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LAS VEGAS – He overpowered Randy Couture. He overwhelmed Frank Mir. He holds the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight championship and stands as the biggest draw in the sport.
And as hard as it is to fathom that Brock Lesnar can actually get better, both as a fighter and as a gate attraction, it's likely true. To this point in his career, Lesnar has been an unpolished fighter, relying on his freakish power and surprising athleticism to carry him.
When he actually learns how to fight, when he understands the nuances of the game and eliminates the fundamental mistakes he occasionally still makes, he'll be shockingly good.
Lesnar will get better because he's not satisfied with just being good. He brought Couture into his Minnesota training camp to help him prepare for Carwin. Lesnar didn't bring in Couture to give him platitudes, though.
He brought Couture in to find problems and, hopefully, to fix them.
"He taught me a lot of things," Lesnar said. "There are a lot of tricks of the trade he passed along. He came in and said, 'These are the things you do great,' and 'These are the things you can do better at.' When Randy Couture comes into your gym, you have to raise the intensity level. I got to take my hat off to the guy. I was very impressed with him. At the end of the day, we complement each other and degrade each other. The biggest compliment is honesty. I know what I am good at. Tell me what I am not good at."
It's that attitude – Tell me what I'm not good at – that makes Lesnar unique. Too many athletes work on their strengths and ignore their weaknesses. The reason Lesnar may become great is because he's the type of guy who is determined to turn weaknesses into strengths.
This is a guy, after all, who came to the UFC with just one pro fight – 69 seconds of experience to his name – and faced a former champion in his first match.
He's a guy who, in the fourth fight of his career and the third in the UFC, won the heavyweight title by knocking out Couture, the Willie Mays of mixed martial arts. He came back in his next outing and avenged the loss he suffered in his UFC debut by demolishing Mir.
He'll fight Shane Carwin on Saturday in the main event of UFC 116 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in a bout that will guarantee the winner the spot as the top heavyweight in MMA.
Lesnar had to pull out of his first scheduled meeting with Carwin, at UFC 106 in November, because of an intestinal problem. It was a career-threatening and, indeed, a life-threatening illness. He lost 42 pounds when he was ill and didn't eat solid food while he was hospitalized for two weeks.
Doctors who examined Lesnar told him he was operating at 60 percent of his capacity. It's got to be a scary thought for Carwin to consider that Lesnar may be 40 percent better against him than he was against Mir at UFC 100.
Couture has trained in Minnesota with Lesnar at Lesnar's gym, and he came away believing that Lesnar is a better fighter than he was when they fought at UFC 91 on Nov. 15, 2008.
"I think for Brock's future in fighting, he's doing all the right things," Couture said in a video posted on Lesnar's website. "Look at this facility. How many athletes make this kind of a commitment, to isolate themselves and bring in great trainers and great training partners [like Brock has] and put the time, energy and work into being a top-notch, well-rounded fighter?
"Obviously, he's already at the top of the game, so really, the sky is the limit. He can achieve and stay in this game as long as he wants to."
His accomplishments as an athlete in MMA are dwarfed, however, by his ability to sell tickets and pay-per-views. He's averaging around 1 million pay-per-view sales per fight. His 1.7 million pay-per-view sales draw for his UFC 100 bout with Mir is the fourth-largest in history, trailing only three boxing matches (Floyd Mayweather-Oscar De La Hoya, 2.45 million; Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson, 1.99 million; Tyson-Evander Holyfield II, 1.9 million).
The Carwin fight should easily exceed 1 million, which should push him to a 1 million-plus average for his UFC career.
UFC president Dana White expected that Lesnar would be an attraction when he signed him in late 2007, but even White couldn't have expected this.
"I wasn't surprised at how he did [as a pay-per-view seller] because I had a feeling he'd be big," White said. "My concern was whether he could fight. Brock was a star coming out of the WWE. Whenever you take a guy who is a star and you combine him with the power of our brand, it's going to lead to success.
"He's a big, powerful guy and he has that persona about him. He's got the personality, and he's got the fighting style that people like. Our brand is very strong and we have a very strong partnership."
He'll attract a big audience on Saturday as he again takes on an imposing opponent. Carwin is 12-0 with 12 finishes and has never gone longer than the 3:49 it took him to dispose of Mir in March at UFC 111.
Carwin may be the one UFC heavyweight who punches harder than Lesnar, and Carwin's chin is proven durable. He was knocked down by a shot from Gabe Gonzaga at UFC 96, but he got up and knocked Gonzaga out just seconds later.
Lesnar's chin has never really been tested, and the curiosity factor of seeing how he'll perform against arguably his greatest threat will push the bar on pay-per-view.
Lesnar, though, is nothing if not confident.
"Shane poses some different things I haven't faced," Lesnar said. "That's correct. But I've shown a lot of great stuff in a short amount of time. I'm evolving as a fighter every single day, and come [Saturday], I'll prove that."
It's difficult to imagine him being significantly better than he is now. If he manages to achieve that, it's not very good news for the rest of the heavyweights in the world.
- Brock Lesnar
- Randy Couture