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UFC 100:

Lesnar’s passion in MMA, but he won’t pass on paycheck

UFC heavyweight champ says he’s evolved since last match with Mir

UFC 91

Sam Morris

UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, center, and President Dana White joke with Brock Lesnar that they will have to get him a larger belt after he beat Randy Couture for the heavyweight title Saturday, November 15, 2008 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Lesnar won by TKO in the second round.

UFC 91: Couture vs. Lesnar

Fans take photos as Randy Couture enters the arena before his heavyweight championship bout against Brock Lesnar at UFC 91 Saturday, November 15, 2008 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Lesnar won by TKO in the second round. Launch slideshow »

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Beyond the Sun

Physically, Brock Lesnar is already the UFC’s biggest star.

The 6-foot-3, 280-pound Lesnar looks to be made more of granite than flesh.

A win at Saturday night’s historic UFC 100 event at Mandalay Bay could easily place the behemoth right at the top of the list of mixed martial arts’ biggest stars in terms of financial success and stardom.

But the former collegiate champion wrestler previously tasted such fame during a highly lucrative professional wrestling stint with the WWE.

The self-proclaimed farm boy says there’s nothing wrong with a big paycheck, but it is his love for amateur wrestling — which he spent years training at without making a dime — that pushes him in practice every day.

“I guess the main thing is I enjoy what I’m doing. I got the best job in the world,” the UFC heavyweight champ said. “I’ve already made a lot of money and now it’s just a matter of staying grounded, being close to my family and, you know, being happy. There’s more to life, if you’re not happy life can be pretty damn miserable and I wasn’t very happy as a professional wrestler and now I’m happy. Life is pretty enjoyable.”

But because of the South Dakota native’s humble upbringing and appreciation for hard work, Lesnar said he’s not going to look the other way when a big payday comes his way.

“I can honestly say I wouldn’t fight for peanuts. I’ve been there; I’ve wrestled — blood, sweat and tears for 18 years. I got a lot of time in the gym and got paid zilch,” Lesnar said.

“So now here’s my opportunity, this is prize fighting. I mean, you look at it any other way, you might as well just go fight in the underground and, you know, bare knuckles or whatever, and fight in the streets.”

Lesnar’s critics scoff at his rationale, saying he’s only in it for the money and with just three MMA fights, didn’t deserve the title shot he got against Randy Couture.

The 2000 NCAA heavyweight champ from the University of Minnesota couldn't care less.

“I don’t run around looking for any respect you know, I just try to get in and do my job,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to the fight because getting in there and actually doing exactly what you love to do is an honor and a privilege.”

Lesnar also sees it as a privilege to get another shot at the only opponent he’s lost to, Las Vegas’ own Frank Mir.

While the two have traded several verbal barbs in the months leading up to their unifying match, both showed nothing but respect on last week’s conference call.

“I don’t dislike Frank in any way other than he’s got a win over me,” said Lesnar, who looked to be in good position to defeat Mir at UFC 81 in February 2008 before making an inexperienced mistake and getting caught in a leg lock.

“I don’t like to lose. Revenge is a key factor here for me.”

Mir sees the talk as two warriors not wanting to give each other the satisfaction of respect.

“I think that neither one of us feels like maybe we have the (same) amount of respect we should have in what we want to attain right now in the heavyweight division,” said Mir, the UFC's interim heavyweight champ. “You know Brock is a newcomer into it, you know with only four fights and with his skill level in NCAA wrestling and stuff. He wants to, you know, obviously push forward on his credibility and why he deserves the exposure he gets.

“And then on my part too, I think after I had the accident, I had so many bad fights in a row. Now coming back on the winning streak that I am on now, I am also craving that same, you know, respect, I guess. At the end of the day, I want to say, 'hey, I’m as good as I was and that should be recognized.'”

Despite his inexperience in the Octagon, Mir says he respects Lesnar for more than just his sheer power.

“His progress has been more advanced than what the average martial artist that’s fought in the UFC,” Mir said.

“To make it easy we just went ahead and prepared for the worst-case scenario that Brock knows everything I know about mixed martial arts and on top of that he’s stronger and bigger and faster than I am.”

Lesnar said that’s not a bad game plan.

“I think I’ve improved dramatically from my first adventure into MMA. I bill myself as a fighter now and I want to evolve,” Lesnar said. “I want to make myself a well-rounded fighter so obviously I’m not going to leave any stone unturned when it comes to submissions, submission defense, striking, knees, leg kicks and learning to defend everything.

“It’s not just an offensive sport. You’ve got to be able to handle both sides of the spectrum. I’ve brought a number of highly trained trainers in to help me evolve.”

Andy Samuelson can be reached at [email protected] or 702-948-7837.

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