'Next big thing' Lesnar well on his way

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MINNEAPOLIS – Brock Lesnar is about the size of a small SUV and as powerful as a large one.

But what will one day make Lesnar the best heavyweight mixed martial artist in the world isn't going to be his size or his strength. It's going to be the quickness and the athleticism he shares with a guy who was sitting at ringside at the Target Center Saturday, watching him annihilate Heath Herring at UFC 87, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

Lesnar won a unanimous decision over the PRIDE and UFC veteran, taking the bout 30-26 on all three cards.

He's only won one fight in the UFC and only two of his three career mixed martial arts bouts. A title isn't imminent, but have no doubt, Lesnar will one day have a championship belt strapped around that massive body of his before he's through.

"I was blown away by how good he looked tonight," UFC president Dana White said of Lesnar, the former NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion at the University of Minnesota and the one-time WWE pro wrestling champ.

If Lesnar's weight doesn't spiral out of control – and if he can continue to make the heavyweight division's 265-pound limit – he's going to be just as good in MMA as he was in amateur wrestling.

The fight with Herring – who had been in with greats of the game such as Fedor Emelianenko, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic – ended essentially after the first punch.

Lesnar stormed from his corner, as he did in his UFC debut in February when he fought ex-UFC champion Frank Mir. But instead of shooting on Herring, Lesnar faked the shot, flicked a jab and then landed a crunching right flush on Herring's eye.

Herring went down and somersaulted backward, with the massive Lesnar in hot pursuit.

Lesnar spent much of the rest of the bout pummeling Herring, making his eye a mess.

"That punch definitely set the tone for the fight," said Erik Paulson, one of Lesnar's many coaches.

Lesnar said he had an advantage because Herring had little tape of him to dissect, while he had many fights of Herring's he could break down. Because of his wrestling background, Lesnar suspected Herring would expect him to shoot for a takedown.

Instead, though, he used the threat of the takedown to set up his powerful right.

"I came with the right hand and I put it where I needed to put it," Lesnar said. "It's one of those things. I was stunned for a second."

He wasn't nearly as stunned as Herring, who offered little offense for the rest of the fight. Herring had expressed his displeasure with having to fight the inexperienced Lesnar to White privately before the fight, but word had gotten back to Lesnar's camp.

Herring, who came into the bout with a 29-13 record and was fresh from an impressive win over Cheick Kongo, didn't land a punch of consequence.

Three fights into his MMA career and Lesnar really hasn't tasted a solid shot from an opponent.

He's not ready for the elite guys in the class like Emelianenko, Nogueira and Randy Couture yet, but he's got the size, the strength and the athleticism to get there once he gets the cage time.

There are few MMA fighters who can outwrestle him now and few who are anywhere near as strong or as athletic. He's susceptible now, as Mir proved, to good jiu-jitsu fighters and probably would struggle with a heavyweight who had a quality standup game.

Lesnar did show some good combinations on Saturday and there were few prettier or more perfectly executed punches thrown on the card than the right Lesnar opened his bout with against Herring.

Even given that, a quality striker who had the ability to fend off his takedowns would cause him problems now.

Give Lesnar another seven or eight fights, though, and there are going to be few guys who want to get into the cage with him, let alone who will be able to beat him.

He's a neophyte in the sport, but will be a significant part of its future. On Saturday, he was simply relieved to have finally won in the UFC.

He was describing the significance of his first UFC win when he noted that his background is as an amateur wrestler and said he considers himself an amateur wrestler. He spoke disdainfully of his WWE stint as a time when he was a "professional entertainer."

White heard where Lesnar was going and quickly interrupted with one of the most salient points of the postfight news conference.

"Let me tell you, Brock Lesnar is a mixed martial artist," White said admiringly. "Heath Herring was 29-13 and he's fought all over the world: Holland, PRIDE. He's been here for two years and he's fought the best fighters in the world. He got dominated tonight. Dominated, by Brock Lesnar. Brock Lesnar is a mixed martial artist, no doubt about it."

He's likely to fight Kongo next, though White would not commit to that so soon after the card.

Whoever is next is going to have a heap of trouble on their hands.

Two years from now, he may be close to unstoppable.

Unquestionably, he's the sport's next big thing.