When people stare at Minnesota heavyweight wrestler Brock
Lesnar, they can be forgiven for thinking he's about to rip off
his shirt and scream like Dr. David Banner in The Incredible
Hulk, "Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm
angry." For good reason. Lesnar is the most imposing college
heavyweight wrestler in the nation. At 6'4", 270 pounds of
virtually all muscle (his body fat is 9%), Lesnar looks like a
fugitive from the World Wrestling Federation. Instead, he's been
one of the top performers in college wrestling this season and
is a favorite to win the NCAA heavyweight title later this month.
Minnesota wrestling coach J Robinson calls Lesnar an anomaly, a
freakish combination of size (56-inch chest and 21-inch biceps),
speed, strength and skill. Robinson has seen Lesnar, who is 20
to 30 pounds heavier and four inches taller than the average
college heavyweight, throw 260-pound men around like dolls and
execute finesse moves rarely used by guys in his weight class.
Since joining the Golden Gophers after winning the national
junior college heavyweight title at Bismarck (N.Dak.) College in
1998, Lesnar has been all but unbeatable. He was 24-2 last
season as a junior, won the Big Ten title and finished second in
the NCAAs. This season he's 22-1 with 11 pins and is the
top-ranked heavyweight in the nation, according to Amateur
Wrestling News, despite a narrow 5-3 loss to Iowa's 6'1",
250-pound Wes Hand in Minnesota's final dual meet.
"What makes Brock so special is he learned how to wrestle at the
lower weights," says Robinson, whose Gophers rank No. 2 in the
nation. "A lot of people don't realize how quick and agile he is."
That's because it's hard to get past Lesnar's imposing physique.
He's a weightlifting fanatic and has put on 60 pounds since
graduating from Webster (S.Dak.) High in 1996. He can deadlift
720 pounds, squat 695 and bench-press 475, totals that arouse
suspicion that he didn't attain such strength naturally.
Robinson had Lesnar tested for steroids shortly after he arrived
at Minnesota. The results were negative. "I never thought Brock
was using steroids," says Robinson. "When people look at him,
they make assumptions, and I told Brock that I wanted to
eliminate the question before it became an issue. He didn't have
a problem with that."
Lesnar learned about hard work while growing up on his family's
dairy farm. Lesnar would rise at 4:45 to help milk the cows, and
he served as his father's right-hand man in the field when not
in school. As a youngster Lesnar tried to lift everything in
sight, and at age five he had already suffered two hernias after
trying to heft bales of hay.
"All I wanted to do was get big and strong," says Lesnar. "I was
amazed by guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I'd always be
doing push-ups and pull-ups at home. On the farm I tried to be a
workhorse because I knew if I could cut it on the farm, I could
cut it anywhere."
In a state that elected a former professional wrestling star as
its governor, Lesnar has developed a following as a Golden
Gopher. Fans wear T-shirts to matches that tout him as BROCKFAST
OF CHAMPIONS, and during the Brock Bit every Thursday afternoon
on a Minneapolis radio station, he dutifully answers fans'
questions. Lesnar is a year from obtaining a business degree and
says he will remain in school next year, even though he will
have used up his wrestling eligibility.
Minnesota football coach Glen Mason is wooing Lesnar to play
defensive line for him next fall, an option he is considering.
He has also been contacted by the WWF and World Championship
Wrestling, but Lesnar would like to try to qualify for the 2000
Olympics (the trials are in April) and play football before
pondering a career in pro wrestling.
"It's great to have a bunch of options, but all I can think
about is winning a national title," says Lesnar. "Sometimes I
lie in bed and dream about it, and I wake up sweating. It takes
more than talent. It's about heart and desire, and I want it
more than anyone."
COLOR PHOTO: WENDELL VANDERSLUIS "I'd always be doing push-ups and pull-ups at home," says Lesnar (above, on top).