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T.J. SIMERS

Brock Lesnar's hard shell protects a soft, gooey center

UFC heavyweight champ looks big and scary, but is a pussycat when he lets his guard down.

July 10, 2009|T.J. SIMERS

FROM LAS VEGAS — They tell me right from the start that Brock Lesnar is going to be really scary, like the big brute is going to be any more difficult to interview than Lisa Leslie.

You'd have to go to a Sparks' game to talk to her, and once there, she's no treat.

The only thing I know about Lesnar is a snippet of video that has him losing an ultimate fight to Frank Mir, some pug the doctors said might never walk again -- and yet it's the big blubber rolling around the octagon and repeatedly tapping out on Mir's butt, which is the UFC's way of crying uncle.

"I could have let him snap my leg," Lesnar protests, which makes it hard to explain why this fighting is considered ultimate if someone is going to beg not to have their femur snapped.

"I was in panic mode," he goes on to say, and I'm wondering if I'm going to have to hold his hand to console him, his story getting more pathetic by the minute.

As his bio says, he also tried to make the Minnesota Vikings as a defensive tackle, but was cut, and how intimidating can a guy be if he's not good enough to even make the practice squad?

There have been times when I've attempted to interview Mike Garrett. Now that's scary, knowing I might even have to write down what he says while acting as if I care.

Bring on the brute, I say, but then it's mentioned Lesnar was really big once in professional wrestling, taking on The Rock and Hulk Hogan, but come on, how scary can a clown be?

So what do I find?

A lovely, lovely man, a sweetheart really, a 265-pound walking scowl for the public's benefit, but who's he kidding?

Just take the tattooed knife that runs the length of his massive chest, the red tip of the blade settling just under his chin. It turns out it's more a poignant reminder of tough times for the big lug than any intended threat.

"I felt like there was a dagger to my throat at one point in my life," he says. "I just wanted something to remember it."

As for the skeleton on the right shoulder, the one with the guns emerging from the bulging eyes, "I just like skeletons," he says, and he's cute like that.

Saturday he's going to have to look mean again, Lesnar facing Mir one more time in UFC 100's main event.

It's a regular feel-good story, the guy who might never walk again getting the chance to have Lesnar beat him to a bloody pulp.

Two days to go until the place rocks with testosterone, which leaves time for more hype. Lesnar tells a press group he's going to exit the building, though, rather than talk any more.

"I was never going to do that," he admits later with a grin, and yes, he grins.

He also listens to UFC President Dana White, who gets into his cauliflower ear after Lesnar threatens to leave, Lesnar retaking his place at the table.

"I just had to humor myself somehow," the brute says.

It's a public act, all right, and a good one -- the flat top and line of "Death Clutch" clothes he's selling are nice menacing touches -- with reporter after reporter buying it and saying how they dislike him. They don't know him, and his choice, they never will.

"I have no patience; it's my downfall," he says, the repeated questions from the media more painful, he says, than anything that takes place in the octagon.

Thus, the scowl.

The Undertaker would understand. Someone has to play the role of the heel or bad guy, and as our sweetheart admits later, "I always found it easier playing the villain." At the latest media gathering he's asked if he respects his opponents, the villain replying, "I don't have any respect for any of them," and somewhere Vince McMahon is smiling.

Later in the house he's been using here, he's relaxed and more than happy to oblige. He talks about pain and says he never feels any, noting he has had five stitches in four ultimate fights. It helps when you tap the other guy's butt to tell him you've had enough.

He says he was hurt far more while working in World Wrestling Entertainment, handing over his body to opponents to do what they needed to do to make the story line work.

"I have more control now," he says, Lesnar as much a businessman as heavyweight Goliath -- all those years of selling professional wrestling town-to-town now ingrained.

"I guess I'm an ogre," he says with some pride and so different away from the spotlight, "but I've found controversy creates interest and interest results in a flow of money."

The nasty-looking mask off, and what we're really looking at here is a former NCAA wrestling champ who ran a 4.6 40 for the Vikings while weighing 296 pounds. His football dream scuttled, he opted to reinvent himself, pushing aside a career that had him doing what the WWE script demanded for one that leaves him now in control of what happens to his femur.

"The highest moment of my life is right now," he says, the so-called brute having no interest in preparing for Saturday's brutal confrontation by watching "Gladiator" -- instead going with "The Hangover," and still giggling.

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