Through a double-whammy surprise for UFC fans, not only was Brock Lesnar brought out of retirement on short notice to fight at the blockbuster UFC 200 event, but an even more last minute drug test failure by Jon Jones has led to Lesnar headlining the main card. Coincidentally, the last time the UFC had a major milestone event, Lesnar was also the headliner. At UFC 100, Lesnar successfully defended his title in a rematch against former champion Frank Mir during the peak of Lesnar’s UFC reign.
Brock Lesnar had a short, but obviously noteworthy MMA career, posting a 5-3 record against primarily championship-caliber opponents. His fame as a WWE wrestler fast-tracked his “real” fighting career, leading to a crossover star effect that helped boost UFC viewership during a period of rapid growth. The heavyweight division is perhaps more tolerant of newcomers short on technique and big on power than smaller weight classes, but despite his naysayers Lesnar clearly delivered some successful performances against elite competition.
Through seven UFC fights, his stat-line reveals some interesting trends into how, exactly, he fought as an MMA fighter.
Lesnar’s knockdown rate was absurdly high, five times the heavyweight average. He wasn’t a particularly active or accurate striker, but he did a lot damage to opponents when he got the rare direct hit. Only having landed nine of 27 power head strikes from a distance, two of those nine hits dropped his opponent. In the UFC, heavyweights are the hardest hitters by far, yet still require on average 23 landed power head strikes to cause a knockdown.
But striking wasn’t Lesnar’s specialty, it was wrestling. And in terms of grappling, he exceeded the UFC heavyweight average on every single offensive metric. Only his take-down defense was below average. For every minute he spent standing, he attempted more than one take down, and landed over half of those. He clearly had a preference for keeping things on the mat.
And he’ll want to use his wrestling when he faces Mark Hunt at UFC 200.
In standup striking, Hunt has advantages in offensive accuracy and in durability. He’s known for his heavy hands, even if his metric is dwarfed by Lesnar’s. But Hunt’s strength plays well to Lesnar’s key weakness: his chin. Despite having lots of power, Lesnar’s knockdown defensive rate is an incredibly low number, even more extreme than his offensive power. Basically, one in four landed punches by opponents have dropped Lesnar to the canvas, a stunningly terrible trait to have in a sport like MMA.
But in this matchup of extremes and mismatches, Hunt’s weakness is Lesnar’s strength. Hunt has been entirely ineffective on the ground, playing perpetual defense against other fighters who did not want to strike with him. The net-net is that Hunt has only spent a third of his fight time on the ground mostly on defense, while Lesnar has spent nearly twice that and was mostly in control.
The volatility of Lesnar himself is compounded by the complete stylistic mismatch with Hunt’s strengths and weaknesses. And yet we have no idea how Lesnar will perform against his own historical tendencies given the enormous 1,653 day layoff he’s had from the sport.
The fight could end on the first punch landed by either man. It could also be a very slow start with Hunt waiting to counter strike, while Lesnar is hesitant to over-commit. Or, if Lesnar is willing to take the initiative with nothing to lose, we should see him create an opportunity to put Hunt on the ground and keep him there. If he succeeds in doing that, he is capable of at least controlling Hunt, and at best finishing him via strikes or submission. And any round without an early conclusion will then lead to a fresh start and a repeat of the positional battle to determine where the fight is fought.
In the long run, 15 minutes a long time not to see either man get an opportunity to wield their strength or exploit an opportunity, so do not expect this fight to go the distance.
Reed Kuhn is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, and strategy and analytics consultant. He is the author of “Fightnomics: The Hidden Numbers and Science in Mixed Martial Arts,” the first book to quantify drivers and performance metrics in combat sports.