ALEXANDRIA, Minn. – After training in a nondescript warehouse in this small, blue-collar town, Brock Lesnar got to a glamorous post-workout lunch at Subway by riding shotgun in an old Pontiac G5 (his ’89 Dodge “rust bucket” is in the shop, he said).
At the Subway, he stood in a 10-minute line like everyone else, talked about the Minnesota Vikings with an old man and then got a foot-long meatball on wheat.
And some fans think this guy is arrogant, out of touch, and bad for mixed martial arts?
That’s at least the sentiment advanced by Shane Carwin, who will challenge Lesnar for the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight title November 21 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
One of the reasons Carwin got a shot at the title were his blog posts in the hours after Lesnar defended his title against Frank Mir at UFC 100.
Brock Lesnar reacts after knocking out Frank Mir during their heavyweight title bout at UFC 100.
After that one, a fired-up Lesnar not only got in the face of the beaten Mir, he threw a couple of middle fingers at the fans booing him, claimed he was going to drink Coors Light, not UFC-sponsor Bud Light, and basically acted like a heel from pro wrestling (which, of course, he once was).
“The flipping off of the fans that just lined your pocket with millions of dollars is just LAME (sic),” Carwin wrote the next morning. “He may be a champion but he has a long ways to go before he earns the respect of a champion.”
Carwin went on and on, hammering an essential point – “it doesn't matter if you win or lose; it matters how you win or lose."
Months later, as he’s begun training to fight Carwin, Lesnar isn’t impressed.
• Not with Carwin’s supposed defense of all that is good and sportsmanlike.
“I’ve run into more people who said it was great,” Lesnar said of his postfight antics, which he apologized for soon after. “A lot of guys get up, they hug each other; cookie cutter. I’m not doing that.”
• Not with Carwin’s 11-0 record.
“I would be embarrassed to fight some of those guys he beat,” Lesnar said. “His only good fight was Gabriel Gonzaga. Shane’s really 1-0.”
• Not with Carwin’s full-time engineering job.
“He’s a weekend warrior. Fighting is my full-time job.”
• Not with Carwin’s comparable size (both will weigh in at 6-3, 265 pounds).
“In college I wrestled against guys who were supposed to be bigger and stronger. They lost. Is he more talented than I am?”
• And certainly not with Carwin’s credentials, which include a NCAA Division II wrestling national title. Lesnar was national champ at Division I.
“There’s no comparison between Division I and Division II. The reason they have Division II is for the guys who can’t make it at Division I,” Lesnar said, beginning to laugh. “That’s fine. They need to have something to feel good about themselves. Those guys have to have something to do with their lives.”
So Carwin’s comments helped get him a title shot. It also got Big Brock’s full and undivided attention.
What you see is what you get
Lesnar holds down Mir during UFC 100 in July 2009.
Lesnar said he brought similar focus into the Octagon when he fought Mir in July. It’s what, he says, caused his post fight outburst.
Mir had defeated Lesnar in his UFC debut in February, 2008, catching Lesnar in a knee bar after Lesnar had dominated most of the action. The loss wore at Lesnar, who had spent countless hours training to avoid such a rookie mistake.
“He put me in a position I knew how to get out of,” Lesnar said. “We did that so many times. So many. I think it was more panic than anything. Looking back, I just went into panic mode.
“I just gave it to him.”
He paused, put down his sandwich and shook his head at the memory.
“Losing sucks,” he continued. “I’m not a very good loser.”
The loss stuck with him for 17 months. Not even defeating Heath Herring in his next fight or beating Randy Couture for the UFC heavyweight title erased it. When the rematch with Mir came, and Mir continued to chatter about winning the first time, everything just boiled up inside Lesnar.
After he pounded Mir in the second round, it all came out. Carwin and many old-time MMA fans may not like it, but Lesnar doesn’t see anything wrong with the sentiment. He only wishes the delivery was better. The flipping off of the fans and trashing of a sponsor, he admits, should be avoided.
Despite his immense size and years of performing as a big character in pro wrestling, Lesnar, 32, is a soft spoken guy. He’s a farm kid from South Dakota, who now lives up here, amidst the rolling hills and fishing lakes a couple hours drive northwest of the Twin Cities.
Shane Carwin has been critical of Lesnar, whom he fights in UFC 106 on Nov. 21, 2009.
He’s most comfortable with down-to-earth people he’s known for years. His 10-week training camp is run by his full-time coach, Marty Morgan, who worked with Lesnar at Minnesota. One training partner is UFC fighter Chris Tuchscherer, who after his last fight immediately worked three weeks running a tractor on a 10,000-acre farm in North Dakota.
Those are Lesnar’s kind of guys.
There’s also one of Lesnar’s high school rivals, Jon Madsen, who’s currently on The Ultimate Fighter 10 (he won the fight in the season premiere). Back in high school, they wrestled each other four times, each winning twice. They joke like old friends do, arguing over the old matches and their GPAs (Lesnar admits he graduated last of 54 students in his class).
