Gabriel Gonzaga's Road to the Title Goes Through Shane Carwin at UFC 96

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Though this bout has yet to be confirmed, Fight Ticker has the scoop via Gabriel Gonzaga's trainer:

Gonzaga on the other hand has his future set. On March 7th at UFC 96 in Columbus, Ohio, "Napao" will take on fellow HW and rising star Shane Carwin. Gonzaga who previously fought for the title in August '07 against Randy Couture in Couture's final bout before his 15 month retirement, has strung together two straight wins after his losses to Couture and Werdum. By dominating an overmatched Josh Hendricks at UFC 91 in November, it appears that Gonzaga has proven to UFC management that he is back on his game and ready for a shot at the title once again, IF he can get through Shane Carwin that is.

Who are the contenders at heavyweight?  Well, this fight will definitely shed some light on that question.  While Gonzaga has maintained his position at the top of the list, Carwin, up to this point, has only been viewed as a guy with a ton of potential.  None of Carwin's first ten opponents have managed to make it out of the first round. A win over Gonzaga would vault him toward the top of the heavyweight food chain.  

Gonzaga has bounced back in his two most recent fights although his last two opponents (Josh Hendricks and Justin McCully) aren't exactly top tier competition.  The UFC matchmakers have done what they can to rehab the Brazilian's image.  Besting Carwin shouldn't be an easy task as the former college wrestler is a huge athlete - much like Brock Lesnar - with proven knockout power.

In my opinion, Gonzaga would be wise to view this upcoming match as a must win.  The last man to beat him, Fabricio Werdum, was let go by the promotion after suffering a knockout loss.  Napao's tenure with the UFC could end much the same way if he is unable to dispose of Carwin.  It's a potential title shot if he wins and decidedly uncertain future if he doesn't.  The outlook is much different for Carwin.  A loss to Gonzaga certainly isn't something to be ashamed of, but a win would definitely cement his place as a heavyweight contender.  If this fight does come to fruition, it will be an example of superb matchmaking by Joe Silva and the UFC.

Update:  MMA Weekly is reporting that the match has, in fact, been signed.  Thanks to BE commenter EVeezy for the heads up.

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