Humbled Lesnar returns to UFC spotlight

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As recently as early January, Brock Lesnar was convinced he needed surgery to deal with a case of diverticulitis – a condition that essentially left a hole in his intestine and put his career as Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight title holder in jeopardy. He might be out a year. Or it might be two. Or it might be forever.

Instead, a series of doctor's visits and tests have revealed what both Lesnar and UFC president Dana White described as a "miracle." The big guy is healed and ready to return to the Octagon this summer, probably against the winner of the fight between Frank Mir and Shane Carwin in March.

"Let's be clear, I'm still the heavyweight champion," Lesnar growled, in trademark fashion, on ESPN on Wednesday morning.

Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar

Brock Lesnar is grateful for his supporters and focused on his return.
(Eric Jamison/AP file photo)

There couldn't be better news for the UFC and fans of mixed martial arts. Lesnar isn't just apparently well again (although really, who knows if there could be a setback or another episode), but his return to fighting brings back the sports' biggest box office star.

Lesnar, 32, is a polarizing figure – or was until he got sick. You either loved his in-your-face ways or wanted someone to punch him in his face because of it. You were either one of the new fans that Lesnar drew in, perhaps from his days as a professional wrestler, or you resented them.

Either way, Lesnar was difficult to shift your eyes away from. A huge man who needs to cut weight to make the 265-pound limit, he was growing as a fighter and an intimidator during his brief career. His fights were thrilling and he headlined the hugely successful UFC 100, which did a reported 1.6 million pay per view buys.

His postfight tirade after his dominating victory over Mir at UFC 100, complete with flipping off the crowd and cussing out UFC sponsors, made him a tour de force. It didn't mesh with his private life as a blue-collar, down home guy from South Dakota and Minnesota, yet Lesnar had learned how to sell fights during his days in the WWE.

The truth was, he just wanted to hang out in the woods with his family and emerge a couple times a year to beat the heck out of someone. And now, it seems, he can again.

"The doctors were dumbfounded," Lesnar said. "They couldn't find any signs of trouble."

This was a long way from the fall, when illness and weakness caused Lesnar to sit out almost three weeks of training camp as he prepared to fight Carwin in a bout scheduled for November in Las Vegas. When I visited his training camp in October, he complained of being "dead in the ass." Within weeks he couldn't work out at all and when doctors couldn't figure out the medical issue, Lesnar dropped out of the fight.

In an effort to fight depression, he went hunting in Canada where he had a painful diverticulitis attack.

"I felt like I got shot in the gut," he said.

He wasn’t excited about his Canadian medical care, comparing it to “a third world country” where he couldn’t get any treatment. Finally Lesnar’s wife, Rena (better known as former pro wrestling star Sable), sprung him from the hospital, loaded him into a car and while Lesnar writhed in pain, drove “100 miles an hour” across the border and into North Dakota. He wound up MedCenter One, a hospital in Bismarck, N.D. There doctors were patient, didn’t immediately perform surgery and slowly nursed him back to some form of health.

“My wife saved my life,” he said.

Still, when he returned to the farm he owns outside Alexandria, Minn. he was down 40 pounds and facing an uncertain future. He got a second opinion at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. and heard the same thing – surgery. He changed his diet. He said he put his mind to healing. Dana White claimed Lesnar tried some holistic healing procedures. He began light workouts and focused on regaining some of his weight.

By the time Lesnar visited a doctor on January 5, he not only felt better, medical tests couldn't find a problem. He kept returning for more and more tests. "Four of five different opinions," Lesnar said, including one on Tuesday.

And now he's focused on the future – returning to a sport where he found the peace of mind and quality of life that he'd been seeking since bailing on a multi-million dollar contract with the WWE.

"The doctor said, 'You've got a lottery ticket,' " White said on ESPN.

Lesnar appeared fully aware of his good fortune. There is simply no way to know how long it will last or whether he is truly "healed." A man built on bullying others inside the Octagon wore a look of fear as he described his recent medical journey and humility at his prognosis.

"I've got a different take on life," Lesnar said. "When you have everything taken away, when you lay helplessly on a hospital bed … I've always been in control. For me to sit there for 30 days and not have control of anything … "

He went on to thank his wife, with whom he recently had a son. And his doctors. And the UFC. And anyone who thought of him while he was sick.

The powerhouse of a man who fans learned to hate because of his gruff ways at least sounded like a new guy.

Stands to reason, he'll be just as wicked inside that Octagon though.