Go Large Or Go Home: Shane Carwin

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Rarely in mixed martial arts history has the maxim ‘go big, or go home’ been more apt than in the career of Shane Carwin, which officially drew to a close yesterday.

Despite starting relatively late in life, Carwin amassed an impressive if not lengthy record which will stand forever at 12-2 but his impact and importance to the UFC Heavyweight division, especially in the period of 2009-2011 cannot be underestimated.

A successful college wrestler, Carwin is also a purple belt in Brazilian Juijitsu, although his grappling skills have often been overlooked in his MMA career in favour of his tendency towards highlight reel knockouts.

In 24 months on the independent circuit, Carwin racked up an 8-0 record of first round stoppage victories (although many forget that half of these were submissions) with a total fight time of less than 9 minutes and winning the Ring of Fire Heavyweight belt in the process.

Such form especially in a heavyweight tends to lead you to the big leagues and in his first year on the UFC roster he knocked out Christian Wellisch, Neil Wain and Gabriel Gonzaga in a combined 3 minutes 24 seconds.

He’d packed a 11-0 streak into a little over three years and was now talked of as a potential title challenger.

As is usual in these situations, he had to start waiting for the right matches and he ended up waiting a year, but the prize was considerable – an Interim Heavyweight bout against Frank Mir, who as well as being a former champion was now one of the company’s most bankable stars because of his rivalry with Brock Lesnar.

That bout went down at UFC 111 in March 2010 as an added value co-main event propping up the lopsided Welterweight title match between Georges St-Pierre and Dan Hardy.

Coming into the bout as a bit of a spoiler, the guy in the way of the much anticipated Lesnar-Mir rubber match, Carwin endured talk of his relative inexperience, the fact that he hadn’t faced anyone as good or rounded as Mir, while others pointed to his heavy hands and wrestling credentials as something which had undone Mir before.

It took him less than four minutes to prove all the doubters wrong and all those who’d shown faith right, with a devastating performance that I regard to be the highlight of his career and one of the most memorable KO’s I’ve ever seen.

Check it out.

VIDEO

Using his wrestling to keep Mir against the cage, rendering him unable to use his kickboxing or Juijitsu, Shane unleashed a flurry of sledgehammer like blows, actually holding an evidently unconscious Mir up with a stream of brutal uppercuts.

The result was definitive, Carwin had spoiled the Lesnar-Mir trilogy and booked a bout with the champion.

They would collide in July at UFC 116, billed as the biggest heavyweight match in history, playing off Carwin and Lesnar’s combined status as natural super heavyweights.

Hell, anyone who makes Frank Mir look small is an insanely large man.

Carwin owned the first round, testing Lesnar’s long suspect chin and finding him wanting. Shane knocked him about and laid in one of the most brutal beatings I’ve ever seen in a match that didn’t get stopped because of it.

I scored it a solid 10-7 to Shane, and to this day I would have had no problem with a stoppage any time in the last minute of that round.

History was to go another way. Surviving to the bell, Lesnar rallied during the interval and took advantage of an exhausted Carwin to secure a takedown and submission victory.

It was Carwin’s first time in the second round, and his first loss. So close, but yet so far from glory.

A prolonged layoff with injuries meant his next match had to wait almost a year, as he stepped into the injured Lesnar’s place against Junior dos Santos, although with the carrot of a Heavyweight title shot on the line.

At UFC 131 in June 2011, Carwin was roundly out manoeuvred and out-boxed by dos Santos, who never allowed him to land his devastating punches and in the main kept clear of his grappling en route to a clear decision victory.

Shane did have some success with wrestling later in the fight and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say he exposed the first chink in dos Santos’ armour, which would be finally exploited by Cain Velasquez a year and a half later.

Still, surviving fifteen minutes with a competitor like dos Santos, especially in your first ever foray past eight minutes in a fight is no mean feat and Carwin’s highlight reel kept him in our thoughts for potential matchmaking.

One year crept past, and now almost two years later, Shane has drawn a line under his MMA career.

Some might look at his 0-2 skid at the end of his career, but lets not forget that Shane is now 38 years old, has been suffering continuing spinal injuries (there’s a downside to be 6 foot 2 and 250lbs) and has a damn fine day job as a hydraulic engineer.

Combine those factors with the fact that his high profile bouts in 2010 and 2011 probably paid pretty well and it’s the sensible, mature decision to step away.

Shane’s career seems almost inextricably linked with Brock Lesnar and for a period of time, destined to be remembered as the age of Brock, Carwin was one of the most important parts of the UFC roster.

If he’d started with MMA earlier, who knows what he could have achieved. Even a year or two ahead and he’d have been hitting the UFC in 2006 and would surely have graduated quickly to a title picture which then featured Mir, Andrei Arlovski, Rodrigo Nogueira, Tim Sylvia and Randy Couture, alongside challengers like Paul Buentello and Jeff Monson.

I don’t think it’s disrespectful or fanciful to say that I’d have backed Shane against any of them.

In an alternate universe, Brock Lesnar had his first UFC title shot against an incumbent Shane Carwin, who had run roughshod over the heavyweight division.

I wonder how that would have gone?

Lets remember Shane for the knockouts, for coming so close against Lesnar and for showing great heart against JDS. Let’s applaud a combat sportsman who has maintained a real life and a proper job away from the circus that is MMA and walked away before he can’t walk and while we’re still interested in seeing him fight.

Good lad Shane, best wishes for your future.

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