Junior dos Santos didn't want to be in The Ultimate Fighter house. He wasn't thinking at all about Brock Lesnar, the UFC's most popular and marketable star. He wanted to be in the cage, challenging Cain Velasquez for the UFC heavyweight title. When Velasquez went down with a rotator cuff injury last December, no one but the champion himself was more upset than his number one contender.
"I was very upset when I found out that Cain Velasquez was injured and I wouldn't be able to fight him for the title," dos Santos said through a translator during a media conference call. "But at the same time I got very happy when I heard the news I'd be coaching alongside Brock on TUF and Brock is a guy that's bringing a lot of fans into MMA, he's a guy that's very well known in the U.S. and I'm a guy who's starting to come up right now and this is a great opportunity for all of my fans to be able to see me."
Dos Santos has learned what the UFC discovered years ago - Brock Lesnar is a steam engine capable of carrying a fighter (or a promotion) to wealth beyond imagination. A fight with Velasquez may have been for the title. A fight with Lesnar is for the spotlight, something the two men will share starting tomorrow on the thirteenth season of The Ultimate Fighter.
"Being in front of the cameras for that long and being in the house and the show was a new experience for me, I really enjoyed it and being on the show with Brock was great because Brock is so used to the media spotlight and being in front of the cameras," dos Santos said. "I'm a professional guy, a serious guy so it was a great experience for me, and I feel that both of us really did their best in the show....Prior to the show I'd never actually met Brock, so I was a little bit surprised of how professional and how easy to deal with Brock was, even though we weren't able to be together all that much. In the end it was great to be able to meet my next opponent and the experience overall was phenomenal."
The Brazilian striker has been mostly under the radar during his six fight UFC career. Being paired with Lesnar changes that forever. Dos Santos was a stranger to the bright lights, but his mentor was not. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who coached against Frank Mir in the reality show's eight season had plenty of advice for his young protege.
"As soon as I heard that I was going to be coaching TUF, I called Nogueira and Nogueira gave me a few pointers of what I should expect and how to act and he said just to act like myself," dos Santos said. "He said the first week will be the most difficult and then I'd just get the hang of it and I feel that's exactly what happened."
At the end of the day, The Ultimate Fighter is a marketing tool. Dos Santos understands that and has his sights set on the prize. A title shot against Velasquez is the ultimate prize, but first there's the small matter of the mammoth Lesnar standing in his path. The television show, the interviews, the hype - it all pales in comparison to the battle in the cage.
"On June 11 none of that really matters," dos Santos admits. "Because my goal is to go in there and beat Brock."