including national champions and Olympians, who have gone nowhere in MMA.
Arguably the best wrestler to ever enter MMA at his peak was Karam Gaber Ibrahim of Egypt, who not only won the gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Greco-Roman at 211 pounds, but destroyed everyone in his path, tossing around world champions like they were high schoolers. He was universally considered the best wrestler of any style or weight class in Athens.
A few months later, Ibrahim debuted in MMA against Kazuyuki Fujita on a New Year's Eve show in Japan. Fujita was a well known pro wrestler who switched to MMA. Ibrahim had only a few weeks of training for MMA. Instead of trying to wrestle Fujita, he decided to come out and box, which he had no experience in. It was a bad idea, as he was knocked cold in 1:07 and never fought again.
On the flip side, there was Rulon Gardner, the superheavyweight Greco-Roman gold medalist in the 2000 Olympics who retired as an amateur after capturing a bronze medal in 2004. On that same New Year's Eve show in Japan, he debuted in MMA in "the battle of the gold medalists," facing Hidehiko Yoshida, who had won a gold medal in judo, and years later, became a famous MMA star for the Pride Fighting Championships.
It's a routine Japanese promotional trick to take Olympic medalists out of their sport, and put them in with Japanese favorites, who have experience in MMA fighting. The idea was that Gardner would get Yoshida to the ground, but with no knowledge of submissions, he would then get submitted – similar to what many MMA fans expect to happen to Lesnar on Saturday. Instead, Gardner decided to stand and box. He was taller and about 75 pounds heavier. It was an ugly fight because Gardner was no boxer, but just through size and power, he battered Yoshida and took a unanimous decision. Gardner never fought again.
Perhaps the closest equivalent to Lesnar in the MMA world is Sylvester Terkay. Like Lesnar, he took second in the heavyweight division as a junior, losing to an American wrestling legend -- Lesnar to current New England Patriot Steve Neal and Terkay to Kurt Angle. Like Lesnar, he was a dominating powerhouse as a senior, winning the 1993 national championship as a 6-6, 275 pounder. Like Lesnar, after winning the NCAA title, he burned out on the sport, and never wrestled another amateur match. They even had the pro wrestling similarity after college, although Terkay was never a star in the U.S.
Terkay had been out of competitive wrestling for 10 years, and was 33 when he debuted in MMA for K-1 in Japan. Lesnar was 29 and out of wrestling competition for seven years when he debuted last year, although he was less than two years out of NFL camp with the Minnesota Vikings.
There have been 14 NCAA champions, including Lesnar and Terkay, who have gone into MMA. Here are the other 12:
Royce Alger: The 1987 champion at 167 pounds and 1988 champion at 177 for Iowa, Alger had a 3-2 MMA record, but his two losses were in UFC during its early days, being submitted by Enson Inoue quickly, and knocked out by Eugene Jackson.
Mark Coleman: The 1988 champion at 190 pounds, Coleman was UFC's third champion, winning two tournaments and then beating Dan Severn for the title. He left UFC for Pride, where he won the first Grand Prix tournament in 2000. Coleman, 15-8 in MMA, was a wrestler who was still at the world class level when he started in MMA in 1996, and his simple takedown and ground-and-pound style worked early on. But as the game changed, he was less successful.
Johny Hendricks: Hendricks captured the 165 pound title in 2005 and 2006 for Oklahoma State, and placed second in 2007. He is currently affiliated with Team Takedown and is 2-0 in shows in Oklahoma, training out of Couture's gym in Las Vegas.
Rex Holman: The 1993 champion at 190 pounds from Ohio State, where he was a teammate with Kevin Randleman and coached by Coleman, Holman had long since retired as a wrestler when he went into MMA. He's 4-2, with his only UFC appearance a loss last year to Matt Hamill.
Mark Kerr: The 1992 champion at 190 pounds for Syracuse. Kerr was considered the No. 1 heavyweight in MMA in 1998 and 1999, and his fall from grace was documented in the HBO documentary "The Smashing Machine," which vividly displayed his drug addiction issues. He is still active today with a 14-6 record. In a trivia note, the person he defeated in his championship win was Oklahoma State's Couture.
Josh Koscheck: The 2001 champion at 174 pounds for Edinboro College. He's currently 9-2 and one of UFC's top-rated welterweight fighters. He came out on the short end of what was largely a wrestling battle on Aug. 25 in Las Vegas with Georges St. Pierre.
Kenny Monday: University of Oklahoma 1984 champ at 150 pounds, and later a gold medalist in the Olympics. Monday fought once in 1997, beating John Lewis, and later lost a submissions-only match to Matt Hume.
Mark Munoz: The 2001 champion at 197 pounds at Oklahoma, Munoz debuted this last year and has a 3-0 record fighting in California. He coaches wrestling at Cal-Davis, the alma mater of Urijah Faber, and trains with Faber's camp.
Kevin Randleman: Randleman took the 1992 and 1993 championship for Ohio State at 177 pounds. Randleman was an MMA pioneer who is still active, with a 16-12 record. He has held the UFC heavyweight championship and was a top star for years with Pride, both winning and losing fights with major names including losses to Couture, Liddell, Jackson, Kazushi Sakuraba, Mirko Cro Cop (who he also beat in one of Pride's most famous moments) and Fedor Emelianenko.
Jake Rosholt: A three-time champion at Oklahoma State, winning in 2003 at 184 and 2005 and 2006 at 197, Rosholt is also a member of Team Takedown and training at Couture's gym. He has a 3-0 MMA record and is expected to be a major star before long.
Mark Schultz: A three-time champion for Oklahoma from 1981-83, and a 1984 Olympic gold medalist, he was in Detroit for a UFC show in 1996 to work the corner when there was a pullout. The night before the show, on almost a lark, he agreed to fight Gary Goodridge, and used his wrestling to beat Goodridge. But he never fought again. At the time, he was head wrestling coach at Brigham Young University and UFC was being savaged by the media. The college told him he couldn't be associated with MMA.
Mike Van Arsdale The 1988 champion at 167 pounds for Iowa State. Van Arsdale, who competed for years internationally for the U.S., went 4-1 in 1998, losing a brutal match in Brazil to Wanderlei Silva. He came back years later and although in his early 40s, still competes and has a 9-5 record, including a high profile loss to Couture.
- Brock Lesnar
- Randy Couture