Madsen mentions a girl they both knew back in the day.
“What happened to her?” Lesnar asked.
“Three kids,” Madsen said.
“She finally put out, huh?” Lesnar deadpanned.
Later at the Subway, four of Lesnar’s friends from Webster, S.D., stop by as they drive to Minneapolis to watch the Vikings game. He talks farming with them.
You’d never know this is arguably the biggest star in the game.
He, his wife and infant son live on a secluded, wooded plot of land. A second-grade daughter from a previous relationship lives in this 10,000-population town. It’s why he’s here. “I see her as much as the court allows,” he said.
Family is everything to him. He’s one of the few athletes you’ll ever met who not only speaks about trying to be the best father, but also the best husband. Then he appears to back it up. His hobbies are hunting and fishing and working his farm.
“Fighting is not my life,” the 32-year-old says. “My family is my life.”
There is a sense among some traditional fans that he isn’t as devoted to MMA as other fighters. There’s still some backlash for arriving from the WWE and almost immediately getting a title shot.
It’s why the lectures from Carwin struck a chord with some.
Taking the long road
"I wasn't going to fight in bingo halls, you know"
Lesnar, on the early MMA
Lesnar first watched MMA when he caught a Royce Gracie fight while he was wrestling for the University of Minnesota . He loved the sport then, he just wasn’t about to make a career out of such a fledgling operation.
“I wasn’t going to fight in bingo halls, you know,” he said.
Instead he made millions as a star in the WWE. It didn’t satisfy his inner athlete though. He quit, turning down millions more, and tried pro football briefly. Then in 2007 he attended a UFC fight, and amid the din of the crowd, pulled promotion president Dana White in close and barked, “Let me fight. Give me one chance.”
“I told him, ‘Brock, this is not the place you want to learn how to fight, man,’” White said.
Lesnar was undeterred. His response was simple.
“I’m either good at this or I’m not.”
That’s Lesnar. Why waste time or energy? Yes, he could’ve worked his way up, eased into MMA with a bunch of minor-promotion fights. Instead he asked for the best. They gave him Mir, a former heavyweight champion. Lesnar lost, continued to progress and now is the champion.
Why should he have to apologize for using his wrestling popularity to seize an opportunity?
The thought that because he started high on the food chain means he isn’t committed to MMA is silly. Lesnar's entire life is built around training (there’s even a baby swing in the weight room at the converted warehouse he bought). He isn’t out partying, isn’t out doing a million appearances (although he does some) and isn’t just hanging around, soaking up the fame.
Lesnar defeated Randy Couture in UFC 91.
This camp has seven heavyweight training partners, a group that ranges from sizeable strikers (Carwin has a big right hand) to two-time NCAA wrestling champion Cole Konrad.
In addition to Morgan, he’ll bring in specialists, such as Rodrigo “Comprido” Medeiros for jiu-jitsu. It’s intense. He pays everyone well, puts them up in nice lodging and covers all expenses. Lesnar says it costs “six figures” to run.
“This camp costs me a lot of money,” he said.
It’s not like he throws money around liberally. He vows he won’t be that old, broke, broken-down fighter, like you see in boxing. His “fleet” of cars is mostly used ones that get good gas mileage.
“I stopped buying new cars, it’s a waste of money,” he said. “The only new car I have is for my wife and the kids. I’ve got a Suburban. It’s for the safety.”
So a guy paying a full-time coach, who spends big money to stage a training camp and does so in a remote, focused environment, doesn’t care about the sport? Lesnar sees it as investing in his career. It’s the basis for the “weekend warrior” shots at Carwin, who, presumably, isn't as committed.
“I’m fortunate to be able to do it,” Lesnar said. “It’s a great environment. A lot of these other guys, they travel around and try to find the right guys to work out with. This is best heavyweight camp in the world.
“I take this very seriously.”
Lesnar believes in a simplified, old-school life. He rarely watches TV, with the exception of NFL games and hunting shows. He has been watching TUF this year though, in part because of Madsen. His thoughts on the much-hyped Kimbo Slice-Roy Nelson fight?
“It looked like a couple of high school kids, a bar room brawl,” Lesnar said dismissively. “The fat biker dude took his vest off and put ranch dressing on his (chest).”
Since the Internet is home to about 99 percent of MMA coverage – not to mention the message boards – and Lesnar doesn’t own a computer, he’s oblivious to much that is written about him. He plans to keep it that way.
“I don’t care what people think about me,” he said. “I really don’t. I know who I am and what I’m about. My wife knows who I am. My children know who I am. My friends. That’s all that matter to me."
So who is Brock Lesnar?
“I’m the UFC heavyweight champion and I will be until the day I decide I don’t want to be. And that isn’t any time soon.
“This is my time. People can like it or not.”
With that, he crunched up the paper his sub had come in and walked over to the garbage to throw it out. The big lunch at Subway was over.