UFC 116 on July 3 may mark the first time we crown a UFC champion who actually happens to be a role model.
Imagine that: An MMA fighter, whose job is to violently pummel others into submission, whom we can actually respect and admire on a personal level.
Though he's sure to downplay it, UFC interim heavyweight champion Shane Carwin has a very realistic shot at taking current champ Brock Lesnar's belt.
If he succeeds in doing so, we can expect him to reverse all of the taglines that come with being an MMA fighter—many of the taglines, ironically, that Lesnar has only reinforced during his short career.
Last July at UFC 100, Lesnar posted an impressive main event win over former champ Frank Mir to successfully defend his belt for the first time. However, Mir wasn't all that Lesnar hurt that evening.
Lesnar grabbed the microphone from UFC commentator Joe Rogan after the fight and began yelling obscenities at the crowd, even raising his middle finger to them as they booed him loudly. His childish yet raunchy post-fight antics not only disrespected the fans and put a damper on the night, but set MMA back as a sport as well.
All of the newspapers that refuse to provide coverage for MMA, all of the overprotective parents that tell their children MMA is a barbaric excuse for a sport, and everyone who feels MMA fighters are merely glorified meatheads had to be feeling pretty good about themselves.
This poses a problem. Though controversial fighters like Lesnar bring in whopping pay-per-view buys, there are entire demographics that he will never be able to reach—demographics that, if reached, just might push MMA into the mainstream.
This sounds a lot like Dana White’s dream.
The UFC needs a champion at heavyweight who can play a role similar to the one Georges St. Pierre plays in the welterweight division—someone with stellar talent and work ethic to match their class and charismatic personality.
It just so happens that the leading candidate for this role is the very next challenger for the heavyweight title.
Carwin’s record is nothing short of spectacular, finishing all 12 of his professional fights in the first round, mainly by knockout. His hands have been described as XXXXL, providing him with sensational knockout power in either hand.
Despite having more than a few fights under his belt, Carwin was considered generally untested until recently. He silenced his critics with a 69-second destruction of former title challenger Gabriel Gonzaga. Then he struck again with a strategic yet brutal thumping of former champ Frank Mir at UFC 112 to win the UFC Interim Heavyweight Championship.
Unlike a young BJ Penn, Carwin is not a fighter merely coasting on talent. In fact, there may not be a more dedicated UFC fighter than Shane Carwin. Amazingly, Carwin works as a civil engineer full-time while raising a family and training in MMA with some of the best fighters in the world.
Carwin insists he doesn’t keep his nine-to-five job because he needs the money but rather, as he puts it, “To keep him sane.” It’s frightening to picture how tough a fighter he could be if he did train in MMA full-time.
Some fighters have trouble making ends meet with a UFC contract as their only way of financial means, and this is exactly why Carwin got his degree and a job like his mother made him—so he could always have a dependable option to fall back on. At this point, though, he fights only because he genuinely enjoys it.
Though Carwin is as humble and grounded as they come, he is not shy in expressing discontent with fighters who lack respect, namely Lesnar.
Following the incidents at UFC 100, Carwin posted on his blog, “(Brock) has a long way to go before (he) earns the respect of a champion,” and added, “The flipping off of the fans that just lined your pocket with millions of dollars is just lame.”
Carwin, unlike Lesnar, understands the importance of paying respect in a sport that respect doesn’t often find its way into.
The longer Lesnar holds the belt, the longer it takes Carwin to redefine what makes an MMA fighter—what makes a champion. Carwin has all of the qualities in a fighter to help the UFC expand and to push MMA into the mainstream.
Shane Carwin is the champion that the UFC and its fans deserve. At the end of the day, too many people have worked too hard to build the sport up to let someone like Lesnar singlehandedly tear it down.
As July 3 nears, one thing is for sure: A titanic battle is in store for UFC fans—a battle that will have implications of more than a belt. The integrity of the sport is at stake, and Shane Carwin is here to rescue it.
“I have what it takes to win that belt,” said Carwin.
Can Shane Carwin afford to lose this fight?
But can the UFC afford that?