Babiarz column: 'Death Clutch' is an engaging book

2011-07-24T22:44:00Z 2011-07-24T22:46:53Z Babiarz column: 'Death Clutch' is an engaging bookBy LOU BABIARZ Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune
July 24, 2011 10:44 pm  • 

The first time I interviewed Brock Lesnar was nearly 13 years ago, a phone call that lasted maybe 10 minutes, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

Lesnar had already wrapped up his Bismarck State College wrestling career with a national championship and was headed to the University of Minnesota. We had heard he needed some credits and was taking some classes at BSC before going to wrestle for the Gophers, so I called him to ask about it.

"Where the hell did you hear that!" Lesnar demanded.

As Frank Mir and many others have learned, Brock Lesnar is not a guy you want to anger.

Once I made it clear to Lesnar that we weren't trying to make him look bad, just give people an update on what he was doing at BSC, Lesnar relaxed and gave me a good interview.

The other times I have talked to him, he has been cooperative, and during his BSC Hall of Fame induction weekend, engaging.

But even back in 1998, before he went on to fame as a professional wrestler then a UFC champion, Lesnar was guarded about his privacy. That's why it was kind of surprising that Lesnar decided to release an autobiography, "Death Clutch."

It's no secret that Lesnar can have a chip on his shoulder. He makes it clear on the back jacket of the book: "This one time, and this one time only, you are invited to join me in my private world for a few hours. Just don't ever expect another invitation."

"Death Clutch" is a much better read than the other recent Lesnar biography, "Brock Lesnar: The Making of a Hard-Core Legend," but it does leave you wishing Lesnar was willing to open up a bit more.

Kudos go to co-writer Paul Heyman, who makes sure that Lesnar's personality shines through, since "Death Clutch" reads exactly like a Lesnar interview. Heyman, best known as the creative mind behind Extreme Championship Wrestling and also Lesnar's former WWE manager, keeps the story moving along. "Death Clutch" is just 210 pages, but seems even shorter because Lesnar makes his points and moves on.

For those who have followed Lesnar's career, "Death Clutch" doesn't contain many revelations, but it's engaging nonetheless. The stories Lesnar tells about his high school athletic career in Webster, S.D., are a highlight, especially the essential roles his parent played in fueling his competitive drive. Lesnar talks briefly about his days at BSC, crediting coach Robert Finneseth as being a key figure in his development.

Interestingly, when it comes to his amateur career, Lesnar spends as much time talking about his few losses as he does his many victories. Lesnar makes clear that he used those setbacks for as motivation, which becomes abundantly clear after his UFC loss to Frank Mir.

The bulk of the book centers on Lesnar's pro wrestling career, and though Lesnar has talked about it before, it's worth reading again. Lesnar is brutally honest about the toll the WWE schedule takes on wrestlers, and his willingness to walk away from money and fame to regain his sanity is admirable.

Lesnar isn't shy about sharing his opinions about anything or anyone. He is one of the few former wrestlers willing to speak critically about WWE kingpin Vince McMahon, calling him manipulative and a bully.

Although Lesnar says he doesn't remember much of that time, some of the best stories come from his days in WWF/WWE, for instance, his humorous interactions with Paul "The Big Show" Wight. More would be welcome. Specifically, it would have been nice to hear about the backstage amateur wrestling match Lesnar reportedly had in Fargo with Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle, a favorite tale among fans, but one he doesn't address.

But the section that really leaves you wanting more is about his UFC career. Lesnar takes only about 30 pages to cover it in its entirety - including talking Dana White into giving him a shot, his two matches with Mir, winning the title from Randy Couture, and his controversial celebration at UFC 100.

There is some good stuff here - how he learned from his college career not to show too much respect to a champion like Couture, how he could feel Shane Carwin tiring even as he pounded Lesnar. But there's a lot more to be told. What did Heath Herring do to disrespect Lesnar before their fight? What did Lesnar learn from training with Couture? How did his bout with diverticulitis - which was treated here at Medcenter One and is chronicled in some detail - change his fighting style or abilities?

There also isn't much here on Lesnar's devastating loss to Cain Velasquez, although that happened close to the book's deadline and Lesnar addresses it briefly in an epilogue.

He also teases the possibility of a "Death Clutch 2." The first one was pretty good. But a second one could be great if Lesnar is willing to share a little more.

(Lou Babiarz is the Tribune sports editor.)

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