It turns out UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar is pretty serious about this mixed martial arts thing. When the former NCAA Champion wrestler made the leap to MMA competition four years ago, many were skeptical. For those who had been around the pro wrestling world that spawned Lesnar, the move seemed pretty calculating. When there is money to be made, and in the post-Ultimate Fighter UFC there was plenty of money if you knew where to look, you can expect pro wrestlers to be right around the corner. From the burgeoning Christian themed entertainment industry to reality television, if there's a good idea there will be a wrestler there with a mullet and a fanny pack to take advantage.
It would have been easy for Lesnar to collect a few multi-million dollar paydays. To coast by on his superlative athleticism and his hard won wrestling prowess. He could have gotten by the same way former Olympian Mark Coleman got by. He might have even succeeded. But he wouldn't have become a legend. Lesnar, to the surprise of many embraced his new sport with his whole heart. MMA, it seems is in Lesnar's blood.
"I just love to fight and that's all I want to do," Lesnar said on the first episode of UFC Primetime. "I just want to be...just a Gladiator."
Lesnar has become a gladiator the old fashioned way - through grueling practices and hard work. At the hole-in-the-wall Deathclutch Gym, Lesnar has brought in some of the world's best instructors, working not on his strengths, but his weaknesses. Workout partner Cole Konrad has had the pleasure of riding in Lesnar's wake. A former NCAA champion himself, Konrad says the scope and intensity of Lesnar's training is amazing.
"It's awesome. I'd have to fly out to every corner of the country to get the same training partners and coaches and stuff that he brings in. It's just not feasible for most people - you can't afford it, let alone find that kind of flexibility," the Bellator heavyweight said. "Most people can't bring all these guys in. You'd have to go to them. But he's able to do that. I'm just fortunate to be able to tag along and learn all this technique from all these well accomplished guys in all different disciplines. It's been great."
You can forgive Konrad his enthusiasm. He's still wet behind the ears in the MMA business and may not be able to distinguish outstanding MMA instruction from typical MMA instruction. But veteran trainer Eric Paulson can. A SHOOTO champion 15 years ago, Paulson has been in the sport since the very beginning. And, in Lesnar, he sees a heavyweight champion pushing himself harder than any heavyweight has ever pushed before.
"Brock will be 150% ready when that day comes. He's all business. He trains fighting as a business and that's why he's so successful," Paulson tells Chicago MMA. "A lot of people think he's just a big guy that just jumps the cage. Heck no. His preparation is more professional than a lot of the professionals I've trained in the past; definitely more than the any other heavyweight that I've trained."
Under the direction of coach Marty Morgan, Lesnar's favorite coach in college at the University of Minnesota, the sport's top instructors like Paulson and Rodrigo "Comprido" Medeiros make the trip to the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" to work with the champion on his turf. Morgan isn't an expert in all areas of MMA. That's why it's so important for him to locate experts in various disciplines and make them part of Lesnar's life.
"I want to surround myself with good people," Lesnar says. "That's one thing I learned from a very young age. If you want to fly with the eagles you can't hang out with the crows...He decides what we are going to do and how long we are going to do it. He's the puppet master."
While Morgan sees his primary role as preparing Lesnar to physically peak at the right time, he is an expert at facing - and defeating - Lesnar's challenger Cain Velasquez. In college, Morgan and Konrad had Velasquez's number. One particular battle was unforgetable, as Konrad and Velasquez went toe-to-toe in the 2006 NCAA wrestling semi-finals.
"(Velasquez) was so low to the ground and hard to get underneath. Cole wanted to use his upper body techniques and wasn't able to and Cain wanted to get to Cole's legs and couldn't," Morgan said. "They battled it out. Cole was always able to keep his head during competition and did it there to pull it out. It was a great, great match."
Now Morgan will go head to head with Velasquez once again. Only this time, instead of the physically overmatched Konrad, he will be bringing the most dangerous heavyweight the sport has ever seen.
"It's intense," Morgan told the Primetime cameras. "The one thing about Brock is that he doesn't hold back. When he trains, he trains all out. He's different than a lot of other people. He has no governor switch. It's on, here I go."
Lesnar's stated goal is to become the greatest Heavyweight of all time. With some fighters, that's just hyperbole. With Lesnar, that's achievable. It's time for Brock Lesnar's opponents to be afraid. Very afraid.