UFC 131 Fight Card: Shane Carwin and the Stand-Up Game

Shane Carwin vs. Frank Mir from UFC 111 St-Pierre vs Hardy, March 28, 2010. Photo via UFC.com.

Mixed Martial Arts is a complex sport that includes many different aspects. Here, I'm taking a look at a key upcoming fight and breaking down just one of those aspects - the stand-up. No, this doesn't provide a full picture of the fight, but it can help us anticipate how things might go on the feet.

THE FIGHT

Junior dos Santos vs. Shane Carwin at UFC 131

For some fans, this fight lost a bit of its shine when Brock Lesnar was forced to drop out and Shane Carwin stepped in. But this is still a huge fight for the heavyweight division, with the winner moving on to challenge Cain Velasquez as soon as the champ is healthy again. It's also a fresh match-up between the big 4 in the UFC Heavyweight division, and as such, it's absolutely worth a close look. Because this is such a big fight, we're doing things a bit differently this time out, as we'll look at each fighter separately. Today, part 1 looks at Carwin. Check back in tomorrow for part 2 on dos Santos.

SHANE CARWIN

Carwin came into the UFC with a strong wrestling pedigree, and it was that much touted wrestling that he built his pre-UFC career on. But after 3 straight fights of spectacular KO's coming in less than 3 minutes total, much of the focus shifted to his incredible punching power. He used that brutal power to come as close to a title win as any man can come without actually claiming the crown, and now he's promising more stand-up against dos Santos on Saturday. But is that his best move? Let's see what we can figure out:

Strengths

It's a bit trite, but it's true: Shane Carwin's biggest strength is his strength. The man hits like a wrecking ball. While his first two wins were impressive, it was his defeat of Gabriel Gonzaga that really showed that power (gif in the full entry). Against Gonzaga, Carwin landed a clean one punch KO. Nothing new there - he had done the same to Christian Wellisch in his debut. What's different against Gonzaga is the way Carwin lands. The KO punch comes when Carwin is not firmly planted on his feet. He doesn't rotate his hips or body, doesn't step through the punch, doesn't have his power leg set, doesn't throw the punch from anywhere but his arm. In short, he doesn't do any of the things you are supposed to do in order to generate power. And yet he still knocks Gonzaga out. This is not meant as a criticism of Carwin's technique in this punch - the two men are in a tight exchange, and in those kinds of exchanges you don't always have the luxury to execute perfect technique - but it is remarkable that such a tossed away punch causes so much damage, and a true testament to the kind of power he possesses.

More analysis plus lots of gifs in the full entry.

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2wgda8j_medium Carwin has two primary power punches. The first is his best go-to combo - a left jab, followed by a straight right. That's what he used to KO both Wellisch (right) and Gonzaga (above). It's a pretty simple combo, but Carwin does an excellent job using the jab to get his opponent reacting, then connecting flush with the heavy right.  That shot to Wellisch lands perfectly on the chin.  And again, even when the punch is not perfect, it still has enough power to get the job done.  As you see against Wellisch, this big left-right is almost always delivered while he steps in.  This adds to the power of the punch, and is typical for Carwin. He prefers to come forward as he punches to both add to that power and quickly close the distance. Because he is comfortable with takedowns and clinching, he has no problem if that distance closes and he ends up locked up with his opponent.

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Carwin's other big punch is one he used with great results against both Frank Mir (left) and Brock Lesnar - a left uppercut. Against Mir he throws the uppercut from the clinch, while against Brock he uses it while charging in. This is a bit more of a wild punch, as he does not set it up as well - note the way Mir still controls Carwin's right arm as the uppercuts come in. But again, the power and accuracy make it very effective.  Against Mir, Carwin threads the punch through Mir's defenses perfectly in order to land it square on the chin. 

Those punches are the main weapons in Carwin's stand-up game. It's not a lot of variety, but so far it has served him quite well. 

Weaknesses

Perhaps the key phrase there is "so far." Because while Shane Carwin does have amazing power, he also has some holes in his stand-up game, specifically where his defensive technique is concerned. We'll start with his stance.

While on the outside, Carwin's stance is not bad. He's rather light on his feet for such a big man, and uses decent head and shoulder movement. He does, however, keep his chin up, holding his head perpendicular to the ground, instead of tucking the chin as is preferred. But when he gets inside, some of that gets lost. On the inside and during exchanges, Carwin tends to move less, keep his head stationary, and drop his hands.

The best example of this, and the one time Carwin has been hurt standing, came against Gonzaga.

Gonzagarockscarwin_medium

Here you see Carwin try to connect his big left-right.  It doesn't land, and he tries to tie up, but Gonzaga shrugs him off.  Coming out of the clinch, Carwin keeps his head up and his hands low, and Gonzaga drills him with a right.  When Carwin does not respond by bringing his hand back up, circling away, or moving his head, Gonzaga uses the same punch again, wobbling Carwin.  He recovers quickly, but Gonzaga definitely found a gap in the defenses here.

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You see another example of similar bad tendencies in the Lesnar fight. As Carwin charges in with the left uppercuts (right), he allows his right hand to  drop down and simply hang by his waist. It's doing nothing there, when it should be tight to his head, ready to either defend, or hit that heavy straight right if there's an opening. Lesnar is covering up at this point, so can not capitalize on the opening, but it certainly is there as Carwin's right side is very exposed.

This loss of technique when he's applying pressure is not exclusive to Carwin's stand-up game either. Against both Mir and Lesnar, Carwin unleashes some absolutely ferocious ground and pound. But in both of those cases he is so quick to swarm his downed opponent that he does not take the time to secure the position. Mir is able to break free from Carwin's onslaught once before falling, while Brock of course survived it entirely thanks to this mistake. It's particularly interesting that Brock benefits from this mistake, as this is the same mistake that cost Brock in the past. In the first Lesnar vs. Mir fight, Brock similarly swarms Mir without securing his position, resulting in the leglock. By the rematch, Brock has learned his lesson and takes the time to really lock Mir down before beginning his ground and pound. The result this time is much different thanks to that adjustment. Carwin could benefit greatly by studying this switch in Lesnar's ground work.

Overall

I can sit here and point holes in his stand-up technique all I want, but the fact is, Shane Carwin has the kind of power that can trump all of those discussions and end the fight with a single punch. Dos Santos will be the best stand-up fighter he has yet faced though, and I suspect he'll make Carwin pay for those defensive mistakes. The question is: can dos Santos avoid the power shots long enough to capitalize on those gaps? We'll try to answer that question tomorrow as we focus on Junior dos Santos in part 2.

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