With an explosive left hand that sent Frank Mir tumbling and a barrage of follow ups that would turn cement into dust, Shane Carwin changed all the questions at UFC 111. Mir’s rivalry with champion Brock Lesnar developed into personal hatred and an obsession for a rubber match. All he had to do was defeat Carwin, not having fought in a year and swimming with the biggest of sharks in his brief career.
By pulverizing Mir into the ground for his 12th straight win – all in the first round – Carwin not only became the UFC interim heavyweight champion, he actually did Zuffa a favor by setting up Lesnar vs. Carwin in lieu of Lesnar-Mir III for UFC 116 July 3 in Las Vegas.
Lesnar and Mir had everything fit for a WWE storyline: bad blood, personal vendettas and even a death wish. Lesnar-Carwin has the vibe of a super fight, one long lost since the days when boxing’s heavyweight champion was recognized as the most famous athlete in the world. Unlike Mir, Lesnar won’t be able to bully Carwin into a defenseless position. The champion’s chin has also never been truly tested. You get hit flush by a Carwin punch, you’re dust.
In short, this is Lesnar’s greatest challenge. When you win all 12 of your MMA fights, needing no longer than three minutes and 48 seconds, to vanquish 12 of the world’s best athletes whose ability allowed them to make it in MMA, you’ve accomplished something truly remarkable. The good vs. evil main event of UFC 116 will feature hype, fire, passion and mainstream coverage. The allure of the heavyweights is back thanks to Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin and – waiting in the wings – Cain Velasquez. Fans have MMA – a phobia to a few morons in New York’s state assembly – to thank for it.
UFC Fight Night 21 tonight in Charlotte concludes Zuffa’s whirlwind three- shows-in-10 days schedule and will be the lead-in to a new season of The Ultimate Fighter: Team Liddell vs. Team Ortiz. The main event is a great one, Kenny Florian vs. Takinori Gomi. The underbelly features the past two TUF winners, Roy Nelson (10) and Ross Pearson (9). The prelim card’s top attraction from where I sit is the man Pearson defeated to earn the six-figure contract last June. Andre Winner dropped a unanimous decision (29-28 on all three cards) that night, but comes off a crushing first-round knockout of Rolando Delgado (a TUF 8 alum) in November. He takes on Rafaello Oliveira poised to make a run in the lightweight division and perhaps a rematch with his fellow countryman if the Team Rough House teammates agree to fight one another again.
“Having the chance to be on the show and make something of myself helped to switch my mind on,” Winner said. “The fights and the training in the house have helped build my confidence and really make my goals seem a lot more attainable. The Finale was a disappointing night for me, but because of that it really fired me up to go out into my next fight and knock someone out, and that’s exactly what happened. So in a way the loss in the finale might have been a good thing for me.”
Winner also trains with Dan Hardy – decimated by Georges St. Pierre at UFC 111 but earning respect for not tapping out to an armbar and kimura – and rising star Paul Daley. There seems to be a goal in that camp to not only win, but do it in spectacular fashion. Along with Winner I interviewed Daley for a feature on Semtex running in the next Tapout Magazine and the latter made it clear he intends on taking Josh Koscheck’s head off at UFC 113 in May.
“They’re confident mentality and attitude rubs off on us,” Winner said. “I don’t think there is anyone in the squad who is a sheep. We are all strong leaders and all want to be at the top, so when you combine that with what’s naturally there, and having Daley and Hardy as the people to guide us, then you get confident strong performances that make people say, ‘Oh my God did you see that!’”