Lesnar discusses Ultimate Fighter, UFC future, forthcoming book
Brock Lesnar is a team coach on the new season of 'The Ultimate Fighter'
The former UFC heavyweight champ lost his title last year to Cain Velazquez
Lesnar's next fight will happen against No. 1 contender Junior dos Santos
Here's a secret about Brock Lesnar: He's actually a reasonable enough guy. Talk to people who know him and you'll hear words like ornery, but nothing like the tales of high living and operatic self-regard you'll hear about most famous athletes. For someone in the most individual of sports, he uses the word "we" an awful lot when talking about what he does in the cage, the mark not of an egoist but of someone used to paying his coaches real deference. And past that, you might notice that as much trash as he can talk, he's really only talked it on those who have dismissed him as a pretender, a fake. When opponents like Randy Couture, Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez have treated him with respect, he's treated them the same way.
With the odd exception like Georges St-Pierre, though, reasonable doesn't sell. Thus the cultivation of Lesnar's mystique as a heavily tattooed, beer-swilling monster who curses fallen opponents and spends his spare time consuming hearts freshly pulled from the bodies of animals he's killed in the snowy wilderness where he makes his home. Hate him all you like, you'll pay to see someone try to pound him out, and he gets a good cut. And if you'll pay to see him, you'll definitely watch him for free, which is why he's a coach on the new season of UFC's reality show, The Ultimate Fighter.
Coming off last year's title loss to Velasquez, Lesnar took some time off, inspiring highly entertaining rumors about his lack of desire to get hit in the face and a possible return to the world of pro wrestling. As it turned, he just needed a rest. Consider this: One original concept for this season was to match Lesnar and Frank Mir as coaches leading up to a third bout between the two, one in which Lesnar would have had very little to worry about and which would have done huge box office given the very real contempt the two have for one another. When Velasquez went down with a shoulder injury, though, that freed up No. 1 contender Junior dos Santos for the spot. Rather than a fight in which he would have been a huge favorite, Lesnar is now in one in which he is, if anything, the underdog, a man who doesn't like to get hit in with perhaps the best boxer in the heavyweight division. He could have gotten out of it; he didn't. You don't have to like him, but this is the third straight time he's taken on the hardest opponent on offer. If it wasn't already perfectly clear, it should be by now: The guy really is a fighter.
SI.com: Talk to me about The Ultimate Fighter. What was the experience like?
Brock Lesnar: It was a good experience. I was a little hesitant on going down to Las Vegas and staying down there for six weeks, but I actually enjoyed the experience. I learned a lot as a fighter and as a coach, so it was a good experience.
SI.com: What specifically did you learn?
Lesnar: There were things that I had to teach these guys as far as the wrestling side of things and the fight side of things. I wasn't under the gun, I wasn't under any kind of pressure, and I didn't have a fight on the line or anything, so I was able to just really break things down and teach these guys some basic stuff and it opened my eyes. When you're teaching something, you're learning. It's a learning experience as well, so it really, it was a good experience for me.
SI.com: Were the things that you were getting involved with more on the mental or the physical side of the game?
Lesnar: A little bit of both. For these guys, being cooped up in a house with a bunch of guys for six weeks, you've got to really keep in it and keep kind of a positive atmosphere going, and it was good for me to stay motivated. If you're their coach and these kids come in and they can feel a presence off of you, you want to give them the right read. I wanted these guys to be successful on the show and win some fights, and so I had to mentally prepare myself every day to get in there and understand the mission that we wanted to accomplish, and the physical side of things. Breaking things down for these guys. I've been able to pick my trainers, like Greg Nelson, Erik Paulson, Marty Morgan, Comprido [Medeiros] and all these guys, and spend one-on-one time with them for hours upon hours. Where these guys go to their gyms, and they're one of a hundred people at the gym. So we got to spend a lot of quality time with these guys and it really opened my eyes. You go back and you think on things that you were first taught as a fighter, when I first started out three, four years ago. So it was a good learning experience.
SI.com: There was some criticism that you're not the most experienced fighter and yet you were being put in a coaching position. What's your response to that?
Lesnar: Well, what kind of experience, what kind of a resume do I need? I'm a UFC former heavyweight champion and I surround myself with a great coaching staff. I really -- they're just going to have to watch the show and make their own judgment on what they see, I guess. I really don't care, honestly. I think the guys that I've been able to surround myself with have made me into a champion, and we're going to do that again come June 11 against Junior.
SI.com: Last year, we all know you were sick, you had two real tough fights in four months, so where do you feel you are physically ahead of the Junior fight?
