Monday, March 30, 2009

Stephen Neal Rules

From Jon Wertheim's Sports Illustrated article "Rattling the Cage", March 24, 2009

…Lesnar-Mir could well be the most profitable fight in mixed-martial-arts history, generating more than a million pay-per-view buys. True to himself, however, Lesnar is preparing for the event at his Alexandria training gym, a converted warehouse with no official name, much less a sign out front. The interior is occupied mostly by free weights, treadmills and a wrestling room. Sparring partners drive back and forth from Fargo, about 90 miles away, and the Twin Cities, about 110 miles distant. When the weather is bad, which is often, Lesnar provides them accommodations near the home he shares with his wife, Rena.

UFC image-making types have gently floated the idea that Lesnar relocate to somewhere a bit more accessible, but in this, as in his fights, the 6' 3", 265-pound Lesnar can't be pushed around. "Up here people let you lead your life," he says. "Even if you're the Britney Spears of Alexandria, it means you might have to sign one autograph on your way to go ice fishing."

Lesnar grew up two hours away in Webster, S.D., on a struggling family dairy farm. He was put to work early; he proudly notes that by age five he'd suffered two hernias lifting bales of hay. With his spiky blond hair and penchant for mischief, he reminded some people of Bart Simpson, but with a more active pituitary gland: When he graduated from high school in 1996 he could deadlift 600 pounds. That's a lot of hay.

Blessed with an alloy of strength, quickness and agility, Lesnar wrestled at Minnesota and won the 2000 NCAA heavyweight title in his senior year. (As a junior he lost in the final to Stephen Neal, now a New England Patriots lineman.) He was on only a partial scholarship, though, and he says that by the time he left, he owed $40,000 in student loans -- no small sum for the son of farmers living under constant threat of foreclosure. When World Wrestling Entertainment offered him a six-figure guarantee in a multiyear promotional contract, the decision was no decision at all. "I didn't have this in my pocket," he says, opening an empty hand. "I got into the business for business reasons. Make your money and get out."

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