[Ed's note: If you're interested in more of Ryan's writings on MMA and the fight world, you can check his archives here. ]
When the Randy Couture/Brock Lesnar fight was announced a few months ago, the immediate breakdown was: Lesnar had age, size and speed on his side. Couture had experience and submissions as his advantages. Wrestling? Well, we'll call it a draw, even though Lesnar had a far more accomplished college career.
According to people inside Lesnar's camp, you can consider submissions essentially a draw at this point. (Of course, that's what people inside Lesnar's camp are supposed to say.)
Six months ago during interviews, both Nick Thompson and teammate Travis Wiuff said very different things about Lesnar's jiu-jitsu. Both admitted Lesnar had a long way to go with his grappling.
Fast forward to now. Thompson is one of the most underrated fighters on the planet (he's won 12 of his last 13 fights, the one defeat coming in July against Jake Shields), and maybe the smartest, too—a few days after the Shields loss, Thompson took the Minnesota bar exam and passed. Even as a Lesnar teammate, Thompson's opinions are worth listening to.
"Brock has gotten ridiculous on the ground," Thompson says. "Most of the black-belt level guys in our camp are 200-225 pounds and used to roll with Brock and tap him—including me. Forget it now. I highly doubt there will be a submission that ends this fight. But if there is one, don't be surprised if it's Brock tapping out Randy."
Lesnar by no means lacks confidence—he thinks he's going to win every fight, including against Couture. But he downplays his jiu-jitsu. "Oh, I'm not in Randy's league yet there," he says. "I still am just a meathead wrestler trying to learn this stuff."
Lesnar actually points to a different secret weapon for this fight: training partner Marty Morgan. After 16 years as Minnesota's top assistant wrestling coach, Morgan, the 1990 NCAA champion at 177 pounds, resigned his staff spot two months ago to go work at Minnesota Mixed Martial Arts Academy. Specifically, the former American Greco-Roman Olympic wannabe came in to train with Lesnar. Even more specifically, Morgan brought with him intimate knowledge of Couture, a former training partner as they both tried to make the 1992 and 1996 Olympic teams. "Marty is a huge help—huge," Lesnar says. "He's great to have around just because of his wrestling background. But throw in his experience around Randy, knowing how he thinks and battles, and I think Marty is a major asset for me."
As his training camp winds down, Lesnar is itching to get in the cage. It's been years now since he last won a title, and that spot around his waist, the one that for a long time was occupied by a gigantic pro wrestling heavyweight title belt, has been gold-free for a long time. Too long, by his estimation.
"I had to practice wearing that thing around, because it was so heavy," Lesnar says. "But I eventually got good at it. I don't want that skill to go to waste much longer."
THE GOAT IN COURT?
Now that he has passed the bar, Thompson is interested in starting his legal career. One of the first offers came from a familiar face—Lesnar. Lesnar's legal reps, Minnesota-based attorneys Brian Stegeman and David Bradley Olsen, took Thompson to lunch recently.
"The Goat" thought it was just a congratulatory meal amongst lawyers. But Stegeman quickly changed the subject from a pat on the back to a question: Would he be interested in joining the Lesnar team? Thompson said sure, and liked the job description. He'd work half the time on court stuff, and half of the time as a liaison between the lawyers and fighters.
"I still want to fight," he says. "But I thought, 'Man, what a perfect legal job for me.'" Thompson cautions that it was an informal meeting, and that he'd have to be approved by the entire law firm before he'd be officially hired. In the meantime, he's training for a to-be-determined fight with a to-be-determined organization (Thompson was one of many fighters to be thrown into limbo when Elite XC went under) and still needs to pass the Minnesota ethics exam.
As I mentioned in my appearance on MMA Live (the show airs at 3 p.m. this afternoon, only on ESPN.com), Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo has changed his mind about MMA—kind of. Cejudo originally wasn't sure he wanted to do MMA, and didn't get any immediate offers off his Beijing triumph.
But two weeks ago, Team Takedown president Ted Ehrhardt contacted Cejudo about joining TTD as the team's 135-pounder. The two have had good early discussions, and Ehrhardt wants to get Cejudo to next week's WEC event in Florida. Cejudo may not be able to make that, because he's in the midst of a USA Wrestling PR tour. But as he travels, Cejudo brought a standup specialist along with him. When he has time to train, he's working on his striking skills. Cejudo still puts the chances of him picking MMA over trying for an Olympic gold medal at about 50-50. But that's a big change over a few weeks ago.
"Back then, I'd have said I was about a 60 percent bet, maybe more, to stick with wrestling," Cejudo says. "But I like what I'm hearing right now."