Q&A: Brock Lesnar on his recovery, WWE vs. UFC, marriage and more
'The Ultimate Fighter' finale is Saturday, but coach Brock Lesnar won't be there
Lesnar was scheduled to face Junior dos Santos, but pulled out due to injury
Lesnar, who just published his autobiography, faces a long recovery from injury
Ramsey Nijem and Tony Ferguson will be in Las Vegas on Saturday night, competing for the fighter contract the UFC awards to the winner of its reality TV show, The Ultimate Fighter. They're the last two survivors in the season-long game of musical chairs.
Also on the TUF 13 finale fight card (Spike, 9 p.m. ET) is a potentially electrifying bout between Anthony "Showtime" Pettis and Clay "The Carpenter" Guida, whose nicknames tell you all you need to know about their respective flashiness and work ethic in the cage.
Who'll not be there? Brock Lesnar.
The former UFC heavyweight champion, who served as a coach on this season's weekly Spike show, was scheduled to face the other coach, Junior dos Santos, in a No. 1 contenders bout at UFC 131 a week from Saturday. But Lesnar pulled out of the fight three weeks ago because of a relapse of diverticulitis, the intestinal disease that sidelined him for nearly a year beginning in the fall of 2009. So dos Santos, who I'm guessing will be in Vegas this weekend to root on Nijem, from his TUF team, now will fight Shane Carwin for a shot at belt holder Cain Velasquez.
Lesnar, meanwhile, faces a long, perilous road to recovery. Last Friday he underwent surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., a procedure in which 12 inches of intestines were removed. "He said he's a little sore," UFC president Dana White updated fans during last Saturday's UFC 130 telecast, "but the operation was a huge success." White expects Lesnar to fight again, but not until next year.
Three days before the surgery, Lesnar spoke with SI.com. His autobiography, Death Clutch: My Story of Determination, Domination and Survival (William Morrow, $26.99), was about to be published, chronicling not just his rise to the top of the UFC but also his amateur wrestling career, which culminated with him winning the 2000 NCAA Division I national championship, and also his seven-year stint in professional wrestling, mostly with the WWE. But much had happened since the end of the story contained within the book jacket. Lesnar was at a crossroads. "I have to face the ultimate decision," he said. "Do I get the surgery or can I keep battling this thing?"
We now know how he resolved that decision. We don't know where his story goes from here.
"There's a lot left to be written about," Lesnar said when asked if he might have a Death Clutch 2 in him. "Whether I do it or not, I have no idea. I guess it really depends on where my career takes me and where my life takes me."
SI.com: So how are you feeling these days, Brock?
Brock Lesnar: Well, physically, I'm doing a lot better. Mentally, I'm -- [he pauses] -- doing, uh, better. It was a hard decision to make, to decline this fight, but I have to get my health under control.
SI.com: On top of the health scare itself, it must be difficult for you to have this crisis play out in public. You're an intensely private man.
Lesnar: I spent years with the WWE, where your life is totally out there, but most of it isn't real. So I had to find a separation of the two, of the fiction and nonfiction parts of my life. And for me, keeping my private life private was more or less to keep my own sanity. I'm not a guy who has to go out and [be in the media spotlight]. Maintaining my privacy has to do with respect for myself and my family. And at the end of the day, this is a career of mine, it's not really who I am.
SI.com: And yet you decided to spill it all in a book about your life. You wrote Death Clutch with Paul Heyman, whom you've known since your pro wrestling days. Was it the trust level of a close friendship that allowed you to open up?
Lesnar: I had to have some kind of comfort level, and I think Paul was the guy for me to be able to orchestrate this with.
SI.com: One of the most telling passages in the book is where you say that during your time in the WWE you were jealous of the guy who wrestled under the name Kane and wore a mask. Night after night, in town after town, in order to have dinner in peace you had to have room service deliver food to your hotel room, while Kane could go out to a restaurant and not be recognized. You gained fame and fortune in the WWE but lost your private life.
Lesnar: Yeah, exactly.
SI.com: Maybe when you come back to the UFC, Dana White will let you wear a mask into the Octagon.
SI.com: OK, maybe not. Now, Death Clutch ends with you saying you have goals in life beyond regaining the UFC heavyweight championship, and that maybe you'll write about them in Death Clutch 2. In light of all that's happened since you finished the book, does it now feel like just a first chapter?
Lesnar: Yeah, for sure. One thing about my life is that it's always been interesting. There are always high points in a person's life and low points. And right now I'm going through a bit of a low point. But I've learned to be able to adapt to these kinds of things and understand them.
As I look back on the last 10 years of my life, or even 12 years, I've achieved and done a lot of different things that people won't experience in even a whole lifetime. Now I'm again being taken away from the Octagon because of this illness. I have to face the ultimate decision: Do I get the surgery or can I keep battling this thing? There are a lot of different elements that are going on deep down inside. Physically, I can handle this. But mentally, you know, I've been dealing with this illness since 2009 and probably even before that and didn't even know it.
There's a lot left to be written about. Whether I do it or not, I have no idea. I guess it really depends on where my career takes me and where my life takes me.
