- Brian Knapp
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Though he has shown a softer side in the weeks leading into his UFC 116 main event with Shane Carwin on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Brock Lesnar believes reports of an attitude changed have been largely overblown.
Once the cage door closes behind him, the UFC heavyweight champion vows to lean on the menacing approach that made him the promotion's top box office draw.
"I'm just going to be a big teddy bear," Lesnar said sarcastically at the prefight news conference on Thursday. "What do you think I'm going to be? You think my life has changed? No, it hasn't."
Lesnar has separated the newfound humility in his personal life from the aggression that defines him as a professional, though his life- and career-threatening bout with an intestinal disorder in late 2009 left him more appreciative in both areas.
"I love my family. I love God. I'm in a great place," he said. "Six months ago, literally, I was on my deathbed, and here I am. It's a damn miracle."
Carwin -- who has in recent days opened up more about his dislike for the manner in which Lesnar carries himself -- plans to set his personal feelings aside when he enters the Octagon for the most significant mixed martial arts match of his career.
"I don't take any of these fights personally," Carwin said. "I go in there to perform. This is what I love to do. It's the ultimate sport on Earth. I think inside the Octagon Brock and I can be very similar. We're both very competitive, both athletic. But outside of it, we might treat people different. Those are the instances I spoke of."
Much of the prefight talk has surrounded the wrestling credentials the two behemoths wield. Lesnar was a four-time collegiate All-American and won a Division I national championship in 2000 as a heavyweight at the University of Minnesota. A decorated amateur in his own right, Carwin captured a national title at the Division II level.
"As far as my credentials as a wrestler, I guess he's talking partially about his team, too," Carwin said. "I know he trains with a Division II national champion, who won it after I won it, and a runner-up. And frankly, right now, as USA Wrestling stands, the No. 1 and 2 guys in the world are Division II wrestlers, so you tell me."
Lesnar's illness provided him with the chance to evaluate his progression in MMA. The former WWE superstar hired former Golden Gloves champion Peter Welch as his boxing coach and brought in Luke Richardson for strength and conditioning. Welch has worked extensively with two-time lightweight title contender Kenny Florian; Richardson served under the Jacksonville Jaguars umbrella in the NFL.
"I had to sit back and analyze my whole life and my pursuit to greatness in this sport," Lesnar said. "You have to evolve, so I've had to change a few things. I didn't just take a backseat. I approached this as a new chapter in my life, [a chance] to move forward. I want to go down as the greatest heavyweight in the world."
Lesnar, in his first fight in nearly a year, will face arguably the division's most potent finisher when he locks horns with Carwin. Rooted at the Grudge Training Center in Colorado, the 35-year-old Carwin has stopped all 12 of his opponents inside one round. He has 22-, 29-, 31-, 44- and 49-second wins on his unblemished résumé.
Still, some question his place as one of the world's premier heavyweights. Doubters seem to have had little impact on him.
"It doesn't bother me at all," Carwin said. "All of the first-round stoppages -- I don't think about that. I don't think about the undefeated record. There's little room for error, and anything can happen in there when you put four-ounce gloves on heavyweights."
A headliner for the first time in his UFC career, Carwin pays no attention to the names on the marquee.
"No added pressure for me," he said. "The UFC and the heavyweight division [are] full of a bunch of top heavyweights. I don't care who you're fighting next; it's going to be tough. I know every fight I get into will be a tough opponent, and I better be prepared for it."
"I don't fear much of anything, really," Lesnar said. "Like I said, I feel blessed to be here. Shane's a stand-up guy. He's a tough heavyweight. There [are] no slouches in the heavyweight division. There really [aren't]. When [UFC President] Dana [White] decided to run with me, I think things were a little bit different at the time in the heavyweight division; there [are] a lot of studs in there, and that's a good thing."
Brian Knapp is a contributor to Sherdog.com.
Don't expect a nicer Brock Lesnar when he takes to the Octagon on Saturday.