A few days before UFC 116, Shane Carwin carried the hope of the world on his shoulders.
He was the fighter selected to bring about an end to Lesnar's reign as heavyweight champion of the world, and holding a 12-0 record, many expected a long, drawn out and strategic fight with the big guy.
What we saw, though, was three minutes of fireworks followed by a massive display of heart on the part of Lesnar and an exhausted Carwin that was easy to submit.
After analyzing their fight, I decided to break down a few areas that Carwin will need to improve in order to stay at the top of the division and, eventually, come back to beat Lesnar.
This one's obvious. Despite claims of five round intense training at altitude, Carwin proved to be truly dangerous in a three minute time frame. He's practically a tornado, but as Lesnar proved, Carwin can be outlasted.
As for how Carwin's cardiovascular training went, much was probably speculation. One thing's for certain, a guy who's conditioned to go five rounds would not gas out three minutes into a fight.
As Joe Rogan pointed out after the fight, Carwin may have to sacrifice ten pounds of muscle to gain a cardiovascular advantage. Either that, or he really needs to pace his punches next time, which brings us to the next point.
Carwin is a bread-and-butter boxer. What that means is that he focuses on two basic punches (the jab and cross) with little variation in between.
This isn't a weakness as much as it is empirically based. In Carwin's experience, he's never had to do anything else but find a small opening, or sometimes none at all, and pound away to victory.
With Lesnar in the division, though, Carwin's bread-and-butter approach didn't help him. In fact, albeit unintentional, Lesnar figured out Carwin's weakness: time.
Carwin is probably the most dangerous fighter in the Octagon in those first three minutes. But Lesnar's accidental Ali maneuver worked well to diffuse his power.
With some technique, though, Carwin can avoid swinging for the fence every time. Sure, there's a time to strike, and there's no doubt that he'll take that opportunity when it shows itself. But the in between is often what determines the outcome.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
There were a couple of times that Carwin could have mounted Lesnar against the cage, yet he blindly went for the TKO. Granted it did look like the fight was going to be stopped any second, Carwin should have utilized his purple belt in BJJ.
In BJJ 101, it's taught that mounting someone is effective for a couple of big reasons:
1) It puts you in a position to effectively utilize offense while lessening your opponent's chances of retaliation.
2) It drains their energy because they will inevitably have to escape to win the fight, thus making them more ineffective in their future offense.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is all about positioning and probability. Ask anyone who has escaped the full mount after being exhausted. It's tough!
In those gruelling moments escaping from underneath a guy sitting on your chest, you waste a ton of energy bridging and shrimping, and there's always the chance they'll take your back in the process.
The bigger the fighter, the more energy they have to exert getting out of inferior positions, and with a guy like Carwin hammering down his freight train punches, the likelihood of recovering with energy left to go another round is null or at least significantly low.
Had Carwin chosen to work his ground position instead of raining blows on Lesnar's forearms, the fight would likely have been different.
This sort of goes hand-in-hand with technique, although they are somewhat different.
By focusing on a boxing technique, Carwin would ultimately become more patient. But patience can manifest itself in many ways.
For example, had Carwin not tried to end the fight as quickly as possible, he probably would have won. Sure, Lesnar would have broken a record by going into the later rounds with him, but who would have cared?
It seems that Carwin may have been caught up in not only beating Lesnar but beating him in the first round like all his other opponents. Sure, Greg Jackson's crew claimed they wanted to see him go into the later rounds, but this fight was no fluke.
Carwin's camp should have made him a lot better prepared, and though I'm a fan of Greg Jackson's school, strategy is the area where they failed in this fight.
Carwin did not change one aspect of his game coming into this Lesnar match while Lesnar trained specifically for Carwin. I'm not suggesting that Lesnar knew he could outlast Carwin by blocking his punches in the fetal position, but he was the more prepared fighter.
Carwin should become patient and prove to the world and himself that he can effectively go more than one round in his next few fights.
Avoiding Emotional Traps
When I was watching the fight live, there came a point when I scratched my head. It's the point that Carwin's strategy went out the window.
There was Lesnar, cowering on the ground in the fetal position, and Carwin intelligently stood up, evidently with the intention of bringing the fight back to the standing position where he had the advantage.
Then Lesnar kicked Carwin from the ground.
Right at that moment, Carwin played into Lesnar's hand. He became overconfident, and thinking he could smell blood, Carwin voluntarily took the half guard position and started energetically wasting blows yet again.
Detecting Carwin's softer punches, Lesnar got the fight back to the standing position and took control until the round ended.
What should Carwin have done instead? He should have done what Anderson Silva, Chuck Liddell and all other great strikers do: make your opponent stand back up.
Carwin forgot the first rule of MMA competition: take your opponent out of his best phase of fighting while forcing him into your own.
Right when Lesnar landed that kick, the fight became emotional for Carwin, and that was the beginning of the end.
After watching Lesnar vs. Carwin for a fifth time, it's safe to say that there were a few key areas where Carwin could have won the fight. It would have been systematic and gradual, but he could have won it.
Carwin did great in the first two minutes of the match. Lesnar surprisingly tried to stand with Carwin, and he was punished for it by taking a half-hearted uppercut to the chin.
This did little other than jar Lesnar, and had Carwin been more integrated in his approach to the match, he could have won.
Hopefully he will work on these elements of his strategy, conditioning and technique as Carwin has a huge future ahead of him and quite possibly is the only guy in current UFC competition capable of defeating Lesnar.
No disrespect to the champ, but this loss may be what Carwin needed to become the best fighter in the UFC. Only time will tell.
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