SANTA MONICA, Calif. – After former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar had surgery at the end of May to remove 12 inches of his intestine, there were whispers that he would never be the same.
And then, a few weeks ago, a video surfaced of Lesnar promoting a video game by his former employer, World Wrestling Entertainment, where he looked, well, small – for Lesnar. While that's still big for a normal person, he didn't appear to be what fans have expected of Brock Lesnar.
This led to more whispers that if he didn't have the power of old, he would no longer be able to compete at the highest level of the UFC heavyweight division.
But on Friday at the Santa Monica Civic Center – his first public appearance at a UFC event since surgery – a dual event that included a press conference for the Lesnar vs. Alistair Overeem fight on Dec. 30 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, as well as the weigh-ins for Saturday night's UFC on Fox event, there should be no more whispering.
As far as size and strength are concerned, not only is Lesnar back, but according to him and his coaches, he's the strongest version in at least three years, before a series of health issues knocked his career off track.
Lesnar spent months fending off an intestinal infection that he didn't even know about, which turned into a full-blown diverticulitis attack that nearly killed him one harrowing night in late 2009 while he was in a small town in Manitoba, Canada. But now, Lesnar is 278 pounds and looks both enormous and in condition.
"That's going to be my weight until I have to make weight and get to 265," said Lesnar, whose fight with Overeem will determine who faces the winner of Saturday's Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos heavyweight title fight in Anaheim.
Velasquez weighed in at 249 pounds, the heaviest he's weighed since coming to UFC. That was closer to his college wrestling weight of 250. In UFC, he's hovered between 235 and the low 240s. Dos Santos, who is 2 inches taller than Velasquez, weighed 239. Velasquez coming in that heavy is a surprise, since speed and stamina are likely more important to him against a fighter who is hard to hit standing, and because Velasquez has said he's preparing to go five rounds.
Velasquez was the big favorite of the Santa Monica crowd at the weigh-ins. The 29-year-old son of parents from Mexico has been marketed by UFC as the first Mexican major world heavyweight champion in any combat sport. The marketing appears to be taking, as he was greeted with not only loud cheers, but the audience was heavily Hispanic, a demographic UFC has been slow to fully reach, with many dressed in costumes and even masks.
Velasquez said a few words after weighing in, promising to fight "for La Raza."
"Just one thing," said dos Santos after weighing in. "Get ready for a war."
Lesnar said he finally feels like how he is supposed to feel, but hasn't in years. The former UFC heavyweight champion notes the difference between the Lesnar of recent years and the person he thinks he's supposed to be in aspects like recovering from hard workouts, stamina and having a spring in his step.
It's not just that Lesnar has 278 pounds on his 6-2½ frame; as his opponent Alistair Overeem weighs 260. But Lesnar is different from other guys of his size. He's got thick bones, traps that burst through his shirt, seemingly yard-wide shoulders, huge hands and gigantic forearms.
Before a crowd of about 2,000 fans who came for the news conference, he rolled up his sleeve a few times and smiled as he flexed his right biceps to a cheering crowd.
Both fighters sparred over the mic in an event that seemed to be more about getting crowd reaction than answering any detailed questions.
One thing Lesnar and Overeem agreed on was their predictions for Saturday's fight and who would be their next opponent.
"I think it's going to be a very close fight," said Overeem. "I'd stylistically favor Cain because I think he's more well-rounded. He's a better wrestler, has better stamina."
Lesnar was more succinct.
"I have to say Cain Velasquez," said Lesnar, who still sports a scar underneath his left eye from a title loss to Velasquez last year.
Lesnar no longer talks about his unexplained miracle recovery from his postponing surgery after his near-death experience.
"I've been lying to everyone for years," he said. "I would tell people I was feeling great. What was I supposed to say? With hindsight, I should have gotten this surgery a long time ago, but I had a heavyweight championship to defend."
Weigh-in results for Saturday's UFC event:
Matt Lucas (203) vs. Aaron Rosa (204)
Paul Bradley (171) vs. Mike Pierce (171)
Alex Caceres (136) vs. Cole Escovedo (134)
Mackens Semerzier (146) vs. Robbie Peralta (145)
Darren Uyenoyama (135) vs. Kid Yamamoto (135)
Clay Harvison (169) vs. DaMarques Johnson (171)
Ricardo Lamas (145) vs. Cub Swanson (145)
Pablo Garza (145) vs. Dustin Poirier (146)
Clay Guida (156) vs. Ben Henderson (156)
Cain Velasquez (249) vs. Junior dos Santos (239)
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