Shane Carwin, Brock Lesnar and an Insane, Legacy-Defining Fight at UFC 116

Jonathan SnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterMay 8, 2013


It's a number that immediately strikes a cord with serious sports fans, one that has echoed through the decades. Roger Maris hit 61 home runs for the New York Yankees in 1961, a neat bit of symmetry and an accomplishment that has endured.

For 37 years, 61 was the ultimate measure of power in baseball, a number so incredible that it still holds up today, at least if you only count records that were built when just the bats and not the bodies were juiced.

But for Shane Carwin, the former UFC slugger who retired with a whimper on Twitter recently, 61 has a whole different connotation. Sixty-one times Shane Carwin hit Brock Lesnar with his ham-hock fists, each one a step closer to victory, towards immortality.

And 61 times Brock Lesnar maintained his composure, continued to defend and wondered to himself just how long five minutes really was. It must have felt like an eternity, referee Josh Rosenthal perched and ready to stop the fight at a moment's notice.

As the seconds ticked away in that first round back at UFC 116, so too did Carwin's chances of becoming just the 12th man to hold the UFC heavyweight championship of the world. Carwin was a one-round fighter, if that.

His body and all-hulking muscles was built to bulldoze, for discus or the five-second bursts of action in football. There wasn't enough oxygen in the world to power his physique through 15 minutes of action.

Three minutes into his shocking domination of Lesnar, he was already starting to fade. If Lesnar survived the first round, the second round would be a whole new world for Carwin—and for the champion.

Before entering the cage with Lesnar he had never competed in the second round of a professional prize fight. He had never needed to.

Twelve times he had stepped into a cage. Twelve times he had emerged after fewer than five minutes. His bouts, pre-Lesnar, lasted an average of 81 seconds, a phenomenal record of success and a testament to his pure power and killer instinct.

The second round, of course, was an entirely different proposition.

Carwin's whole body had turned a bright shade of red in the one minute between rounds, and he experienced what he would later call an "adrenaline dump," ultimately blaming the referee for his own shortcomings. To most, including me at the time, he simply looked tired, eyes glazed, awaiting the end:

When the fight went to the second round, Carwin was no longer participating. He looked like he was approaching a heart attack and was like a spectator at his own execution. Lesnar took him to the mat with a sloppy tackle and shortly thereafter finished him with an arm triangle. It was hardly a display of technical prowess. Carwin had either checked out mentally or simply couldn't summon the energy to defend himself.

The fight left many questions unanswered, about both the winner and the loser. Was Carwin doomed to fall short of the mountain top? Was Lesnar really as scared of being hit as he seemed? Was this the beginning of the end of the super-sized heavyweight in the UFC?

The answers, it turned out, were yes, yes and yes.

Athletics are the most binary of all pursuits short of warfare. You either win or you lose. There are no moral victories, at least not in the long run. At the time, it was a fight that spoke volumes about both men. As the years go by, however, it will become, more and more, the story of Lesnar's triumph, a phoenix rising from the ashes.

In the end, history is written by, and about, the winners. That is not the Shane Carwin story. His, despite a 12-2 professional record, is a legacy defined by loss.