WWE likes to present Brock Lesnar as an unstoppable force of nature that cannot be tamed (his finisher, the F-5, is named after the most powerful type of tornado, after all). During both his first and current run, Lesnar has rarely shown any weakness or vulnerability and has been allowed more freedom to show his badassery than the average WWE Superstar.
But deep down, Lesnar, like everyone else on the roster, is human. This means that likes everyone else, Lesnar is susceptible to illness and body problems that are beyond his control. Such was the case during his UFC run when Lesnar contracted a very dangerous disease called diverticulitis. In fact, his illness was so severe that it could’ve actually killed him.
What is Diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis is an intestinal disease whereby the walls of the large intestine become inflamed, and tiny pouches start to form on the colon wall. The exact causes of diverticulitis aren’t fully known, but there are some links to between this illness and smoking, obesity, some types of anti-inflammatory drugs and bacterial infections. Diverticulitis is common in the Western world and is rather uncommon in both Africa and on the Asian subcontinent.
Diverticulitis can have serious side effects, the most notable of which being extreme abdominal pain. Other side effects can include fever, nausea, diarrhoea, constipation and blood in one’s faeces.
In most cases, the illness can be treated with a low-fibre diet, medications, and in rare cases surgery. Those affected don’t usually die from diverticulitis, but fatalities have been recorded, especially in older people.
What happened with Brock Lesnar?
By his own account, Lesnar began suffering from the digestive illness in 2009 following a hunting trip in western Manitoba, a province in central Canada. He checked himself into a hospital in the Manotiban city of Brandon, but he didn’t get proper treatment there. Lesnar was bedridden and had to take heavy doses of morphine because that hospital didn’t have a working CT machine. As a result, the doctors couldn’t see into his stomach and diagnose him properly.
But instead of waiting for the Canadian hospital to help him (or not, according to Lesnar himself), Lesnar went to nearby North Dakota, and it was there that he learned he had diverticulitis. This was after he had also spent some time battling another illness, mononucleosis (a.k.a. Mono), a common sickness found in the western world that renders its sufferers bedridden for extremely lengthy periods. It isn’t common for people stricken with mono to be bedridden for weeks on end while their bodies try and fight off the sickness.
It’s possible that Lesnar contracted diverticulitis due to painkiller use. Both wrestling and Mixed Martial Arts require performers to work when hurt, and painkillers are commonly used by performers that need to work in spite of feeling pain in their bodies. Lesnar sees himself as a worker collecting a paycheck as well as a man with highly abnormal strength and endurance. It’s likely that he took some kind of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to work through any pain without testing positive for an illicit substance.
The mononucleosis and then the diverticulitis had a major influence on Brock Lesnar, both for his career and his life. His case of diverticulitis was so severe that it necessitated surgery right away. Surgery is normally considered a last-ditch effort to contain the illness, and only for when the illness poses a risk to the sufferer’s life. In Lesnar’s case, it did.
When doctors performed surgery on Lesnar, they found that faeces was leaking out of his colon and into the rest of his body. To fight this, antibodies inside his system worked overtime to try and remove this faeces as if it were a virus, leaving Lesnar exposed to another potential illness. Had he been diagnosed with another, his life could’ve certainly been at risk.
After the surgery, Lesnar was free of diverticulitis... for about two years. The condition returned in 2011, and once again Lesnar went under the knife. This time, doctors removed a foot of his colon, as the illness had caused him that much damage.
How did it affect ‘The Beast’?
Here’s an excerpt from Lesnar’s own book ‘Death Clutch’ describing how diverticulitis affected him:
"I have a high threshold for pain, higher than most guys, and I couldn't deal with it. It felt like I had taken a shotgun blast to the stomach, and then someone poured in some salt and Tabasco and stirred it all up with a nasty pitchfork."
Lesnar is a man that’s known for his ability to withstand pain. If he said this about diverticulitis, the pain he experienced must’ve been excruciating.
Doctors believed that Lesnar fought in UFC for up to a full year with an undiagnosed case of diverticulitis. This put him in a constant state of risk, as one errant punch to the abdomen could’ve caused life-threatening complications like peritonitis. Peritonitis is a medical condition whereby the tissue around an organ becomes inflamed. Even with modern medicine and advanced practices, peritonitis is regularly fatal to those that get diagnosed with it.
Ultimately, the second bout with diverticulitis, which took place in May 2011, proved to be too much for the Beast to handle. Later that year, he had a fight against Cain Velasquez, and it was something of a disappointment. Lesnar himself said that he wasn’t fighting at full strength, and also believes he might never recover his strength fully after the fight with diverticulitis. Many have argued that these two fights with the intestinal illness actually cost Lesnar his MMA career.
It’s very likely that this history with battling diverticulitis has also impacted Lesnar’s resurgence in WWE as well. Brock works a very relaxed schedule, appearing only on rare occasions and having plenty of space between his matches. It’s possible that this is done on purpose so that his body doesn’t experience the same kind of stress and conditions that led to his first case of diverticulitis.
Since WWE wants to present Lesnar as an especially dominant force of nature, they’re probably taking extra precautions to ensure he doesn’t take too high a risk and become bedridden once again. To that end, the Beast Incarnate’s days of wrestling frequently aren’t likely to ever re-appear.