SI.com: Both in your book and in the UFC media conference call in which you revealed that you were pulling out of UFC 131, you talked about setting priorities, about how family and health come first. A lot of the focus lately has been on the health part of that, for obvious reasons. But what about family life? Having your career put on hold means not being away from home all the time, not isolating yourself in training camp, away from your wife and kids. As a husband and father, have you found anything positive to take from this time away from fighting?
Lesnar: Absolutely. Just yesterday, for example, on a day when I'd normally be training, I had the whole day with my son. We hung out and were able to enjoy some lunch. He really enjoys the outdoors, like I do. So we spent the afternoon just sitting on the lawn mower, mowing the yard. If I had been in training camp, somebody would be doing that for me. But yesterday I told the lawn service not to show up this week. And me and my boy mowed the yard. Then we got off the mower and ran around a little bit. Then he wanted to mow some more. I was kind of on my son's time yesterday, you know? It was good.
SI.com: You grew up on a farm, and you say in the book that your dad was so busy working the farm that he wasn't always able to come to wrestling meets and things like that when you were a kid. As a hard-working man yourself, has it been difficult for you to take time away from work for your family?
Lesnar: Not really. When I'm at home, I don't think about my job very much. At least I try not to. My wife always says that my mind is wandering off, so I probably am thinking about work more than I want to. But not at this time. Right now I feel a sense of calmness over me. I understand that in order for me to do all the things I want to do, I've got to get my health back.
SI.com: You mention your wife, whom you met during your time in the WWE. Considering the lifestyle pro wrestlers lead -- in your book, you talk about the wearying travel schedule and the drugs and alcohol and other things that don't fit well with family life -- do you think it was important for you to enter into a relationship with someone who had an insider's perspective of the life you were leading?
Lesnar: I don't think another woman would have lasted with me. We've been together for eight, nine years and --
SI.com: Wait a second, Brock. I don't care of you're the baddest man on the planet. You're going to get your ass kicked if your wife hears you say you've been together, vaguely, for "eight or nine" years. You should be able to count down your blissful togetherness to the hour, man.
Lesnar: [Laughs.] OK, we just celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary, but we've been together for going on nine years. That better?
SI.com: Yes. Please go on.
Lesnar: Well, me and her, we're level, you know? We get it. I'm not so into communication sometimes, and she understands that. But she doesn't let me take the easy way out. She's a solid rock in my life. I can't imagine coming home to someone different.
SI.com: Let's switch the conversation from a strong woman to a couple of headstrong men. In moving from the WWE to the UFC, you went from having Vince McMahon as your boss to working for Dana White. How are things different?
Lesnar: One thing about working for Vince: I never was able to get a really good read from him. He's dealt with a lot of entertainers in his day. But when I sit down and talk to somebody, I just want to shoot straight and have the same thing done to me. You can't take this away from Vince, though: He has taken his product and made it very successful.
SI.com: Just like Dana.
Lesnar: Yes, they both have the same drive.
SI.com: Are you happier in the UFC? Is it a better fit for you?
Lesnar: I finally found my calling, and it's to be an ultimate fighter. But don't get me wrong: The WWE did a lot for me. They made me a household name throughout the world. It's just that in the WWE, the pen and paper are pushing you, along with the man behind the company. In the UFC, I kind of had to make my own name. Dana wants to see you do well, but at the end of the day you've got to get in there and execute the job.
SI.com: You say in the book that you never watched pro wrestling before joining the WWE. But, interestingly, you also mention that you almost took an MMA fight way back before college. Were you a fan of the sport in the early days?
Lesnar: I was a fan back in 1999, followed the sport, worked out and even was going to take a fight in Reno. So in the back of my mind, I always thought I should give it a try. But on the business side of things, it just wasn't lucrative at the time.
SI.com: If you were watching MMA in the early days, you would have seen a 170-pound guy named Royce Gracie who was able to submit much bigger men, including the elite-level wrestler Dan Severn. Can you imagine, back when you were starting out as a pure wrestler, being choked out by a skinny little 170-pounder?
Lesnar: No. No, I can't. But that's the beauty of this sport. It's one discipline versus another. Anything can happen.
SI.com: How much do you watch the fights now?
Lesnar: I very rarely watch unless I'm interested in a particular fight. I do follow the aftermath of all the fights, though, and if I hear about a good one, I'll try to figure out a way to watch it on tape. And when I'm with my coaches, I'll watch tape to see if I can learn some things from the other fighters.
SI.com: Let's close by talking about not what you learn from other fighters but what another fighter can learn from you. As someone who became known worldwide at a young age through your career in the WWE, what would you say to light heavyweight champ Jon Jones, who is just 23 and is being hyped as the UFC's next big thing? He's on top of the world, and everyone wants a piece of him.
Lesnar: That's just the thing; everyone is going to want something from you. My advice is to surround yourself with the people who were with you from the beginning and try to keep your nose clean and keep a level head. The most important thing is: Don't get overwhelmed by the outside stuff. Understand the things that got you there and are most important. Focus on your fight career, and keep time to yourself, because you're going to be pulled in a lot of directions.
Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the SI.com MMA mailbag, click on the e-mail link at the top of the page.
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