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 tide 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 weight-lifting 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."