Story by Anthony Springer, Jr.
Photos courtesy of Josh Hedges, UFC
At UFC 100, Brock Lesnar (5-1, 4-1 UFC) celebrated his victory over Frank Mir by dissing the UFC’s biggest sponsor (strike 1), berating his still dazed opponent (strike 2) and flipping the bird to the crowd (strike 3).
After a “whip the dog” session, Lesnar emerged at the post fight press conference a humbled man.
What a difference a year makes.
After a spectacular come from behind submission victory in UFC 116’s headlining bout against Shane Carwin (12-1, 5-1 UFC), Lesnar shook his opponents hand and remained humble, thanked God for getting him to this point and left the cage without incident.
Of course, in the grand scheme of things, the comeback Lesnar mounted against the heavy handed Carwin is nothing compared to the comeback he staged to get to this point.
Late last year, Lesnar was diagnosed with diverticulitis, an intestinal disease that threatened Lesnar’s future in the UFC. The champion describes his comeback as “miraculous.”
Fight fans might describe his comeback against Carwin as “insane.”
After being rocked with a left hand early in the opening frame, Lesnar employed Muhammad Ali’s “rope a dope” strategy to weather the storm. On paper, the odds of Shane Carwin punching himself out were nearly slim to none. The Colorado fighter posted 12 wins and 12 (T)KO’s, with no fight getting out of the first round.
On the outside looking in, Lesnar looked to be number 13.
On the inside looking out, Lesnar had it all under control.
“I could feel Shane [slow down],” the champion told Fight News. “Every punch was just less and less and less [powerful]. I knew the worst was done.”
The former WWE superstar was nearly at a loss for words in describing “the worst” and could only compare it to one of the worst natural disasters in American history.
“Hurricane Katrina. He hit me pretty good and I had to go into survival mode.
“He’s a beast. He definitely won the first round.”
Lesnar also credits referee Josh Rosenthal for allowing the fight to continue. Though he says he wasn’t hurt during the barrage, he admits that he worried about a premature stoppage.
“[Rosenthal] came to me [before the fight] and said, “If the fight gets ugly and somebody is in a bad situation, you have to show me you’re still staying alive,’” Lesnar said. “It kept going through my mind.”
If championship fights only went one round, Carwin would be the undisputed heavyweight champion today. Lesnar quickly shook off the first round beating he took in the opener to rally back in the second. Instead of the stand and bang approach, Lesnar went back to the date that brought him to the big dance: his wrestling.
The NCAA standout took Carwin to the mat and locked in an arm triangle to win the bout.
“I’ve been in those situations,” Lesnar said of the bad start. “Some of my pro wrestling days prepare me for the ups and downs. I don’t get too emotionally attached to a certain round. There are certain things that are going to happen that you have no control over. You just have to get out of there, do the right thing and move on.”
UFC president Dana White was blown away by Lesnar’s comeback performance.
“Tonight, he just absolutely got dominated in that first round,” said White. “You find out how tough a fighter is when they face adversity. When somebody’s on top of you dropping punches on you that have knocked a lot of other people out… Brock stayed in there, came back in the second round and pulled off a submission.”
Lesnar overcame adversity and seemingly underwent a career transformation at UFC 116. Though Lesnar is the sport’s biggest draw, he was undoubtedly one of its most hated faces as well. The win over Carwin changed all that, as fans at the sold out MGM Grand Garden Arena embraced the champion for the first time.
Surprisingly, the shedding of the heel personality makes no difference to the world’s best heavyweight.
“As long as they’re paying attention, it’s all good,” he said of the fans. “We are entertaining people, but this is truly a sport. This is as real as it gets obviously, but you’ve gotta have a little fun too.”