Brock Lesnar and Roger Gracie: A Tale of Two Champions

Gracie Barra’s Roger Gracie and UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar.

Over the weekend I got to thinking about UFC heavyweight Brock Lesnar‘s comments after soundly defeating Frank Mir at UFC 100. When he was presented the microphone, Lesnar made a string of remarks which spanned the gamut from being disrespectful to fans, sponsors, and his opponent. Now that I think about it, I am pretty sure the only person he did not insult was UFC president Dana White which would have probably been a really bad idea.

Lesnar now has apologized for his statements. Knowingly or not, the things Lesnar said will sell many pay-per-views for the UFC, as everyone likes to see the bad guy get what is coming to him. I get that. It’s apparent at first glance and has been explained in a gazillion places online like this nice writeup from MMAPayout.

But come on… seriously? Did Lesnar need to share that he feels he pulled a horseshoe out of Frank Mir’s backside? Did he need to flip off the crowd? Even in the heat of the moment, how many of us would think to behave that way?

Let’s compare the 2009 Brazilian jiu-jitsu absolute champion Roger Gracie with Brock Lesnar, who actually have a lot in common. Both are huge men who are really good at what they do. Facing Roger Gracie in competition is a question of not whether you will survive, but how long you can avoid being tapped. An octagon fight against Brock Lesnar means another countdown to an inevitable bloody defeat for his opponent. When you look at either you ask yourself, “who in the world can beat this guy?!”

At the same time, the two could not be any different.

In the multiple occasions we have interviewed Roger Gracie for The FightWorks Podcast, his soft-spoken manner usually leaves me trying to push my audio recorder closer to his face for fear of not catching what he is saying. (My respect for his ability to mount and choke every human he feels like prevents me from invading his space too much.) He is calm and completely respectful when you ask him about the throngs of very, very tough guys who have tried to end his streak of invincibility.

Call me old fashioned, but I prefer the behavior of the 2009 Brazilian jiu-jitsu absolute champion Roger Gracie. I’m not posting this to say Roger Gracie is a better champion than Brock Lesnar, or that he is a better sportsman than Lesnar. What I am saying is that for me, I prefer a champion that is easy to admire for his ridiculous athletic ability and how he carries himself.

Yes, it’s probably true that Roger Gracie will never generate the revenues that Brock Lesnar has and will in his career. But I could care less.

(In some subconscious way, am I suggesting that the culture in the Brazilian jiu-jitsu community is superior to that to that of the MMA world? Am I a BJJ elitist? I don’t know. Shred me in the comments below if you think I deserve it.)

12 Replies to “Brock Lesnar and Roger Gracie: A Tale of Two Champions”

  1. Caleb,

    I agree with your preference of a humble champion or gracious sportsmanship in general. I don’t think the BJJ world is without its share of boorish behavior and MMA certainly has many fantastic sportsman (e.g., Randy Couture, GSP). Possibly the difference is that BJJ penalizes the behavior (see the recent medal-penalty at the Mundials as an example) while the UFC often markets the ‘bad guy’ (e.g., Junie Browning, Tito Ortiz).

  2. Roger is a gent, but he can be pretty scathingly harsh when coaching his own students at tournaments. I guess because he has such high standards.

  3. I’m not saying your wrong, Roger is clearly a much more humble champion than Brock, but I really don’t think it’s a fair comparison at all.

    I’m sure it’s been said tons of times but I don’t believe for a second that Lesnar’s comments were an accident or at least were nowhere near as controversial as the UFC would like to suggest. The UFC already has a long history of having people pretend to hate each other or make obnoxious comments to hype fights, and that was before they had a champion who spent years as a WWE heel. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find out that Dana White knew that was coming the whole time.

    When Lesnar has been interviewed on the sidelines at events when he’s not fighting, he’s actually been pretty humble the times I’ve seen. I really think that this is what you have to look at when you determine how Lesnar carries himself. This is the time when he’s not the one generating the revenue.

    Roger sets a great example, but does it in an environment where he’s much more free to do so. There’s no financial incentive to be showy and loud at the Mundials. There’s no pay per view audience to think about, and there’s no Dana White making sure you think about them even if you’d rather not. In the UFC, there definitely is. Right now, in the heavyweight division especially, they know that a big bad monster will bring in viewers.

    I think it’s annoying too. I like the idea of being manipulated by fake, loud, ‘controversial’ hype even less than I like the idea of the champ actually being that way as a person. But I don’t think it’s Lesnar’s fault. I think they saw him, took all of his background into account, and planned all of this (generally) from day one. They knew UFC fans would say he wasn’t a ‘real’ fighter because of his WWE time. They knew once he started winning that if they could keep that hate for him going that would equal more money. They knew he couldn’t come in and just act like Randy Couture because they already have a Randy Couture.

    I think it’s apple to oranges, it’s still stupid, but it’s not Lesnar.

