Ben Fowlkes
Friday October 22nd, 2010

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Brock Lesnar strolled into Wednesday afternoon's UFC 121 pre-fight press conference sporting a new beard and an at least somewhat new attitude.

Describing himself as "thankful" to still be fighting after the health scare that nearly ended his career, this new Lesnar even had some measure of patience with the onslaught of media queries.

Until, that is, it came to questions about Cain Velasquez's supposed conditioning advantage in Saturday's heavyweight title fight.

"That's the only thing I ever hear about is how Cain Velasquez has this conditioning," Lesnar said. "I come from the University of Minnesota, former NCAA [wrestling] champion. I mean, you got to be in great condition. You got to be prepared to go 25 minutes, and it would be very unprofessional of me to come into a championship fight and not be in great condition."

You have to admit, the big man has a point.

As much as people love to talk about Velasquez's non-stop motor, when have we ever seen Lesnar tire out in the cage? The champion, like the challenger, has gone the distance exactly once in his career. Also like his opponent, Lesnar appeared to have plenty of gas still left in the tank as the final seconds ticked away.

In other words, betting that the former WWE star will fade in the later rounds is to engage in a sort of speculative fiction. Maybe it could happen, but at the moment we have no real reason to think it will.

The real question about Lesnar that needs answering resides in the stand-up game. After looking vulnerable in his brief striking exchanges with Shane Carwin during his last title defense in July, Lesnar can expect Velasquez to want to test that part of his arsenal early and often.

He knows this, it seems, because he brought in heavyweight kickboxer and fellow UFC fighter Pat Barry to help with his training camp.

"We try to bring in people who are going to make me better," Lesnar said on Wednesday. "I don't just want a bunch of punching bags laying around the gym. Everybody we bring in, all my partners are very good, and I appreciate every one of them. Bringing a guy like Randy [Couture] in, and Pat Barry, it's someone who poses different looks, someone who puts me out of my comfort zone every single day. That's going to make me better."

It makes you wonder, how much can even a quick study like Lesnar learn about striking in a matter of weeks?

The fact that he's come this far based primarily on wrestling ability and natural physical advantages is impressive enough. That Lesnar hadn't bothered to learn too many of the fundamentals of striking, and yet has still knocked out the likes of Randy Couture and Frank Mir with the lunchboxes he calls fists, well, it's almost enough to make you frightened of what will happen if he learns a little kickboxing.

Velasquez may be known for his quickness, but he hasn't gained much of a reputation for sheer power. That's still Lesnar's department. If Velasquez enters the title fight and finds that the champion has also improved his technique significantly since the last time we saw him in the Octagon, the challenger might find himself scrambling for a Plan B.

If Lesnar's at all worried about it, you sure wouldn't know it. He might be slightly less abrasive with his public persona these days, but he's still far from congenial.

For instance, when asked on Wednesday rather Velasquez -- a smaller, quicker fighter, also from a wrestling background -- posed a different kind of threat than the opponents Lesnar has faced in the past, the big man didn't even need the microphone to issue his response. Instead he just shook his head, a look of intense boredom on his face.

Thankful, maybe. But still not exactly humble. As long as he keeps closing up the holes in his game faster than opponents can exploit them, there's hardly any reason to be.

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