Two men currently hold UFC heavyweight championship belts but there can be only one.
Brock Lesnar, the unified champion, and Shane Carwin, the interim champion, gathered Tuesday to promote UFC 116 and their bout unify the heavyweight title. The event will be held at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on July 3.
“I know what my credentials are and Shane knows what his are,” Lesnar said. “I think mine outweigh his and I think my hand will be raised on July 3 and that’s probably what he thinks too.”
“These are the great fights and these are the ones you remember,” Carwin said. “I am excited for this and can’t wait for July 3.”
The fighters have been inextricably linked for more than a year. Their bout was first mentioned in early 2009, but was put on hold until November. However, Lesnar was diagnosed with mononucleosis prior to UFC 106 and they were scheduled to meet at UFC 108. That bout was canceled when Lesnar’s mononucleosis was attributed to diverticulitis, a more serious condition.
“When I pulled out of the fight last October, I waited until the last minute until one morning I couldn’t get out of bed,” Lesnar said. “I didn’t know whether I was going to fight again. From October through January, everything was up in the air. This is my second coming.”
The illness helped keep Lesnar out of the cage since July 11, 2009. His last bout: a convincing win over Frank Mir to win the title at UFC 100. However, the illnesses also affected Carwin, who fought just once since: a convincing win over Mir at UFC 111, for the interim title.
Likewise, they share many obvious similarities in the cage. Both are massively-muscled brawlers with elite wrestling skills and fearsome speed-strength ratios. However, their efforts to “sell” the fight could not be more different. Lesnar – a former professional wrestler – is one of the best interviews in the sport and answers each question with a mix of honesty and hype. He often takes an antagonistic stance with the press he views as a tool and necessary evil.
“I hate all of you,” he told the media Tuesday, tongue (just slightly) in cheek.
Conversely, Carwin humbly avoids Lesnar’s bombast, rarely revealing more than the minimum and often answering tersely, yes or no.
On Saturday, Fedor Emelianenko – widely considered to be the top heavyweight in the world – will fight Fabricio Werdum in Strikeforce. Last week, Emelianenko was questioned about Lesnar-Carwin. Fittingly, the UFC fighters were asked about Emelianenko on Tuesday.
“I didn’t even know he was fighting,” Lesnar said. When told that Fedor may retire following the bout, Lesnar added, “Good for fedor. I hope he does retire. He’s the greatest champion of all-time… in his own world. Just him. Absolutely (I could beat him). I can beat anybody.”
Carwin was predictably more pragmatic.
“It’s unfortunate (Fedor) didnt join the UFC,” he said. “The UFC is like the NFL for (MMA).”
Here are the condensed thoughts of the fighters from Tuesday:
Few fighters have done as much as quickly as the heavyweight champion. Lesnar (4-1) won the UFC title in just his fourth bout, stopping Randy Couture at UFC 91, and then unified the UFC belts by demolishing Frank Mir at UFC 100. The win over Mir avenged Lesnar’s only loss. Prior to his MMA career, Lesnar was a Division-I wrestling champion at Minnesota, was a WWE champion and made the Minnesota Vikings practice roster as a defensive tackle.
On his new focus – “The set back for me has been a good thing. I was able to sit back and really focus on the way I trained, my diet. I brought in a new strength and conditioning coach. I brought in Peter Welch, a new boxing coach. I regrouped. It’s been very refreshing. I went back to the drawing board on life. I focused on my life, my family. When I decided I wanted to go back and fight, I felt I had to make some changes. I wanted to get better. I wanted to be in better shape, I wanted to be a better fighter.
On his hospitalization – “I laid in a hospital bed for over two weeks without any food. I lost 42 pounds. They fed me intravenously. When you wake up everyday being on all those drugs and not being able to put any food in your mouth, you definitely have a different approach on life. You find out who your friends are. I felt I was on my deathbed, I really did. I didn’t know if I wanted to fight again. I didn’t know if I was going to have major surgery. I feel like I’m a cat with nine lives and I have about eight left.”
On Carwin – “Shane is a big guy and there are a lot of similarities (between us), but…. he is a little bit better looking than I am and that’s about it. Shane poses some different threats I haven’t had. One being the size and strength and the wrestling. Shane is heavy-handed. He is a Division-II national champion wrestler. He has 12 fights. I took a different route. I was thrown to the wolves right away. Shane was able to go out and cut his teeth a little bit. There are things we want to do to him and things we want to avoid, so it’s really simple.”
