Monday, Feb. 4, 2008 | 2 a.m.
The line of questioning directed toward former pro wrestling showman Brock Lesnar had a familiar ring as he prepared for his debut in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
It was reminiscent of the grilling David Letterman administered to Dwayne Johnson as the erstwhile “Rock” was preparing to exit the confines of professional wrestling to make movies. (“The Mummy Returns,” which begat “The Scorpion King,” and so on.)
So, Letterman wanted to know, are all those other wrestlers jealous, or what?
In Lesnar’s case, he wasn’t leaving to test his acting chops in Hollywood but rather his fighting talents in the sport’s premier mixed martial arts organization.
“This is real,” Lesnar said of the UFC, as opposed to the scripted outcomes in World Wrestling Entertainment events.
As Lesnar repeatedly reminded his inquisitors in recent weeks, many of his pro wrestling colleagues — jealous or not — lack the bona fides Lesnar brought to the UFC. Training relentlessly in amateur wrestling for most of his pre-WWE life, Lesnar was an NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion and a two-time All-American at Minnesota. Wrestling, with its emphasis on exerting control of the other guy, is the most valuable base skill to bring into mixed martial arts, Lesnar said.
Meanwhile his opponent, former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir, promised to use his jujitsu expertise to subdue the wrestling upstart.
Award Round 1 to Mir — and, by default, MMA purists — even if the debate hasn’t been settled for good.
In a brilliant display of technical ability mastering sheer strength, Mir caught Lesnar in a kneebar to win by tapout just 90 seconds into their fight on the UFC 81 card Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
“That’s the beauty of this sport,” said Lesnar, resigned in defeat but vowing to return. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m here for as long as I can fight here. This was not a one-shot deal.”
Lesnar, who has an imposing bodybuilder’s physique and actually had to slim down to reach the 265-pound heavyweight limit, was greeted by jeers as he approached the octagon, the crowd of 10,583 skeptical of the big man’s capacity to compete with world-class all-around fighters.
Yet Lesnar got off to a strong start, dropping Mir, following with a series of thunderclap shots to Mir’s head, and staying in command until he left his foot exposed and Mir capitalized on the mistake.
Afterward Mir, like a poker player suddenly in a great mood after drawing out to collect a huge pile of chips, cheerily rehashed the bout’s details — which were thrilling if not gory, despite the standard prefight threats about shoving fists down throats.
“I went for a couple of armbar attempts, but look at the guy’s arms,” said Mir, a black belt in jujitsu who put himself in position for another shot at the UFC heavyweight belt. “His legs were a little leaner. I attack the neck or the legs on a big guy because they’re always vulnerable.”
Lesnar’s presence on the card attracted some comrades in massive arms to the events center, including “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Undertaker. Even Vince McMahon checked in with a good-luck phone call, though Lesnar stressed his goal was never to strike a blow in favor of pro wrestling or his former cohorts.
More significant were the reactions of UFC stars Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Matt Hughes, who were impressed and told UFC President Dana White they think Lesnar could become a major force in the sport.
“The question surrounding this event was, ‘Can Brock Lesnar fight?’” White said. “I think the answer is he can.”