The UFC 116 main event championship showdown between Brock Lesnar (4-1, 3-1 UFC) and Shane Carwin (12-0, 4-0 UFC) could perhaps be one of the most important heavyweight showdowns in the history of mixed martial arts. With Fedor Emelianenko's shocking loss to former UFC fighter Fabricio Werdum last weekend, many writers and analysts feel that the winner of this monumental showdown will be able to claim the title as the undisputed #1 heavyweight fighter in the world. Lesnar may have already solidified that claim, but Carwin stands in his path as a legitimate spoiler.
As Mike Goldberg would say, Carwin has had a meteoric rise to the top of the heavyweight division. He crushed his first eight opponents in regional competition, finishing all comers by either knockout or submission. In his debut with the UFC, Carwin bombed veteran Christian Wellisch in 0:44 seconds at UFC 84, and his sophomore appearance lasted a mere 0:47 seconds longer as he knocked out Britain's Neil Wain at the 1:31 mark of the first round.
A step up in competition pitted Carwin against dangerous Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 96, and while Gonzaga looked solid in the opening minute -- Carwin's power ended his night abruptly at the 1:09 mark of the first round. Carwin's toughest test in his career came at UFC 111 against Frank Mir, a fight that many felt Mir could win due to his phenomenal grappling skills, but Carwin's strength in the clinch and booming overhands dominated the fight. Carwin crumpled Mir at the 3:48 mark of the first round to win the UFC Interim Heavyweight title.
Lesnar has also enjoyed a quick progression to the top as he battled Frank Mir in only his second professional mixed martial arts bout at UFC 81. Despite losing via kneebar to Mir, Lesnar returned at UFC 87 against PRIDE veteran Heath Herring and winning in a lopsided decision. Three months later, he stopped UFC legend Randy Couture in the second round to win the UFC heavyweight title, and he unified the belts at UFC 100 in a dominant performance against Frank Mir.
Three months after his victory over Mir, Lesnar announced that he would have to pull out of his UFC 106 bout with Shane Carwin due to a bout with diverticulitis. In November, it was stated that he was also suffering from mononucleosis, but later found that the two conditions were related in that the diverticulitis caused his battle with mono. The two illnesses combined to make life hard for Lesnar, and he was shelved until the New Year. In the meantime, Carwin and Mir fought for a UFC Interim title, which Carwin now holds.
Both men have used strength, size, and power to overwhelm opponents in their fairly short UFC careers. Lesnar normally cuts down to 265, but estimates have put him at around a whopping 290 pounds at fight time. Carwin is also a fighter who cuts down in weight, but there is some uncertainty as to where each fighter will be at fight time. Lesnar may not balloon due to his trek back from illness and a new diet, and there hasn't been a definitive answer as to where Carwin sits at fight time.
We can jab back and forth about which information warrants more weight when it comes down to analyzing a fight, but in reality -- I don't take the interviews with Chaimberg as a sign that Carwin is just a monster in comparison to Lesnar. This is a mixed martial arts contest, not a one-on-one game of H-O-R-S-E.
But there are some interesting pieces to think about when we combine everything that's come out in the lead-up to this event. What we have learned is that Carwin is physically gifted and has the power to be a real threat in this match-up. That's a far cry from the fanboys talking about how Lesnar is simply unbeatable, and Fedor's loss certainly brings the "unpredictability" quotient to a new level. MMA is just too volatile to be able to expertly predict everything that will happen, but we can, at the very least, look at two fighters and figure out how we believe it should go down.
Stylistically, Lesnar has the massive advantage of having far better wrestling credentials, proven ability to last until the later rounds, and good power in his hands. Carwin obviously has the bigger knockout power versus Lesnar, but there are questions as to whether he can maintain his pace for three rounds along with being able to stop Lesnar from crashing him to the mat.
I think this fight is ultimately won in the clinch however. Couture was able to work the clinch effectively against Lesnar for short spurts, but he has nowhere near the blasting power that Carwin has. If Carwin can work Lesnar into a clinching situation, we could see some similar dynamite on the fence that was displayed in the Carwin vs. Mir fight.
That, of course, is assuming Lesnar doesn't immediately topple Carwin to the floor out of the gate, and Carwin hasn't had to be exceptional in his takedown defense as he has crushed most of his opponents quickly or deterred them from getting within close quarters of his power. Gonzaga was the only true test in that arena, albeit a limited test, and Carwin did not look great in trying to stop Gonzaga's attempt. In fact, I think he looked horribly off balance and out of position. Gonzaga isn't Brock Lesnar, and I think Lesnar may have an easier time with the follow-up position control that Gonzaga couldn't pull off.
Ring rust will obviously be a concern for Lesnar, but I think his best skills don't really feel the effects of his long layoff. He's a wrestler by trade, and he's been doing it his whole life and throughout training camp. He'll be ready.
Very tough fight to call when you look back at past performances. Couture's movement in the clinch with Lesnar does give the hope that Carwin's added strength could move Lesnar into those positions and put him on ice with his power, but Lesnar's wrestling and size is just awe-inspiring.
I'm undecided at this point as to who I'll pick, but the smart bet is Lesnar taking Carwin down and pounding him out eventually as the fight wears on. Carwin's best chance is early in the clinch, and I'd expect Lesnar to neutralize those attempts. But we can't ever underestimate the power of the knockout. It changes fights and history in a split second.