Story & photos by Anthony Springer, Jr.
The upcoming clash of the titans that is the UFC 116 title fight between Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin can easily be dubbed “the tale of two heavyweights.”
When the bell sounds on fight night, both men will tip the scales at 265-pounds. The mammoth heavyweights are both decorated wrestlers, with Lesnar excelling at the Division I level, while Carwin made a name for himself in Division II. In his latest book, A Fighter’s Mind, Sam Sheridan describes both men’s success to a tee, noting that “modern MMA had been deeply shaped by American wrestlers” who have “found a professional avenue for their refined and savage arts.”
Carwin and Lesnar are considered to be two of the best heavyweights in the world and used their wrestling pedigrees—in different ways—to ascend to the heights of the sport. Carwin employs wrestling to keep fights standing and knock people out, while Lesnar uses wrestling to take opponents down and pummel them into oblivion.
The similarities end there.
If there’s any doubt that Shane Carwin (12-0, 5-0 UFC) and Brock Lesnar (4-1, 3-1 UFC) are polar opposites, a reminder was on display at Wednesday’s UFC 116: Lesnar vs. Carwin open workout.
There are typically no “heroes” and “heels” in MMA but Carwin and Lesnar quickly settle into the roles of “good guy” and “bad guy.”
Carwin entered the MGM Grand Garden conference room for his workout to light applause from the fans in attendance. He shook hands, kissed babies and signed autographs.
In short, Carwin, an engineer by trade who still works a full time job, is very happy to be here.
At 6’2, 265-pounds, Carwin is surprisingly soft spoken heading into the biggest fight of his career. The fight before that—a first round knockout of Frank Mir at UFC 111—was the biggest fight of his career. Carwin got a taste of championship gold for the first time and although Brock Lesnar made a return to the Octagon, he won’t allow the forthcoming title unification bout to tarnish his previous win.
“I think there’s a sense of prestige that comes along with [winning the interim heavyweight championship],” he says. “Frank Mir is a legend of the sport. We didn’t know if Brock was coming back, there’s some honor in that and I’m not going to downplay that.”
Carwin seems to slip in and out of the dual role of fighter and fan. At times, he seems to be in as much awe of the media as they are of him. He’s still surprised that anyone would want his autograph or picture. At the same time, he looks like a natural navigating the crowd, which consists of men, women and children.
“I appreciate it and I’m fortunate to be out here to train today,” he continues. “You’re only one injury away from the end of your career; I’ve been there in the 98 NFL draft when I was injured—I was devastated.”
While Carwin harbors no ill will towards Lesnar, his dislike for the champion’s bombastic personality is well documented. In case the first few times weren’t clear, Carwin took a moment to address the subject again, using an everyday scenario to drive the point home.
“We all work with people that we dislike and people that we like,” Carwin says. “Brock’s attitude, I don’t care for it that much and how he treats people; it’s disrespectful. If we were in the work world I probably wouldn’t talk to him or have anything to do with him.”
Carwin doesn’t care for Lesnar and it’s equally safe to say that Lesnar doesn’t hold a very high opinion of Carwin either.
Where Carwin is the mild mannered fighter, Lesnar is the counter weight; the super star. His run in the WWE lifted him to almost mythical proportions when he made the transition to MMA. Against the backdrop of critical purists, the college wrestling standout turned pro-wrestling snared the UFC heavyweight title at UFC 91, beating living legend Randy Couture.
The fans in attendance rush Lesnar as he enters the conference room. He’s a celebrity in a sport with few super stars. With just five fights, he is undoubtedly the young sport’s biggest name and best seller.
With entourage in tow, Lesnar works out for a few minutes before making his way to the UFC’s interview area to discuss his upcoming title defense with the media. Moments after Lesnar enters the area, a near life-size cutout of Shane Carwin crashes to the ground with a thud. The sound causes several members of the UFC PR team to jump. The media in attendance chuckle as Lesnar grins sheepishly—a grin that neither confirms nor denies his role in the snafu.
He makes no attempt to pick up the cutout.
The super star is here.
As quickly as the grin comes, it fades. This is the Jekyll and Hyde aspect of Lesnar’s personality. He quickly switches back to a tone of humility, explaining that like Carwin, he too is just happy to be here after overcoming a life threatening illness.
“It feels good to be here,” Lesnar says. “I’m just relaxed it feels like an eternity. I just feel fortunate and excited for Saturday; it’s a lot of hard work.”
Hard work may be an understatement. Last November Lesnar was diagnosed with diverticulitis, an intestinal disease. In short, Lesnar went from not sure if he’d ever fight again to once again commanding headliner status on MMA’s biggest stage in the fight capitol of the world.
“From being in the hospital to being here and being healthy, to defend the title, it’s kind of remarkable.”
Ask Lesnar about his opponent however, and his attitude shifts again—the superstar returns. It’s doubtful that Lesnar is looking past Carwin, but it’s clear that the Minnesota fighter admires little about his opponent.
When asked about the comparisons between the two, Lesnar finds himself at a loss for words. What he does say speaks volumes.
“When I look at that guy, I don’t…That’s [the media] making these comparisons,” he states plainly. “I don’t see them, I just don’t. He hasn’t done the things I’ve done. He’s trying to but, I just don’t see a comparison.”
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For play-by-play coverage of UFC 116 , follow Anthony Springer Jr. on Twitter @SimplyAnthony.