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Brock Lesnar set to defend title at UFC 121

UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar, left, and challenger

UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar, left, and challenger Cain Velasquez at the UFC 121 pre-fight press conference at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. (Oct. 20, 2010) Credit: Getty

Sometimes it just takes a good ol’ fashioned punch to the grill to let you know who and what you are.

Introducing Brock Lesnar.

Last July, the UFC heavyweight champion returned to the octagon after battling a digestive disorder that nearly cost him his career. And what stood in his way after recovering from diverticulitis, a swelling in the intestinal wall? The cinderblock hands of Shane Carwin.

Carwin rocked Lesnar in the first round at UFC 116, cut him open and nearly finished the fight. Lesnar, a former pro-wrestling champion in WWE and an NCAA All-American wrestler, managed to last through the round and win by submission in the second.

“You bang around in the gym and you’ve got 18-20-ounce gloves on, and you can take a punch in the gym,” Lesnar said. “But up until the Carwin fight, there was always some question mark in my mind, plus it was a comeback fight. It’s just a confidence thing for me. I was just getting back in there and being able to compete and be the best.”

Lesnar, the biggest pay-per-view draw in mixed martial arts, returns to the cage on Saturday and defends his title against Cain Velasquez at UFC 123 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. In the co-main event, welterweight Jake Shields makes his promotional debut against Martin Kampmann with a title shot on the line.

One of the biggest questions surrounding Lesnar’s short MMA career -- six fights -- has been his ability to take a punch and withstand an aggressive onslaught. Until that fight against Carwin, Lesnar has pretty much had his way with opponents. His dominance over other fighters contributed to his meteoric rise to prominence.

But as with all mixed martial artists, Lesnar (5-1) evolved. Now everyone knows he can take a punch. And he can wrestle. And he can exert his power and will over those who step in the cage and challenge him.

“We’re both former junior college wrestlers and Division I athletes, so we both probably understand, at least I do, that I have to evolve,” Lesnar said. “[Velasquez] poses threats as a wrestler. He poses threats as a boxer, and we both want to improve on everything.”

Velasquez (8-0, 6-0 UFC) can take a punch, as he showed against Cheick Kongo when he was stunned with a shot, dropped to one knee and then popped right back up and went to work on the French striker.

Velasquez can wrestle, of course, and his conditioning is unparalleled at any weight class. In a division in need of new, legitimate contenders to Lesnar's title, Velasquez has the talent to win this fight and become the first Mexican heavyweight fighter to hold a belt.

“We can stand and trade punches, but then it’s called boxing,” Lesnar said. “Or we could stand and wrestle, then it’s called wrestling. But it’s not. This is mixed martial arts, Ultimate Fighting Championship. I’ll take the fight where I need to take it to win. And that’s the bottom line.”

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