Brock Lesnar's long road back
UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar describes him self as a carnivore who survived on a diet loaded with protein and devoid of just about everything else. Pass him some greens and he'll pass them right along, he says.
That unbalanced diet fueled him through NCAA wrestling titles, WWE stardom and a UFC belt, and it helped him craft his 6-foot-3, 280-pound physique, hard as granite and outlandish even by pro sports standards.
It also bored a hole in Lesnar's intestine that siphoned his strength even as he
manhandled the UFC's heavyweight division, and led to the abscess and infection that finally felled him in November.
Wednesday afternoon Lesnar and UFC president Dana White made the media rounds, pulling a morning spot on ESPN and an afternoon conference call with print and online reporters.
Primarily, they wanted to quell speculation about Lesnar's future: yes, is healthy and yes, he will fight again. This summer he plans to defend his UFC belt against the winner of a March 27 showdown between Frank Mir and Shane Carwin.
They also wanted to provide details about the aggressive intestinal infection that threatened Lesnar's career and life.
Well, certain details.
Neither man, for example, would reveal where in Canada Lesnar was when the condition first buckled him, only that he was in a cabin he owned somewhere north of the border when the lingering sickness finally overtook him, and he collapsed with a 104-degree fever. He disclosed that the unidentified Canadian hospital was full of unhelpful doctors and malfunctioning equipment, and that he feared he would die that night if his wife didn't break him out and drive him at high speed to a hospital in Bismarck, N.D.
There, he learned that his collapse in Canada was just the latest and most severe manifestation of diverticulosis, which had stalked him for months, developing from a less severe intestinal condition.
Lesnar says the size of the hole in his gut told doctors that it had been growing for at least a year, and thinking back, a host of nagging health problems -- fatigue, flu symptoms, occasional stomach pain -- suddenly made more sense.
He had been feeling them for months, but instead of listening to his body he kept grinding -- through a second round TKO of Randy Couture to win the UFC heavyweight crown, then through Mir to defend it and avenge an earlier loss.
The fatigue weighed more heavily on him this autumn as he trained for a Nov. 21 title defence against Carwin, forcing him to take days off training. When those days bled into entire weeks he visited a doctor and was diagnosed with mononucleosis, prompting him to call off the Carwin bout.
But instead of resting he headed to Canada in mid-November to hunt, and on that trip his symptoms reached a critical mass, leading him eventually to that hospital bed in Bismarck, where doctors told him that in about three months, once the inflammation in his colon subsided he would need surgery to remove part of it. That operation would mean a colostomy bag, retirement from the ring and a drastically altered life.
Tough news to take for an alpha male who (rightly) considers himself one of the toughest men on the planet.
"I'm a young guy. These things aren't supposed to happen," Lesnar said. "When you think you're doing all the right things and something like this happens, obviously you're not. So...I have to make some changes."
In the meantime doctors sunk a six-inch needle into Lesnar's gut and pulled out 14 cubic centimetres of fluid, then pumped in antibiotics while feeding him intravenously.
Over 11 days in hospital Lesnar shed 40 pounds -- emerging at 248 -- but gained confidence that he could avoid career-ending surgery when he began eating solid food again.
But the disease had sapped his legendary strength, and the fighter known for dwarfing the UFC's biggest athletes, and rag-dolling some of the strongest men in mixed martial arts now found himself wheezing after walking from the bedroom to the bathroom.
When he sought a second opinion at the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis, doctors backed up the diagnosis in Bismarck and told him to expect surgery in three months.
Rather than wait for a operation that would surely end his career, Lesnar decided to supplement prescription antibiotics with naturopathic medicine and an overhauled diet that now included plenty of fiber and vegetables, and as the weeks passed his energy returned.
In the interim he remained quiet about his recovery, and White issued cryptic dispatches hinting that Lesnar may indeed have to retire.
But by late December Lesnar had resumed light workouts and Jan. 5 he underwent a colonoscopy that revealed that he had healed.
Doctors couldn't find a trace of the condition that toppled him in November, or a reason why he recovered so thoroughly in just six weeks.
"The doctor said 'I don't know what you're doing (but keep doing it and we'll never have to see you again,'" Lesnar said. "That's my plan.'
A second opinion yielded a second clean bill of health, and a second chance at a career -- and a life --Lesnar once saw vanishing before him. With his wounds fully healed Lesnar maintains the only lingering effect from the his sickness is a renewed commitment to nutrition.
His life as an omnivore has begun.
"Why would I go back to my old ways?" he said. "I don't want to be back in that position ever again. I'm donig change for the better, not for the worse."
The ordeal cost Lesnar a little weight, and Wednesday said he was back up to 273 pounds.
But he retains his legendary penchant for talking trash.
During the 30-minute conference call he launched verbal shots at public health care:
"I'm not a believer in socialism and I don't agree with what's going on.We need some restructuring here but we don't need socialistic health care in America
At Mir, who keeps calling him out:
"Frank Mir is a stalker. It's been a while since I had a stalker, but we'll take care of that..."
And at any other UFC heavyweight he might face:
A scary thought for any UFC fighter north of 205 pounds to consider:
Lesnar said Wednesday that his damaged intestinal lining kept his digestive system working at less than 80 percent efficiency, meaning his body was hemorrhaging nutrients from an already substandard diet, even as he flattened the UFC's best heavyweights.
Imagine how he'll perform now that he has patched the hole in his gas tank and has switched over to premium fuel.
Except we won't have to imagine how he'll look this summer; we'll see it for ourselves.
Lesnar won't have to ponder life without fighting; he resumes serious training Thursday morning.
And most importantly his family won't have to worry about life without Lesnar.