What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?
Well, come UFC 116, that question will finally be answered as Brock Lesnar makes his return from injury to take on the undefeated behemoth Shane Carwin.
Although Brock Lesnar is inexperienced in the Octagon, with only five mixed martial arts fights to his name, he has looked incredibly impressive in each of those bouts and with his excellent wrestling pedigree (2000 NCAA Heavyweight champion) and natural strength and athleticism, Lesnar has looked unstoppable. As such, Lesnar quickly rose to the top of the Heavyweight division, gaining a title shot in only his fourth fight. With critics questioning whether or not Lesnar deserved a shot at the belt, he proved himself by knocking out Randy Couture and becoming the UFC Heavyweight Champion.
The speed at which Lesnar has ascended to the top of the sport and the dominance he has shown in these performances, demonstrating excellent ground control and smothering his opponents as they wilt beneath him, has garnered him a lot of respect in the MMA community. It is important to remember however: Lesnar is human.
This fact was demonstrated when he fought Frank Mir. After an aggressive and high tempo first few minutes, Lesnar was impressing in his UFC debut. He floored Mir on separate occasions, but whilst laying some intense ground and pound, Lesnar was caught in knee bar and forced to tap.
Since this bout, Lesnar has improved considerably. In his rematch with Mir he was much more methodical in top position. He took his time, smothering Mir before taking his opening in the second round and laying some brutal ground and pound that left Mir's face looking like cookie dough.
Lesnar had learnt from his mistakes and showed improved composure and submission defence. At the time many thought a talented BJJ artist such as Mir would be the most dangerous opponent to Lesnar. However, some were skeptical and felt a fighter such as Mir lacks the strength, durability, and wrestling credentials to survive a bout with Lesnar. Lesnar proved the sceptics correct.
So, who is the most dangerous type of opponent for Lesnar?
For someone to beat Lesnar they are going need to be able to compete with him on the ground and defend his takedowns. They'll need top-level wrestling and the ability to match Lesnar physically, but that alone will not be sufficient.
Even a top wrestler that is strong enough to compete with Lesnar will not be able to beat Lesnar at his own game. To beat Lesnar you need to knock him out. His strength has been shown to nullify the technique of one of the best BJJ artists in the division, suggesting future submission losses are unlikely.
Enter Shane Carwin.
Carwin is a 6'2'', 275 lb monster with a record of 12-0. Not one of his twelve opponents has even made it out of the first round.
Like Lesnar, Carwin is an established wrestler, exemplified by his 1999 Division II NCAA Championship title. You wouldn't, however, have thought it watching Carwin's fights. Carwin posses the kind of raw power in his punches unrivalled in mixed martial arts, meaning he tends to keep his fights standing. His punches don't necessarily fly through the air with tremendous velocity, but they hit with huge power. Power portrayed to the spectators through the cracks of his opponents neck and the buckle in their knees.
It's this power, combined with his boxing abilities, that will be Carwin's ticket to the Heavyweight title.
He will not win the fight wrestling Lesnar. Lesnar's strength is a notch above Carwin and his ground control is unrivalled. Carwin's wrestling pedigree should, however, give him the ability to reduce Brock's main strength and set up the opportunity for him to knock Lesnar out.
Couture, who weighed 60 lbs less than Lesnar when they fought (and who weighs 60 lbs less than Carwin, for that matter), showed how the right tactics and a wrestling background can make Brock look human. Couture was able to get off his back twice in the fight, came close to a takedown, and caught Lesnar with a few good punches. Lesnar ultimately overwhelmed Couture after clipping him with a big right hand.
Carwin has a similar skill set as Couture, and with added strength and power, Carwin will prove a much sterner test for Lesnar. His toughest to date.
Ladies and gentlemen, we could well have a new Heavyweight Champion come 4th July.