  4. I do agree with Lucas, I have seen interviews of Lesnar , and I was surprised to see that there is some humbleness , and reason in that guy… there is some good in him , he needs to cut some weight and some trash and he will be fine….he is for sure easy to hate . but he apologized for his comments and that’s a good thing.
    Of course it is undeniable that Roger is the man …

  5. Meerkatsu: I just looked at your site, you are one of Roger’s students and your birthday present was a private from him — I’m confused. Did Roger not hold your hand after you lost a fight or something? If you don’t lose and you won’t have to worry about harsh criticism. You need to suck it up, or take up golf.

    Also, with regard to Lesnar, he is an entertainer first and a fighter second. World Wrestling Entertainment is how he cut his teeth as a showman. And here we all are, talking about him. It doesn’t even matter what we say, as long as we keep it up, he will keep cashing checks.

    Quod licet Iovi non licet bovi.

  6. Completely agree, Caleb.
    People like Roger, GSP, many Japanese fighters… they are all living proof that with a little self control and a good outlook on life, you can be a calm and humble person and still be an incredible fighter.
    Much more inspiring to people like me than seeing Lesnar foaming at the mouth and eating children and the like.
    It’s not a question of not being manly, or that somehow we are being tricked into falling for the Lesnar hype machine if we discuss his idiotic antics.
    Could be the difference between martial artists and fighters?

  7. Personally I don’t think Lesnar is as bad as everyone makes him out to be. He is just a very intense, very competitive, very emotional individual. Unlike Roger who may be intense and competitive but isn’t very outwardly emotional. Lesnar gets caught up in his fights. His intensity ramps up as he gets closer to his fights and in this case Mir and him honestly did not get along. Lesnar was very courteous to Randy when he beat him but Mir talked a LOT of trash pre-fight.

    Lesnar is actually more of a recluse than a braggart. In every interview I’ve seen with him outside of the cage he is humble, respectful, and almost acts like he’d rather just be training or at home away from everybody. He was on with Jim Rome today (radio) and was very humble. Said his emotions got the better of him after the fight with regards to his comments, says he is new to the sport and still has a lot to prove. Everyone in his camp says that he’s really a nice guy and great to work with but about a week before the actual fight he starts to get a bit hornery. To me that just sounds like someone ramping up the intensity to compete in the largest MMA organization on the planet. One he is the champion of.

    And Franck…why would he need to cut some weight?!

  8. I understand the comparison between the contrasting reactions to victory. Simply put, it shows the class of one athlete over the lack thereof of another.

    However, there are some realities that makes this comparison an apples and oranges comparison. Jiu-jitsu is not about money, profit margins, selling tickets, T-shirts, DVDs or pay-per-views or entertainment value for the masses, like the UFC. The UFC is a business and in the American culture, sports that combine flashiness and larger than life personalities sell tickets, which makes businesses that run them more money, so they can put on more shows and make more money. I see nothing wrong with that from a business, capitalist, US culture viewpoint.

    For better or worse, the reality is that MMA and the UFC have contributed significantly to the popularity of jiu-jitsu in the US. If Royce didn’t win UFC 1, in my opinion at least half the BJJ schools in the US wouldn’t exist. Many newbies that walk into my academy under the age of 30 seem to have some sort of Tapout or UFC gear on when they show up. Therefore, we, as jiu-jitsu athletes reap the benefits from the MMA/UFC popularity in the states. That’s a good thing, as I see it.

    However, where Brock Lesnar’s behavior bothers me is my fear that due to this “connection” to MMA/UFC by the American masses, his actions and comments may somehow get “connected” to what I do as a jiu-jitsu athlete and every other jiu-jitsu practitioner. Almost everyone I know outside of my wife and those in my academy think what I do in jiu-jitsu is the same as what they do in MMA/UFC. However, I do not practice jiu-jitsu for entertaining others, or for money, or for selling tickets, etc. If I did, then I would probably love what Brock did, because it will help me make more money, sell more tickets, etc.

    Simply put, I do not want to be associated with Brock Lesnar and his chemically enhanced physique, his WWE influenced demeanor and his many public statements that he does MMA to make money.

  9. I completely agree with you, Caleb. Although my reasons may differ a bit. It definitely was unprofessional of Lesnar to get up in Mir’s face and talk smack.

    We knew he beat Mir. We saw it. He should’ve just shook MIr’s hand, said the perfunctory “Good fight” and went on his way. As a champion you set the tone and are an example to other fighters. If other up-and-coming fighters see that type of behavior as acceptable they’ll copy it and what is a very professional sport will degrade to the level of a professional basketball game.

    He should never have made fun of an advertiser. Fighters have enough difficulty finding sponsors, talking smack about one of them, especially one that makes up about $22MM worth of yearly revenues for the UFC, will only make them MORE reluctant to get into the game.

    The worst part was the fingers to the fans and the “Keep booing, I love it, keep booing.” That was downright stupid. Lesnar brought the WWE into the octagon where it has no business being.

    White and the rest of his team have a hard enough time selling mixed martial arts as a legit sport. Becoming the “heel” gives more ammunition to mma detractors and makes it easier for them to put up barriers for approval in other states.

    Also, if fans hate a fighter they aren’t going to buy into a PPV to see him fight, which will hurt the sport even further.

    I hope White thought about the same things I just mentioend and had a LONG conversation with Lesnar’s management team so it doesn’t happen again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *