Brock Lesnar will make his return after undergoing abdominal surgery in May. | Photo: Sherdog.com
Brock Lesnar will walk through the Octagon door for the first time in more than a year, minus roughly a foot of his colon.
The 34-year-old former World Wrestling Entertainment superstar will face Alistair Overeem in a heavyweight title eliminator at UFC 141 on Friday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, some seven months after he underwent abdominal surgery to remove a troublesome section of his intestine. The procedure was performed after a second bout with diverticulitis -- a condition in which small pouches form in the wall of the colon and become inflamed or infected -- threatened his career and left him on the sidelines.
Recovery has given rise to renewed motivations.
“I feel good. I guess you’ve just got to roll with the punches, be able to adapt and stay focused on what’s most important,” Lesnar said during a pre-fight conference call. “At first, my health was the most important thing to worry about. Now that I feel good about that, it’s the fighting and everything else. A guy just wants to be healthy. If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.”
Lesnar, then the UFC heavyweight champion, was first diagnosed with diverticulitis in 2009, when he withdrew from a planned UFC 106 matchup with Shane Carwin. After altering his diet and avoiding surgery, he returned to the cage at UFC 116 and submitted Carwin with an arm-triangle choke. However, success was short-lived, as Lesnar succumbed to first-round punches from Cain Velasquez and relinquished his title to the American Kickboxing Academy ace at UFC 121. He has not fought since, as his illness returned and forced him out of a scheduled showdown with Junior dos Santos over the summer.
In retrospect, Lesnar admits it would have been wise to go the surgical route in wake of the original diagnosis.
“Looking back in hindsight, you do things differently, but I accomplished a lot in that year,” he said. “You’ve got to take the good with the bad. That’s where we were. We were trying to figure out what we should do and how we should approach it. You live with your decisions.”
A formidable hurdle greets Lesnar in his return. Unbeaten in 11 outings, Overeem has finished six of his last seven opponents inside the first round, four of them in less than 90 seconds.
The hulking Dutchman has held major MMA titles in Strikeforce and Dream and won the K-1 World Grand Prix in 2010. Wins over Russian heavyweight Sergei Kharitonov, former UFC light heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort, two-time Abu-Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist Fabricio Werdum and 2000 Pride Fighting Championships open weight grand prix finalist Igor Vovchanchyn dot Overeem’s lengthy resume.
“This is a dog-eat-dog division,” Lesnar said. “It’s definitely getting more competitive, so I’ve got to be more competitive. I’m going to go out and try to do my best to win this fight, and that’s really all I can try to control.”
A potent and proven finisher, 33 of Overeem’s 35 career victories have come via knockout, technical knockout or submission. Neither man has ever fought past the third round. As such, Lesnar does not expect their main event to reach the judges.
“This is a heavyweight fight that we’re both going into trying to finish,” he said. “I don’t foresee it going five rounds.”
Lesnar will enter the cage with one pronounced advantage: wrestling. A four-time collegiate All-American, he won a Div. I national championship at the University of Minnesota in 2000. Since entering MMA in 2007, the 6-foot-3, 265-pound South Dakota native has piled up notable wins against UFC hall of famer Randy Couture, former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir and Pride veteran Heath Herring. Lesnar likes the finality MMA offers.
“At the end of the day, somebody’s going to enter [the cage] on Dec. 30 and win or lose,” he said. “That’s the beauty of this sport. My intentions are to win, and I’m sure those are Alistair’s [intentions, too]. The only thing I analyze is wins and losses.”
Time away from active competition has afforded Lesnar more time to develop and hone his skills in the gym. Despite his status in the sport, he still has less than 12 professional rounds under his belt.
“At the end of the day, I want to get better on my feet, and I want to get better in general,” Lesnar said. “That’s really what I focus on: just getting better to be a better fighter all-around. I’ve had plenty of time to train. Being healthy and once again motivated, I’ve been able to work on a lot of different things.
“This is a sport that you have to evolve in, and you have to get better if you’re going to stay on top in this organization,” he added. “We’ve put lots of hours in training, lots of sparring and lots of grappling and lots of jiu-jitsu sessions. There definitely hasn’t been a lack of trying here. I’m excited for it, and I can’t wait to get back in the Octagon.”
As has been standard practice with previous fight camps, Lesnar has done much of his preparation at his secluded Minnesota gym. There, he cuts himself off from external distractions and delves into an isolated existence that fits him like a glove.
“Obviously, it’s kind of hard to get away, but I’ve pretty much centralized myself -- just my family and on my ranch -- and so I really don’t know what’s going on in the outside scheme of things,” Lesnar said. “Right now, I’m focused on the fight and my family and trying to live a somewhat normal life, other than being a UFC fighter. You’ve got to be able to manage everything and stay on top of what’s most important, and that’s the fight and my family.”
A victory over Overeem, who has not lost in more than four years, would thrust Lesnar into a five-round title bout with the newly crowned dos Santos sometime in 2012. However, he does not risk weighing the possibilities beyond the “Demolition Man.”
“I can’t overlook Alistair,” Lesnar said. “Any fighter that overlooks their next opponent ... it’s not a very good thing to do. Under all the circumstances I’ve gone through, this is an opportunity not too many people get, so I’m excited about it.”