Lesnar: I feel great. You know, last year in itself probably took five years off my life. From being sick, to two title fights, and in the middle of all that trying to be a father and a new father. I had a new baby boy. I had a lot going on last year. The most dramatic part about it was getting sick with diverticulitis, and making a comeback -- I got sick in November and fought in July. So I had a lot on the plate last year. This year has been a lot more low-key. I took some time off after I lost against Cain and was able to rejuvenate myself, spent family time, got some good hunting in, some good fishing, and some good training where I wasn't under the gun. I didn't have the pressure of anything else going on in my life, and we did the show, and here I'm in New York promoting it. So everything is going very well. I'm really happy. I'm at peace and it's good to be that way.
SI.com: That's good to hear. In retrospect do you think the Cain fight too soon? Do you wish you had more of a breather coming off of Carwin?
Lesnar: Absolutely, I did. It was a business decision. It was a poor decision on my behalf, but business-wise, very lucrative for me. As far as holding titles and what not it was a bad decision. But, you're going to win some and you're going to lose some and you pick yourself up, analyze it, dust yourself off. If I'd have won the fight... I'm still in the same position. I'm sitting here talking to you coming off a title fight that I lost, but I'm back in the saddle again. I'm a coach on The Ultimate Fighter. Cain in that fight injures his shoulder, and I'm fighting the guy that I would have fought if I would have won. I lost nothing -- I shouldn't say I lost nothing, but I lost a very valuable piece of jewelry that I like, and that's the title. So we'll get that thing back. That's my mission.
SI.com: It seems to me that you're very analytical about fighting as a business, and that a lot of guys aren't. They don't see the big picture. Why do you think that is?
Lesnar: This is my business. This is a business, this is how I make a living. I think a lot of these guys -- number one, fighting is very lucrative for me, you know? And I think a lot of these guys find their way of climbing the ladder and just try to make a name for themselves. Well, been there, done that. I'm on the top of the totem pole selling pay-per-views, and I really love what I do but at the end of the day, I like cashing my checks. I like doing that, too.
SI.com: Fair enough. What's your take on the Strikeforce purchase?
Lesnar: It really doesn't affect my life for the next six to 10 months, so I haven't given much thought about it. Or even for the next year, as a matter of fact. For me, it's just business as usual. I'm fighting Junior dos Santos and I plan on winning that fight and getting a title shot against Cain.
SI.com: Are there are any guys down the road that you think would make interesting fights for you, that this may open up?
Lesnar: Man, I don't look that far down the road. I really don't. That's one thing that I do not do, and I think that's what a lot of other guys do, they forget what's staring at them in the face. That's Junior dos Santos.
SI.com: Talk to me about, in broad terms, your training plans for Junior.
Lesnar: Junior is a stand-up guy. Heavy handed. He's got heavy hooks, and a hell of an uppercut. It's a no-brainer. We've got to avoid those things, and we've got to fight this fight straight down the center. Obviously I'm going to win this fight on the ground, I believe. That's the nuts and bolts of it. Can I go into how we're going to do it? I can't do that right now.
SI.com: He's said to be a dangerous guy on the ground, but we haven't seen that too much from him. Do you feel good about taking him down?
Lesnar: There hasn't been anyone in UFC that I haven't taken down, you know? There isn't one man that I haven't been able to take down. So I've seen nothing dangerous from anybody that I've been on the ground with this far, and I don't see Junior being that guy. It's plain and simple. He's going to want to win this fight on his feet, and I'm going to try to win the fight on the ground.
SI.com: Given the success that guys like you and Cain and Jon Jones have had, there are a lot more amateurs talking about MMA as their pro sport, and even talking about going into fighting rather than going to the Olympics. What kind of advice would you give the younger wrestlers right now?
Lesnar: I think it's a great avenue. The amateur wrestler world is a pretty small atmosphere. There's nowhere to go for these guys. I'm very fortunate that the UFC is around. I don't know what else I would do. I'd probably be fighting in the bars and in jail. This is an avenue for guys with an amateur wrestling background to showcase their talent as a wrestler and make this transition into fighting and make money with it. There's not even money in the Olympics for these guys, you know? And here's other sports too -- gymnastics, and I might be leaving a few out, but there's nothing for us after college. If this is something that you are interested in doing, it better be in your heart, because this is a dangerous sport, bad things can happen fast, and be well prepared for it. But I think it's a great avenue for amateur wrestlers.
SI.com: Finally, you've got the book coming out. I saw the publication date was moved back, but what are we going to see with your book?
Lesnar: Yeah, May 24, Brock Lesnar, Death Clutch. It's my story of determination, domination and survival. It's one of those things. I've got a good story to tell. It starts out with me coming from Webster, South Dakota on a dairy farm and working my way up the ladder to being a NCAA champion, to a WWE champion, to a UFC champion. It's a no-holds-barred book, and it's my life story. I'm pretty proud of it.
Tim Marchman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.