"These guys are like one in a million that wanted to make it to the next level and got an opportunity – just as I did." - Brock Lesnar
Though still just a small-town farm boy at heart, Brock Edward Lesnar has relentlessly chased the highest standards and rarely disappointed himself or his fans. The massive 33-year-old has been a national champion wrestler, a pro wrestling superstar, an NFL prospect and against-all-odds UFC kingpin. Now the paramount question is, ‘Can Brock Lesnar coach?’
The world is set to find out starting Wednesday, March 30th when the first episode of The Ultimate Fighter: Team Lesnar vs. Team dos Santos premieres on Spike TV (9 p.m. EST/PST). The hour-long shows, featuring 14 promising welterweight prospects, will be broadcast each week up until the season 13 grand finale on June 4, pitting two finalists in Las Vegas for a six-figure UFC contract.
“At the beginning … I was very hesitant (to do the show) because I didn’t want to get out of my comfort zone,” said Lesnar, an avid hunter and private family man who notoriously prefers the secluded life on his Minnesota farm to the big city, cosmopolitan life of Las Vegas, where The Ultimate Fighter 13 was filmed over six weeks. “But I’ve been in front of cameras a lot in my career and I just approached it professionally. I was there to do a job. I probably wouldn’t do it again but I did enjoy it.”
Coaching opposite Lesnar will be Brazilian Junior dos Santos, a feared knockout artist and ultra-talented training partner of UFC middleweight champ Anderson Silva and the legendary Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira. Being tapped for TUF 13 is a consolation prize of sorts for dos Santos, who has dominantly steamrolled all six of his UFC foes thus far and had originally been in line for a shot at UFC heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez. When shoulder surgery sidelined Velasquez for months, dos Santos jumped at the chance to face Lesnar rather than possibly wait until late fall for a title shot. Dos Santos (12-1) and his handlers believe being cast on TUF 13, and beating Lesnar when they meet later this year would actually elevate dos Santos’ stature among fans far more than if he had simply fought for the UFC crown.
“I was very upset when I found out Cain Velasquez was hurt,” dos Santos, speaking in Portuguese, said through a translator. “But this is a good opportunity for my career because Brock is a big name and a former UFC champion. Prior to the show I had never met Brock so I was a little bit surprised how professional Brock is. He’s actually a nice guy. But on June 11th none of that really matters because I know that I have to go out there and beat Brock to get a title shot.”
Lesnar, whom Velasquez dethroned in October, is also gunning for the unbeaten Mexican-American. He believes that, one way or another, he and dos Santos were on a collision course.
“If I had beaten Cain I’d be fighting Junior, anyway,” Lesnar said. “I’m right back in the same position. So it’s the closest thing to fighting for a title and getting my UFC title back.”
Recollecting on his loss to Velazquez, via first-round TKO, Lesnar indicated he was not as mentally fit heading into the bout as he would have liked.
“I don’t think it really registers to the general public how my last year of being sick (severe diverticulitis) and losing 42 pounds and having a new baby boy (Duke) and fighting Shane Carwin … and then I needed some time off but we booked the fight with Cain. That’s the way it is in prize fighting. And in the fight with Cain … this is a game of inches. He was victorious that night. Next time will it be different? I hope. But I have to get through Junior first.”
Known to be occasionally temperamental, brash and headstrong, Lesnar has appeared much more low-key and laid back in recent months since his amazing recovery from intestinal surgery. He said he surrounded himself by a great team of coaches – including Marty Morgan, Greg Nelson and Rodrigo “Comprido” Medeiros.
“I was surrounded by guys that took me to the top,” Lesnar said. “I really wanted guys to do well. I found myself invested for my guys to win. You get attached, yes … There was some great talent and some not-so-great talent. It’s a short amount of time: You’re here with these guys for five and ½ weeks. That’s a short amount of time, so if guys bring bad habits to the table then you’ve got to be creative and figure that out fast.
“I wasn’t too much older than some of these guys. These guys are like one in a million that wanted to make it to the next level and got an opportunity – just as I did. They’re fighting for the opportunity to be a household name.”
The greatest lesson he took away from the experience, Lesnar said, was enhanced “Octagon awareness.”
Dos Santos, meanwhile, said that before filming began he sought the advice of “Big Nog,” who wisely informed him that the first week of filming would be the most difficult. He also encouraged his friend and training partner to “just be yourself.”
The biggest surprise to dos Santos was his affinity and retention of the English language.
“My English flowed so naturally,” he said. “I was able to speak English well and I understood English also. There were many surprises.”