Herring won't hesitate to take out Lesnar

MINNEAPOLIS – Heath Herring chuckled at the mention of what undoubtedly is the biggest mistake of his professional life.

For the last 13 months, rarely has a day gone by where someone hasn't asked the fighter known as "The Texas Crazy Horse" about the events of UFC 73.

A career-defining and, perhaps, career-changing victory was in his grasp and he hesitated. He looked at a fallen Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and hesitated. Herring didn't pounce on Nogueira and finish him after a kick to the head nearly knocked Nogueira out.

The hesitation proved devastatingly costly when Nogueira rallied to win the fight via decision. Nogueira then submitted Tim Sylvia in his next fight to win the UFC interim heavyweight belt.

One could excuse Herring if he snapped at those who question him about Nogueira. Brock Lesnar, the one-time WWE star who will fight Herring on Saturday at UFC 87 at the Target Center, has made no secret of his distaste of questions about his loss to Frank Mir.

Herring answers the question in good humor because he said he's convinced that losing that fight is the best thing that ever happened to him.

Nogueira, the former PRIDE heavyweight champion, is one of the great fighters in mixed martial arts history. When Herring returned to his Las Vegas home from Sacramento, Calif., he popped in a tape of the fight and realized that despite barely having trained, despite making a rookie mistake, he could have, and probably should have, won the fight.

"I watched the tape of that fight and I said, 'Wow,' " Herring says now. "I didn't train at all. I was in horrible shape. I went from gym to gym and never really took it all that seriously. I ate pretty much what I wanted when I wanted. And yet, I watched that tape, and I saw myself in a very good position to beat Nogueira."

In MMA's heavyweight division, beating Nogueira is kind of outdueling Phil Mickelson down the stretch of a major championship.

And having prepared as if he were going to play a game of flag football rather than getting ready to fight one of the most feared mixed martial artists in history, Herring still very nearly won.

"I had to clean house and I did," Herring said. "I realized I needed to get the right people around me and I needed to prepare myself the proper way."

Herring has been around, figuratively and literally, long enough to know the right things to do. He's got more wins – 29 – than most UFC fighters have bouts. He still owns the record for most matches fought in the PRIDE Fighting Championship with 18.

He's fought in such far-flung places as Japan, Aruba and the Netherlands, where he lived for several years.

He's known as much for his unusual hair styles and the Texas Duster coat he wears on his ring walks as he is for anything he has done in MMA, other than losing three times to Nogueira and once each to Fedor Emelianenko and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic.

"The thing about Heath Herring is that he not only says he'll fight anyone, he proves it because he gets in there and does it," UFC president Dana White said. "But he kind of always teetered between being a success and mediocrity. He'd win one, he'd lose one, and he just sometimes struck you as a flabby guy who wasn't particularly dedicated.

"He's all of a sudden changed his tune, and he's much more serious and focused and dedicated. And when Heath Herring is focused and in shape, he's a tough guy for anyone to beat."

Herring finally has come to the realization that he's good enough to beat anyone he faces. Lesnar is in only his third professional fight, but he's one of the most hyped men to ever fight in the UFC.

A former NCAA wrestling champion, Lesnar's UFC debut in February was all but perfect until he made what he calls a rookie mistake and allowed Frank Mir to catch him in a knee bar and submit him.

Because he was a star at the University of Minnesota and briefly tried out for the Vikings – not to mention his stint as the WWE champion – Lesnar has, in many ways, been the face of the promotion for UFC 87.

That's fine with Herring, who said he didn't know much about Lesnar before he began fighting in the UFC.

"Obviously, given what he's accomplished in his life, the guy is a terrific athlete," Herring said. "But I can do some things in there, too. There will be two of us in that cage, not just Brock. I do things that Brock really hasn't seen before. I have prepared so well for this fight, and I feel like I have a whole new career that's just starting."

He's 30, which is hardly old for a fighter, but he has 43 MMA fights to his record. Those might be the tune-up for the second act he says will begin on Saturday.

"When it's over, I want to be able to say that I got everything out of it I could," Herring said. "I don't want to be disappointed after I'm retired and wish I had done something differently. I'm committed to doing what needs to be done now to make myself the best fighter I can possibly be. And I think I'll surprise a lot of people (on Saturday)."