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Cole Konrad, Brock Lesnar's Training Partner, Ready for MMA Debut

Cole Konrad, who has been Brock Lesnar's training partner since the UFC heavyweight champ began his foray into MMA, will make his professional MMA debut this Saturday in Fargo, N.D.

Konrad is a two-time NCAA wrestling champion and like Lesnar, cuts down to fight at heavyweight and has tried out to play in the NFL. The two University of Minnesota alumni have been training together for around two-and-a-half years.

In this MMA Fighting exclusive, Konrad talks around how he connected with Lesnar, why he decided to fight now and his plan to attend law school.

Ray Hui: How did you first get involved with MMA?


Cole Konrad: As soon as I finished college wrestling, Brock Lesnar was training for his first upcoming fight, which didn't actually happen until the following February, I think. He was training and needed big guys to work out with. And he had come in and helped me with wrestling while I was in college; when I needed big guys to work out with, he'd come in and he needed someone to help him so I started coming in and it just kind of evolved from there.

You two must be a great fit if you two remained working together since you were in college.

A big thing was we knew each other, we got along well. We both understand how to train and how to push ourselves and stuff. It's hard to find good training partners, let alone one that just happens to be the right size that you can work out with at an elite level. Yeah, it just all happened to work perfect.

When you were brought on with only wrestling experience, did you also participate with him in his training for jiu-jitsu and striking?

We trained everywhere. Standup, jiu-jitsu, the whole works.

So you two pretty much started training MMA at the same time.

Yeah, yeah. Pretty much the whole time. I had some couple short stints where I tried to play some football. I broke off and did that a little bit, but for the most part we've been training together the entire time.

How did you adapt towards the other aspects of MMA, jiu-jitsu and striking?

Well obviously the ground game came easier just because I can use wrestling down there. I know how to shift my weight, control weight and things like that. I was able to pick up some jiu-jitsu quite quickly. And I've been fine tuning things here and there. And then striking, I've been fortunate to have some good coaches. So obviously striking is a totally different ball game from wrestling. I was starting square one there whereas jiu-jitsu I kind of had a feel for it coming in.

What point did you feel you were ready for MMA?

I kind of made up my mind, probably, June, July, that I was going to go into mixed martial arts. I had been enjoying the training and things of that sort for a year-and-a-half up to that point and I wasn't sure if I was going to compete in some other things I was looking at. And I just made up my mind. It was something I wanted to do, been enjoying practice. I figured I might as well get in there and see if I'm any good at it.

When you tried out for the NFL, you did so without an college football experience. How did that come about?

Coach Mangini with the Jets. He called me and a guy named Tommy Rollings out of the blue. We were the top two guys in the Olympic ladder at the time and Coach Mangini had from the Patriots where Stephen Neal plays and he never played college football either. He was a wrestler, a two-time wrestling champ. We have similar credentials and anyway, he went on and got on the practice squad and started with him for quite a while. He just called us out of the blue and asked if we wanted to give it a whirl and I said 'sure.' And that was that. Went from never playing college football and barely high school football to get invited to a tryout.

When football didn't pan out, did that essentially push your focus towards MMA?

Yeah. I'm sure it did. Cause had it not, I'm sure I would be playing football. But all things work out for a reason and it just wasn't meant to be. It opened up this door.

You were actually a walk-on coming into college wrestling. How did that happen?

Yes. My situation was a little different, kind of unique with Minnesota just because it wasn't a recruiting year for heavyweights, cause they weren't looking for heavyweights. The heavyweight at the time had two more years. I signed with them. I knew I wanted to go here and I knew that the heavyweight wasn't going to come back for his senior year so I would just redshirt and I'll be able to start, provided I worked hard and it all turned out. I knew that cause the heavyweight at the Gophers at the time was my next door neighbor. He had told me that after his senior year, he was done and he was going to concentrate on the Olympics. But yeah, I came in as a walk-on and had my work cut out for me. But really I thought it was to my advantage because no one had any expectations for me. I wasn't supposed to be that great and it was more the motivation. I had to come in everyday and work on getting better and better, and then started catching up to some people that i wasn't supposed to be catching up to and went past them. It's an interesting game, college athletics in general and college wrestling in particular. Really the blue chippers recruited out of high school tend to be the more dominant players. When you get to college, there aren't too many guys who come out of nowhere and end up turning it on. It took quite a large commitment.

In MMA, there could be expectations due to your connection with Lesnar. Do you feel any pressure from being known as Lesnar's training partner, having collegiate wrestling accolades, training under his same camp and almost following his blueprint for MMA?

No, not at all. I'm not him and he's not me. We both know that. I don't have the same make up. I got to work hard for everything I get and I'm not taking anything for granted. Just cause I'm fortunate enough to work out with one of the best fighters in the world doesn't mean that I'm going to be one of the best fighters in the world, but it does give me a leg up on getting there. That's my goal. To be as good as I can get at it.

Less than a week before the fight. How are your nerves, mental state for an MMA fight compared to how you were entering wrestling matches, when your opponents wouldn't be out to hit and submit you?

I really don't get too worked up over things like this. I've been in a lot of big wrestling matches and I've learned to just control myself from that standpoint. As far as MMA, I know it's going to be a battle but my mental preparation was similar in wrestling. I went out there of the intention of it being a fight, and I know obviously there are a lot more rules.This and that. But you still got to approach it with the same mentality. It's different, but in some sense, it's the same.

What weight do you walk around at?
It fluctuates. Right now I'm kind of floating right around 290 dropping down to 265 for Friday. It's not too hard.

You're also planning on attending law school?
Yes I am. Whether I be full-time enrolled or not, I haven't decided yet, but I do plan on going to law school starting in the fall. Nothing is guaranteed, but that is one of my goals. Fortunately there's quite a few law schools in the Twin Cities here and some of them have flexible schedules, where I'd still be able to work out full-time and go to school part-time. That's something I'm definitely looking at.

But MMA would be your top priority over all your other interests?
Yes. Yeah, definitely. I mean, it is my job and I take that seriously. In the evenings, I'm able to go to class. It's no different with someone who goes to the office and works all day and needs to get away, so they go for a workout. Mine is just the opposite. I sit and work out all day, so sometimes -- [Laughs.] I know it's different. I don't need to go to the office, but sometimes I'll sit at home and read books. I might as well be productive about it.

You'll be fighting Gary "Chief" Hamen. According to his management, Hamen is a Muay Thai kickboxer and is 5-0 in amateur fights. What else do you know about him?
Honestly, I don't know too much about him. I heard he has decent standup. I don't really bend my style for someone else. I fight how I fight and plan to make them worry about my style. That's the same approach I took with wrestling. I don't worry about someone else's moves. They have to worry about mine. I plan on making him react to me and not me react to him. He might have good standup but and all that stuff, but he better be good at stopping takedowns and getting off his back too, because I know he'll be put there quite a few times.