Friday, August 19, 2011

Book Review: Brock Lesnar's "DeathClutch"

Brock Lesnar burst into WWE in 2002 as their "Next Big Thing," the next top guy who would steamroll over the competition en route to becoming the WWE’s top star of the 2000’s. That was the plan, as Lesnar quickly destroyed and dominated several top WWE stars - Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, The Rock, The Undertaker, The Big Show, and Kurt Angle. But, as quickly as Lesnar made an impact, he was gone. Without much warning, Lesnar suddenly left WWE in 2004.

The former Division I NCAA wrestling champion yearned for legitimate completion and tried his hand at professional football. That didn't work and Lesnar eventually found his true calling, the world of mixed martial arts.

His autobiography, DeathClutch, was released earlier this year and promised an inside look into the enigmatic Lesnar. Co-written by Paul Heyman, Lesnar's close friend and famous wrestling personality (who himself has an autobiography coming out later this year), the book goes much deeper than Lesnar had ever allowed before. But, he’s still very private and focuses the brunt of the story on his athletic endeavors, while only briefly discussing things like his wife and three kids.

As a professional wrestling fan, I was mostly interested in reading about that portion of Lesnar's life. Knowing that he has a sour taste in his mouth for the wrestling business, I figured that part of his life would be glossed over and it would focus mostly on his time in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The opposite is true. His negative experiences in the WWE really shaped who Lesnar is as a person, and that chapter of his life takes up a majority of the 207 pages.

I knew Brock Lesnar never had a passion for professional wrestling. If he did, he would still likely be there. It did, however, come as a shock to me to find out that Lesnar wasn’t even a casual fan of professional wrestling when he signed his first WWE contract in 2000. His decision to become a professional wrestler (over, say, trying out for the 2000 Olympics, something people expected him to do) was based entirely on money. As he writes, "I hadn't even watched five minutes of pro wrestling in my life. All I knew was that I was a poor kid with student loans, and I was being offered more money that I’d ever seen in my entire life."

One of the best friends Lesnar made in the wrestling business was Curt Henning. I've written before of wrestlers being so good that they don't reach their full potential; that they're used to make lesser wrestlers look better. That’s Curt Henning. He was one of the better technical wrestlers of his generation, in addition to being ridiculously entertaining and charismatic. Lesnar repeats the advice Henning gave him several times throughout the book - "Get in to get out." Make enough money to where you don't have to spend your entire life being a professional wrestler. Don't get caught up in the lifestyle and don't let it overtake your life.

Sadly, the irony here is that Curt Henning didn't listen to his own advice. Perhaps he knew that he couldn't listen to his own advice so he tried to instill the "Get in to get out" mentality on the next generation. A second-generation wrestler, Henning started his wrestling career in the early '80s and kept going until he died of a cocaine overdose in 2003, hours before he was to wrestle a match in Florida.

One of Lesnar's first problems with professional wrestling was what he noted was a fake sense of brotherhood and what he saw as meaningless rituals. "Once I got to the arena, I had to shake everyone's hand," Lesnar writes. "Because that's the unwritten law. As if God himself made it the 11th commandment. I hadn't seen the boys since we all stood around the baggage claim at the airport a few hours before, hoping our bags would come around quickly so we could beat everyone else to the rental car line. But we would always shake hands, and everyone would smile like they were glad to see each other. It was all so insincere and phony it made me sick."

Interestingly enough, I've heard of only one other wrestler who has ever spoken out publicly about his disdain for the handshaking ritual in wrestling. That man was the Ultimate Warrior, somebody whose career kind of went along the same path as Lesnar’s in wrestling, albeit in the early '90s.

Lesnar speaks very highly of several top stars in wrestling, people like Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair, but quickly points out that he had no desire whatsoever to turn out like them. All Lesnar was concerned about was working his way to the top of the card, where the top money was. He wanted to make his money, and then leave. Get in to get out.

Eventually the travel and the grind got to him. Lesnar admits to numbing his problems with pain pills and vodka, to the point where he admits that a lot of that time period is a blur to him. That, coupled with the backstage politics that Lesnar was not a fan of, led to Lesnar requesting his release from the WWE in early 2004.

Some interesting "political nuggets" from Lesnar include that he thinks Kurt Angle stooged Vince McMahon off that Lesnar was planning to leave. He also believes that he lost the WWE Championship to Eddie Guerrero because McMahon thought he was going to leave. I haven't heard a lot of negative stories about Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, but Lesnar has one, as a house show match against Rock made him lose most of his trust with Vince McMahon and WWE.

The only positive of Lesnar's involvement, he believes, is that he met his wife Rena aka Sable. They have since had two children together. After leaving WWE, Lesnar decided that he would try professional football. A motorcycle accident during his training derailed his plans, but he did make it to the Minnesota Vikings practice squad and was the last person cut.

The UFC is the next chapter in Lesnar's life. The way he got his meeting with UFC President Dana White was incredible; he just walked backstage at a UFC event and started talking to him. As he put it, "I jumped down to the main floor, pushed my way through the crowd, and walked right past security. When I got near the Octagon, I found myself directly behind Dana White, so I tapped him on the shoulder and introduced myself."

His UFC career began with a loss to Frank Mir. That loss angered Lesnar, as he realized he made a stupid mistake and should have won the match. His rivalry with Mir is legitimate, as Lesnar notes that he does not like Mir and couldn't wait to exact his revenge. "Frank was so arrogant, and it made me just want to punch him in the face so hard that I'd knock his head clean off his shoulders. Even now, just thinking about it makes me want to hand a beating to Frank Mir again. And again. And again."

He did get his revenge. "I did exactly what I planned on doing in that fight. I took Frank down, controlled him, and hit him in the head repeatedly, and with violent intent," Lesnar recalls. "I scrambled his brains before the fight was stopped in the second round. I wish the referee would have let the fight go on a few seconds longer so I could have gotten the satisfaction of punching Frank in the face a few more times."

Lensar became one of the most dominant and - to MMA purists, at least - one of the most hated fighters in recent memory. He was on top of the world and couldn't be stopped by any man. "Life wasn't just good, it was great," Lesnar writes. "This was the greatest time in my life. And then I almost died."

After coming down with a mystery ailment and spending a few weeks in the hospital, Lesnar was eventually diagnosed with diverticulitis, an intestinal problem. He had a hole in his stomach and was slowly dieing. I first heard of diverticulitis from WWE announcer Jim Ross, who was diagnosed in 2005 with the disorder. He had to undergo surgery and had several feet of intestine removed. Lesnar did not have to undergo surgery and made it back to competition, winning his first fight back in inspirational fashion. After the completion of the book, Lesnar had more issues with diverticulitis and ultimately had to undergo surgery. There's no word yet on when or if he will return to the ring.

DeathClutch ends with a teaser for a sequel. Given Lesnar's latest health issues, a second book would be intriguing. DeathClutch is intriguing itself, he just doesn't dig too deep and let readers too far into his personal life. What is presented is informative and entertaining. If you have any interest in Brock Lesnar the athlete, pick it up.

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