The last time Brock Lesnar emerged from the Ultimate Fighting Championship cage, his antics drew the ire of his boss, his peers and just about everyone else who cared to notice.
What a difference a year makes.
Lesnar survived a first-round beatdown at the hands of Shane Carwin on Saturday night, and retained the heavyweight title by submitting the previously unbeaten Carwin in the second round.
He was gracious and mostly humble both in the cage and at a press conference that lasted late into the night at the MGM Grand.
It was in stark contrast to his off-color, middle finger-raising exhibition after a pounding of Frank Mir last July in Lesnar’s previous UFC appearance.
“I approached this fight a little differently,” Lesnar said. “You can have a little fun while you’re out there, too, you know. What the hell?”
Lesnar even drew plenty of cheers as he walked back to the dressing room, though he says he views them in much the same way he does the boos he usually hears.
“As long as they’re paying attention,” he said with a wry smile.
The title defense against Carwin was postponed twice as Lesnar suffered through a career-threatening bout with diverticulitis late in 2009. He said the time between fights was trying.
“Honest to God, what I’ve been through, it feels like 10 years,” Lesnar said. “It’s been a grueling road. It really is truly a miracle. To come back from all that, and to be here and to win, words just cannot describe it. I really feel like I’m in a dream.”
Lesnar said there was a point in the first round where he feared his return had turned into a nightmare.
“The thought crossed my mind when I was under there that I’ve been through a lot and to weather that first round, I thought to myself, ‘This isn’t how it’s going to end,’ ” Lesnar said, pointing to his belt.
“I’ve been through a lot. I wasn’t going home without this thing, that’s for sure.”
The belt would have belonged to Carwin had referee Josh Rosenthal decided to step in to stop the fight during the barrage.
Lesnar noted that he followed the standard prefight instructions and made sure to “show (the referee) something” to avoid having the fight stopped in a precarious situation.
Still, he made sure to thank Rosenthal in his comments.
UFC president Dana White, an often outspoken critic of most MMA officials, was pleased with the decision.
“When the fight was first starting, I looked at (UFC executive) Lorenzo (Fertitta) and I said, ‘How the hell did Josh Rosenthal get this fight?’ he said. “But I want to say Josh Rosenthal did a fantastic job, and I apologize for badmouthing him before he did nothing wrong.”
Given the second life, Lesnar wasted little time disposing of a visibly exhausted Carwin in the second round.
The victory sets up another major battle in a heavyweight division that just a few years ago was devoid of high-end talent in the UFC.
Lesnar will face another unbeaten former elite college wrestler when he takes on Cain Velasquez. White confirmed the bout and hinted he wants to stage it sooner rather than later.
The organization has several titles tied up at the moment, with Georges St. Pierre filming “The Ultimate Fighter” and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua out after knee surgery, and could clearly benefit from Lesnar turning around quickly.
But Lesnar, who announced his wife is due to give birth in two weeks, seems to have other plans.
“I’m going to visit some family when I get home, and I’ve got some combining,” he said. “I’m a farmer now, and I’m doing what I love to do. And I want to shoot a white-tailed deer and spend time with my family.”
White also announced the winner of the Aug. 7 bout between Junior dos Santos and Las Vegan Roy Nelson at UFC 117 in Oakland, Calif., would get the winner of the Lesnar-Velasquez matchup.
Lesnar declined to share his thoughts on Velasquez as an opponent.
“We’ll talk about that when we get there,” he said.
Carwin’s next fight is not as certain. White said he was taken to the hospital after the fight as a precaution because he was hyper-ventilating.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-224-5509.