(It’s creepy how his eyes just follow you.)
One of the few people to beat Brock Lesnar in his college wrestling days was New England Patriots guard Stephen Neal (seen above), who beat the new UFC heavyweight champ 3-2 back in 1999. In today’s Boston Herald, both men look back on the match and the different paths they’ve taken since then. Though Neal is an NFL offensive lineman now, he never played football in college. He was just a big, strong, athletic freak who somebody saw a lot of potential in. Kind of reminds you of someone else.
At the time of their meeting in the NCAA tourney, Neal was the defending champ and future World Champ. Lesnar was a bit of an underdog, to hear him tell it:
“I literally had about three months of wrestling at the Div. 1 level and the next thing I knew I was the Big Ten champ in the NCAA finals against returning national champion Stephen Neal,” Lesnar said. “I didn’t even know what was going on until it was over. It was a whirlwind. I didn’t have time to be scared or nervous. I just figured, ‘Well, I’m beating everyone else, I don’t know why I can’t beat this guy.’ But I came up a little short.”
Both men remember the match well. Lesnar powered out of Neal’s early single-leg attempt before shooting for a double-leg takedown of his own. Neal spun deftly away for the two-point reversal and it was game on.
“I think I surprised him a little when he attempted that takedown and was unsuccessful,” Lesnar said. “I had overpowered him and muscled my way out of it.”
Am I the only one who thinks “muscled my way out of it” has been something of a mantra for Brock Lesnar over the course of his life? You can’t argue with the results, I suppose.
Neal won the match with an escape in the final minutes, and obviously went on to big things. He got on with the Pats as an undrafted free agent, and three years later was a starter for the Super Bowl winners. He says he thinks Lesnar could have done the same if he’d stuck with football. Lesnar, however, wasn’t terribly interested:
“When I got cut I was kind of relieved and disappointed at the same time,” Lesnar said. “I just wasn’t feeling it in my gut anymore. I had other things on my mind, and you get tossed around on the football field a little bit, you get humbled pretty quickly.”
Neal is described as “a UFC fan who trained with former champ Tito Ortiz,” but says he doesn’t know if he could trade places with Lesnar these days:
“I thought about it when I was younger,” Neal said. “I’m pretty happy with what I’m doing. If I have any part of my body left to do that stuff … no, I don’t see it. I’ve had too many problems with my body that it would probably be hard to deal with those guys.”
Personally, I think it’s just nice to see MMA and pro football being treated on an equal footing in a national publication. And it makes you wonder about the guys in the future who may choose the UFC over the NFL.