It may have been a foregone conclusion, especially to those who had already penciled in his name for the top spot before last night, but Brock Lesnar is the top heavyweight in the world. He earned that designation following two fights for the ages: Fedor Emelianenko’s startling 69-second submission loss to Fabricio Werdum and his own comeback win over Shane Carwin last night.
It was a rare fight in which you leave being impressed by both competitors. Carwin viciously and opportunistically pounced on Lesnar early in the first round, sending Lesnar scrambling about the cage trying to get his bearings as he peppered him with heavy shots. It continued on as Carwin put Lesnar on the mat, straddling him and pounding away for the majority of the first round in what almost resembled Lesnar’s victory over Frank Mir at times. There were several tense moments when longtime fans could certainly feel that the fight was close to being stopped, only to have Lesnar make a move at the last moment to grab at Carwin’s leg, try to get back to his feet, or show some signs of life.
Then, near the end of the first round, Lesnar was able to stand up. The significance of that event has already been noticed by many, especially in the wake of Fedor’s post-fight comments about falling and standing up again following his loss to Werdum. The biggest effect, though, may have been on Carwin’s confidence. He had clearly given just about all that he had to try to finish the supposedly-unbeatable Lesnar in the first round, and Lesnar had managed to not only survive, but escape to his feet before the end of the round. Had Carwin been able to stay on top of Lesnar through the round, the psychological boost may have helped him, as he would know that Lesnar only escaped due to time expiring in the round.
The momentum visibly shifted at that point, and Lesnar opened the second round with a smile, while Carwin looked extremely tired and even disappointed. At the time, I figured Lesnar was enjoying a good scrap (and a difficult challenge) and giving Carwin props, but I now wonder why I didn’t think of the biggest reasons Lesnar probably smiled: he had taken Carwin’s best, and now it was Carwin’s turn to take what he had to give. After the fight, Lesnar said, “I knew he was getting tired. Each shot was less dramatic than the other.” It certainly makes sense to hear that after seeing Lesnar basically camp out with his guard up, absorbing shots…then moving or changing position just when he knew referee Josh Rosenthal was thinking about stopping the bout.
A less-than-textbook double leg takedown easily got Carwin to the mat, and he wouldn’t regain his footing until after the referee intervened to end the bout. Lesnar advanced position beautifully and locked up an arm triangle that at first appeared to be too loose to finish the fight. Still, with over three minutes left in the round, Carwin was in trouble nonetheless, and he admitted after the fight that he didn’t believe the choke was in tight enough to finish him. This sense of false security probably worked against him, as he relaxed and tried to ride it out instead of fighting the choke off with what energy he did have left. Lesnar finished it after all, and that was that.
I wasn’t comfortable saying Lesnar was the top dog in the division before last night’s fight. As a 4-1 heavyweight with only two truly top-level wins against Frank Mir (who also beat him) and Randy Couture, a lot of questions remained. I knew the Carwin fight would force answers to many of them, and that it just wasn’t right to crown Lesnar before that had happened. He hadn’t faced a truly talented wrestler before, or anyone (besides Mir, debatably) with great power. Furthermore, an all-too-possible loss would drop Lesnar to 4-2, a decidedly non-elite tally, and force innumerable recantations from hasty MMA writers and fans who couldn’t wait to move Fedor out of the spot he occupied since 2003. But none of that matters now, as last night, Lesnar displayed incredible perseverance, a tough chin, and a pretty good gas tank, as well.
Afterward, Lesnar was much more reserved than usual, which admittedly wouldn’t take much after his memorable post-fight shenanigans from past appearances. He gave praise to God and said that “It’s been a grueling road. 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 topped it off by referring to himself as a “humble champion,” though adding that he was “still the toughest S.O.B. around, baby.” The combination of Lesnar’s entertaining confidence with a new-found sense of respect for others and the sport may help Lesnar to capture new fans while remaining the biggest draw in the sport today.
Carwin shouldn’t get lost in all the post-fight discussion, as well. I don’t think that he’s in that bad of shape, which people are predictably saying after watching the fight. He’s a very, very large man who poured everything he had into finishing his opponent, then had to suffer the fatigue, adrenaline dump, and unavoidable disappointment of seeing that man bounce up to the canvas and smile at him. After having finished all twelve of his fights in the first round, his killer instinct told him to go, go, go when maybe a more measured pace would have been recommended after Lesnar started defending himself from his back.
He was also characteristically short-spoken and respectful after the bout. “My hat is off to him,” Carwin said. “He’s the champion. I fell down the mountain, but I’ll get back up.” I have no problems believing that he will do just that, actually. Carwin will be back, these two will do it again, and the number one spot will likely be on the line yet again.
I can’t wait to see it.