On training for Carwin – “Shane poses different things that I haven’t faced, but I have shown a lot of great stuff in a short amount of time. I’m evolving as a fighter every single day. I think every fight is a tough fight. I put my heart and soul and my whole life into this training camp and I’m very confident I am going to win. My camp is full of big guys Cole Konrad, Chris Tuchscherer, Jon Madsen… I’ve been surrounded by greatness and that’s what you have to do. People that will push you.”
On animosity for Carwin – “I’m still the ornery SOB I’ve always been. There’s no animosity against Shane other than he is an opponent in front of me and is an obstacle I have to overcome just like I had to overcome diverticulitis. Life poses different challenges and great champions rise to the occasion.”
On fighting in the UFC – “There are very few places in this world you can get in there and lay it all on the line and not have a lot of consequences. The consequences for this fight are win, lose or draw and that’s exciting. I’m just excited to get back in the Octagon, I don’t give a damn who it is. The thing about records and knockouts and all those other things – you cant pay any attention. Anything can happen once the Octagon closes. The only thing you have control of is your training camp and to be as prepared as you can be.”
On training with Randy Couture – “Randy is the godfather of this sport. He is the guy. He’s the man. You have the Royce Gracie’s and these other guys, but those guys aren’t fighting anymore. Randy is a once in a lifetime kind of guy. He’s 45 years old and still fighting. I was very impressed with his training. He taught me a lot of things. There are a a lot of tricks of the trade. He came in and said these are the things you do great and these are the things you can do better at. Plus, when Randy Couture comes into your gym, you have to raise the intensity level. I got to take my hat off to the guy. I was very impressed with him. At the end of the day, we compliment each other and degrade each other. The biggest compliment is honesty. I know what I am good at, tell me what I am not good at.”
On cutting weight – “I dont have to cut any weight. I’m 265 pounds right now.”
On how the WWE prepared him for the UFC – “I don’t get nervous for these things anymore. I’ve been around the block a few times and am used to the spotlight. The main thing I bring from the WWE is promoting a fight. We were always pushing big pay per views in the WWE and this is the same thing. The WWE gave me visibility. I’ve done a gazillion interviews. This is somewhere in the 30’s of pay-per-views I’ve participated in. I’ve headlined or main-evented probably 25. This isn’t my first rodeo. I have no nerves, no jitters coming into this fight. Without the WWE, I wouldn’t be as prepared as I am now.”
On playing the “heel” – “The last thing you want to hear is crickets. If they are cheering for you or booing me, at least they are paying attention.”
A former Dvision-II wrestling champion, Carwin (12-0) has been the UFC’s closest thing to an unstoppable force. The 35-year-old has finished all of his opponents in the first round. His win over Mir in March lasted until 3:48 of the first round – more than a minute longer than any of Carwin’s other bouts. Carwin was also a two-time Division-II All-American football player.
On Lesnar – “Brock is a big, talented, athletic heavyweight. Those are rare to fight. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some of those guys around. I just rely on my team and the guys that surround me.”
On strategy – “With both of us being wrestlers, it will be interesting when we get in there. You only have four ounce gloves on so the margin for error is pretty small. If I can touch anybody with my hands I can knock them out.”
On avoiding the media – “In the past a lot of media outlets have had my personal number. I can’t answer my phone everyday and give interviews while I’m trying to train and be with my family and deal with my life. I wanted to make sure everything is scheduled so I’m not getting random calls throughout the day.”
On training – “I have a lot of areas I feel I’ve just scratched the surface and I can become a better fighter.
On fighting to unify the title – “Every fight is your biggest fight. This is definitely the biggest fight of my career. Going into it, I approach every fight the same.”
On weight – “I’m weighting about 275, but by the time I get there it’s not much of a cut for me either. I’m not surprised about Brock. I know he had to come back from diverticulitis and with his new diet, I’m sure he will be just as strong.”
On fighting – “I’ve got a never-quit attitude. I like to fight. This is what I love to do. I want to fight. I’m not looking to eke out a decision.”
On training with smaller fighters – “When you go with the smaller guys, they bring speed and footwork. You try to match that as a heavyweight.”