Josh Gross
Tuesday November 18th, 2008

Thanks to Brock Lesnar, "road work" now conveys one of two things to veteran mixed martial arts trainer Greg Nelson: In the more traditional sense it's meant to signify hitting the pavement, the most tedious of training duties. But after racking up some 5,600 miles in 84 hours over the course of Lesnar's eight-week training camp for Randy Couture, running might take a backseat.

Three years ago, when Lesnar first considered mixed martial arts a viable career option, he told Nelson something that eased the trainer's three-and-a-half-hour roundtrip along I-94 from the Twin Cities to Alexandria, Minn., and back.

"I'm not just doing this to do it for fun," Lesnar told Nelson. "I'm doing it to be one of the best fighters in the world, and I know I can be one of the best fighters in the world. So this isn't something I'm just coming to waste time. I think I can really make it to the top."

Not only did Nelson believe Lesnar, the trainer soon had evidence that the 6-foot-3, 265-pound former NCAA champion wrestler could actually make it happen. Differing rhythms in pad work, for instance, began translating into combinations in sparring. And when Lesnar punched Heath Herring in the mouth, the world knew what Nelson found out the first time he wore focus mitts for the new UFC champion: the man hits hard.

On one early trip to Alexandria, which Lesnar chose for the camp's location so he could be near his daughter, Nelson allowed himself to believe a fighter three bouts into his career could actually defeat Couture, the venerable 45-year-old five-time champion of the UFC. Flanked by Marty Morgan, a wrestling coach at the University of Minnesota for 16 years before quitting in September to work full-time with Lesnar, Nelson saw a gifted pupil who was eager to learn.

"He's got all that physical talent," Nelson said. "But also, he's totally open to anything. He said to teach him anything he needs to learn, and fill in the blank pages." From what you've seen, how much of Brock's success is due to his raw athleticism and how much comes as a result of his hard work?

Greg Nelson: Everybody is born with a specific amount of talent, and obviously there's a great amount of people with a great amount of talent. But they don't rise to any great level because they don't have that work ethic. I'd have to say that his ability to just push himself and work hard has been probably the most significant part of his success. Has he ever expressed to you where that competitiveness, that work ethic, comes from?

Nelson: Well, I'm sure it comes from his upbringing of being on a farm, and working hard since the day he was born. He had nothing. As soon as he could pick up a bucket, he was doing something. And so you have that kind of upbringing where you know the only way to succeed is hard work coupled with good coaching as you're growing up, learning that the only way to succeed is to work hard and work for everything that you're gonna get. And then just following through with that. To him, this is what you do. As camp progressed past the initial conditioning and you started working on game planning, when did you get the sense that Brock could really win this fight, that Randy's experience wasn't going to be enough to trump what Brock brought?

Nelson: As we started progressing and developing part of our game plan, and with Marty Morgan getting into the picture. He wrestled Randy before and he's also a very good boxer, and his older brother wrestled Randy a lot. We knew going in about Brock's ability to deal with what Marty could throw at him. His sense of range and distance right now is really sharp; he's learning how to use the length of his arms, and his timing is starting to come up. As soon as he started putting those things together and he was really consistently landing stuff in sparring and showing a lot of improvement on the pads. Holding them I remember thinking, man, if he lands one of these shots it'll be the end of Randy. Lighter guys had knocked him out and Brock just hits so hard right now. It's just a matter of physics at that point. With such great speed coupled with the fact that he's explosive and big, it adds up to a lot of force that can happen really quickly. At that point in time, I really started to lose my doubts that he could win this fight. That's scary because he's still muscling punches a bit. He's not as compact as he's going to get, not as relaxed. How much more power and speed can Brock find?

Nelson: There's more in there. The more comfortable he becomes with his hands, the more he understands how to use his body and really starts to loosen up those shoulders ... once he starts to string those things into combinations and move his feet and get footwork behind everything, it's going to really change his game to the point where people are going to have to worry about how those hands land. And when they start to worry a lot, there comes the takedown. Once you're on the ground, you have to worry about his size and athleticism and ability to hit on the ground. He's got a lot more to learn, and we're already planning on the next fight -- regardless of who it's going to be. Brock should take away lessons from being hit, from facing resistance against an experienced opponent, and from bleeding and dealing with that. That's invaluable stuff, right?

Nelson: Definitely. We actually took from what we saw of Randy fighting and how he progressed and what he's done. We looked at how he developed and how he worked on the inside with that dirty boxing. That's a thing we're going to apply in our game as well. And the fact he got cut and was able to keep his cool, that's a big thing. Take me through the fight as you saw it. How did you like the first round, and when Brock came in to sit on his stool, what did you talk to him about?

Nelson: The first round really went as we envisioned it. We didn't want Brock to go out and rush;.we wanted him to take his time and, if they got in the clinch, we wanted him to put a lot of weight on Randy to get his arms tired. We knew if Brock took him down there was a good probability [Randy]would get up. He's very crafty at getting up off his back and getting away, so we told Brock if that happens, don't worry. It's something we're planning, so if it happens, no big deal. As the fight progresses and more and more of that weight is pushed on Randy, we know he's going to start to get tired, we know he's going to start to wear down.

The second thing we said was to snap his punches. "Don't worry about power. Think about speed. That's the one thing we told him when he sat on his stool between rounds. Trust those hands and let them work for you." When you're in the ring you can't help but want to hit the guy hard, so you have to fight the urge to wind up and send his head to Pluto. In training camp, it was one of the things we really focused on. One area of striking he's shown a strong ability to be effective is in the clinch with knees. Before the right hand that dropped Randy, there was an exchange of knees that Brock clearly got the better of. Did you see that as hurting Randy and leading to the shot that put him down?

Nelson: I really do think that knee was [key to] his knockout. You could really see the effect when you watch the fight. It was a solid knee. It landed up high, and you could see it took [Randy] back a few steps and he had to regroup a bit, so I definitely think it was a softening up before the big blow. When that right hand landed, it accumulated, and after the first giant hammer fist landed on him, it was done. I didn't think he was going anywhere. Honestly, I thought they could have stopped it 15 punches earlier. In the locker room after the fight did he look fulfilled, like he accomplished something great, or did it come across like this was just the start?

Nelson: He was definitely excited. When he was talking to the reporters, he was almost speechless. I talked to him Monday, and he said it's really starting to sink in that "I'm the champion here, that the work really starts and I'll get nothing but the top dogs." At the same time, I think he was just a little bit numb about it. He was looking at that belt and he thought it was unbelievable. The prevailing wisdom says that Fedor Emelianenko is the best heavyweight in the world. Brock's called him irrelevant, but will Brock, at some point, demand that fight take place, or will he be fine if it never happens?

Nelson: I don't think [Brock's] going to demand that anything happens. He's very satisfied and content with the UFC right now, and he's got other things to worry about. When he's saying that Fedor is irrelevant, it's because Fedor's not part of the UFC picture. If for some reason all of a sudden it was something they wanted to put in front of Brock, then Brock would by no means consider him irrelevant. He would be the next target to train for. And he would do whatever it takes to get a win out of that fight. He's a simple guy. He doesn't want to think ahead of what's in front of him.

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