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'Thankful' Brock Lesnar Shows a Softer Side Before UFC 121 Showdown

Brock LesnarLOS ANGELES – For most of Wednesday afternoon's UFC 121 pre-fight press conference, it was a kinder, gentler Brock Lesnar sitting in the champion's chair. He smiled. He cracked jokes. He even answered questions about his new beard, and there were plenty of them.

"I finally hit puberty and I just wanted to try it," Lesnar joked, to the delight of the fans in attendance at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. "No, It's wintertime, I'm going hunting, and I'm from Minnesota. It's that time of year. We just grow beards."

See that? No more of the gruff goliath who, at some points in the past, treated media responsibilities as if they were the worst kind of torture. This time when he encountered a question he didn't like, such as when MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani asked if he enjoyed filming the "UFC Primetime" series that brought a film crew into his gym and dangerously close to the boundaries of his closely guarded personal life, it was as if you could almost see Lesnar suppressing his natural urges.

"Yes," he deadpanned. "I loved it."

More jokes. More laughs. Who is this guy, and what did he do with Brock Lesnar?

It's hard not to chalk it up to his nearly career-ending illness and the new perspective it gave him on his athletic career. After being reminded of the fragility of even his enormous body, maybe he couldn't help but soften his public persona just a bit.

"I'm very thankful to be able to fight," said Lesnar, gesturing to the other fighters surrounding him. "Everybody that's sitting up here knows that health in this sport is by far...if you don't have your health, you're not fighting."

Of course it wasn't all rainbows and puppy dogs. For instance, when he had to field yet another question about Cain Velasquez's supposedly bottomless gas tank, a little bit of frustration couldn't help but seep into the champion's voice.

"If his conditioning is that great, I guess we'll see. That's the only thing I ever hear about is how Cain Velasquez has this conditioning. 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."

Velasquez, for his part, remarked that he had trained for and was expecting a five-round fight, though he wouldn't admit to feeling any extra jitters ahead of the monumental occasion.

"I feel just like any other fight," said Velasquez. "It's all the same thing. What you have to do the last week is just stay in shape, do a little technical stuff, but it just feels like the same as fights before."

Lesnar, who admitted he "wasn't overly excited" about defending his title again so soon after beating Shane Carwin at UFC 116 in July, admitted that it was ultimately a helpful turn of events, since at least it got him right back in the gym. A recent check-up confirmed that his health is just fine, he said, and he benefited this time around from some training camp help from noted striker and fellow UFC heavyweight Pat Barry.

"We try to bring in people who are going to make me better," said Lesnar. "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."

And once the fight on Saturday night is over? Then he'll pack up and head up to Canada for a hunting trip, he said. In case you're wondering, no, he doesn't have any hard feelings against his northern neighbors after receiving what he considered poor medical treatment there last fall.

"I love Canada. I've got a house in Canada. I love the hunting. I could have been anywhere and got poor service anywhere. I've been in the United States and got poor service."

"He gets angry sometimes and he lashes out at people he shouldn't lash out at," explained UFC president Dana White.

"I love Canada," Lesnar added. "I love Canada. I love the United States. I love Mexico. I love everywhere."

If you're keeping score, that's five loves in five sentences. If it's not a personal record for Lesnar in a UFC press conference, it's got to be pretty close. Maybe it's the new Lesnar, one we'll all just have to get used to. Or maybe it's the beard.

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