Pep Talk: Lesnar and UFC 116 Deliver
The main event of UFC 116, a title unification bout between behemoths Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin, was billed as the biggest heavyweight fight in UFC history. It’s not uncommon for the build up to a fight to exceed the fight itself, but nothing could be further from the truth tonight. In fact, had the UFC promoted the entire card as the greatest event in the company’s history, UFC 116 might would have lived up to that lofty billing. Just ask UFC President Dana White. “Tonight was the greatest night of fights I’ve ever seen,” he said at the post-fight presser. To steal a quote from Brock Lesnar at the post-fight conference referencing his own experience of coming back from a serious illness to beat Carwin and retain his title, “Words cannot describe it. I feel like I’m in a dream.” And if you’re an MMA fan, Brock’s sentiments could easily apply to the amazing action, exciting finishes and dramatic momentum swings that defined UFC 116.
There were two schools of thought coming into the event. Carwin backers argued that Shane’s wrestling would be good enough to keep the fight standing and that his ridiculous knockout power would rule the day, especially when he touched Lesnar’s untested chin. Lesnar’s Death Clutch-wearing faithful countered that Brock would use his freak athleticism, size, strength and wrestling to take Shane down and dominate him on the ground and there wouldn’t be a damn thing he could do about it. When it was all said and done, all those scenarios played out before our very eyes, with the twists and turns of an Emmy winner for Best Drama. Carwin followed the script to a tee in round one, quickly popping back up from a powerful Lesnar takedown, landing a big shot and swarming a rocked Lesnar with dozens of unanswered blows as the champion did little more than cover his face with his arms while on his back. Referee Josh Rosenthal should be commended for his patience in not stopping the fight since most of the blows weren’t getting through. If he had stopped it, however, few could have argued as it was that close of a call. Brock escaped the round, bloodied, battered and down 10-8 on any reasonable judge’s scorecard.
Round two was a different story with a stunning ending. Just before the round started, Carwin winked at Lesnar and the two smiled and came to the center for a quick touch of gloves. Brock scored a takedown less than one minute into the round and went from half-guard to full mount. Time for some ground and pound, right? Wrong. Lesnar locked on an arm triangle, moved to side control to finish and squeezes the interim belt out of Shane, forcing him to tap less than halfway into the round. Yes, you read that right; Brock Lesnar submitted Shane Carwin with a textbook arm triangle choke! Mouths throughout the world simultaneously dropped as the collective MMA universe watched the continued evolution of a collegiate and WWE wrestling champion to mixed martial artist and yes, baddest man on the planet. And if you found someone who gave you the 100-1 odds it would have taken to bet that Brock would win the $75,000 “Submission of the Night” bonus on a card that saw four amazing submissions, congratulations, you cashed out.
A humble Lesnar gave a very different post-fight speech than we saw at UFC 100. The undisputed champion was quick to credit God, family, trainers and friends and compliment his opponent, who he referred to as a beast. The experience of coming back from his battle with diverticulitis to unify the titles has clearly given rise to a more thankful Lesnar who appears to be a more subdued version of the aggressive persona we’ve seen in the past outside the cage. But make no mistake about it. The time that this physical freak of nature is putting in the gym has yielded a more skilled mixed martial artist who answered questions tonight about his toughness, his ability to deal with adversity and his ability to take punishment. And that spells a world of trouble for his next opponent, Cain Velasquez, and the rest of the heavyweight division.
• What a Difference Two Weeks Makes As of June 18, Chris Leben had lost two of his last three fights and was regarded as a mid-level fighter. With wins over 7-0 Aaron Simpson and 13-1 Yoshihiro Akiyama by July 3, Leben now has a three fight win streak, a “Knockout of the Night” bonus, a “Fight of the Night” bonus and a fanbase that multiplied exponentially when he tapped “Sexyama” with only 20 seconds left in an amazing fight. A lot of people were bitching when Leben replaced injured Wanderlei Silva, including Akiyama. No one is unhappy with the substitution now…except Akiyama.
• Fight of the Night II Stephan Bonnar just can’t seem to have a boring fight and his rock em’, sock em’ affair with Krzysztof Soszynski was no different. Bonnar got the short end of the stick and the long end of the blood loss as Soszynski battered him in the first round and gave him multiple cuts around both eyes. The second saw both fighters in trouble, but a big knee from Bonnar spelled the beginning of the end and redemption for his loss when the two met at UFC 110. The 75K each fighter scored as the second “Fight of the Night” should go a long way to making their respective wounds easier to deal with.
• Lytle and Romero Must Hate Lesnar UFC veteran Chris Lytle and newcomer Ricardo Romero had a lot in common at UFC 116. Lytle lost the first round of his fight to Matt Brown while Romero got his ass handed to him in the opening stanza by Seth “Kimbo Killer” Petruzelli. Both Romero and Lytle came back in the second round to secure beautiful cross-body armbars off sweet transitions from an Americana and mounted triangle, respectively. They were the two front runners for Submission of the Night and had to think it was in the bag with the main event coming up. Damn Brock Lesnar!
• Knockout of the Night Gerald Harris went all Rampage/Arona and KO’d highly touted newcomer David Branch with a huge slam when Branch jumped guard and paid the price of consciousness. If not for Harris’ impressive slam, Brendan Schaub would have been $75,000 richer for his 67-second demolition of Lesnar training partner Chris Tuchscherer, who may be in fear of a pink slip.
• Aussie Title Contender George Sotiropoulos used superior stand up skills to dominate the first two rounds against Kurt Pellegrino before losing the third and almost getting knocked out in the final seconds. Sotiropoulos was masterful when he dominated Joe Stevenson at UFC 110 and wasn’t far off that standard of impressiveness here. George is now 6-0 in the UFC and his next opponent should be named Florian, Maynard, Dunham or the loser of Edgar vs. Penn.