can shane carwin beat brock lesnar?
It was confirmed earlier yesterday that current UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar has agreed to make his first unified-title defense against Shane Carwin. Shane Carwin’s history isn’t that familiar to most fans, and I don’t think most people will give him a shot to beat Lesnar and win the belt. Is that fair?
Shane Carwin is a 34 year old with a solid wrestling pedigree including being the 1999 NCAA div. II Heavyweight National Champion. I don’t know much about NCAA wrestling, but that sounds impressive enough. He’s undefeated rocking an 11-0 record, most impressively, though, having never gone beyond the 2:15 mark in any of his fights. That’s pretty strong. Six of his wins have come by KO or TKO, the other five, by submission.
Carwin’s run in the heavyweight division hasn’t exactly been highlighted by the UFC. Although his fights have been action packed, he’s only fought on the main card one time (vs Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 96). I’m not sure if his other prelim victory, over Neil Wain, was aired on the broadcast, but it seems the win over Christian Wellisch was at Carwin’s UFC debut back in UFC 84 (feat. Machida vs Ortiz and Sherk vs Penn – seems like forever ago). I suppose a man with a total of 3 minutes 24 seconds in the octagon isn’t going to be that well-known by casual fans.
Many have said that the man to beat Lesnar is going to be someone with strong BJJ credentials or a huge, strong standup fighter. I personally think Nogueira’s got a great shot, but let’s see what he does vs Randy in a week. Carwin has a purple belt in BJJ under Nate Marquardt but currently trains under Amal Easton, a Renzo Gracie blackbelt. His submission victories in the past have all been against fairly unknown opponents (the only tape of a Carwin submission victory I could find was his RNC vs 1-3 Jay McCown). All told, I don’t really think Carwin’s BJJ is going to singlehandedly crush Lesnar, but he clearly has a better BJJ game, and he’s going to work it hard, I’d imagine, over the next few months in the likely case he ends up on the bottom.
But how likely? Comparing wrestling pedigrees tends to include a lot of credential comparisons and then how each did vs other high-caliber wrestlers. In terms of credentials, it doesn’t get much better than Lesnar – a two-time NJCAA and NCAA All-American and NCAA div. I Heavyweight Champion (around the same time as Carwin, but coming from different divisions I don’t think they ever wrestled). There’s no tape (if there’s ever even been a notable matchup) of Carwin’s wrestling at work vs other good wrestlers. Gonzaga, a rather non-wrestler, took him down fairly easily after rocking Carwin with a big strike, although he didn’t keep Carwin down for long. Even offensively, Carwin is a whopping 1-1 in takedowns in the UFC, both vs Neil Wain. Not much of a sample size to analyze.
We all know what a sick wrestler Lesnar is – and even though you might be able to argue that Carwin was rocked vs GG and that impacted his defensive wrestling, I don’t think anyone is going to contend that Lesnar’s going to be foiled entirely in his takedowns. There’s just no evidence that Carwin’s wrestling is going to be able to negate Lesnar’s and keep the fight standing. It’s possible that Carwin manages to sometimes out-wrestle Lesnar but I’m really not too confident about it… and I really don’t think he has the body/strength/speed/skill to achieve something dominantly offensive by means of pure-wrestling alone as, say, a double leg from the outside.
Standing up, Carwin likely has an edge. He has a pretty solid chin, tested at least once by a killer punch he was blasted with by Gabriel Gonzaga (linked later in this post). I don’t think Lesnar has anything near the capability to out-strike Carwin (although he can certainly get the best of short exchanges). My problem is unless you one-shot KO Lesnar so that he’s dead on the mat I don’t think rocking him alone is going to be enough. In the second fight vs Frank Mir, Lesnar was hit with a solid knee to the jaw, and instead of being idly dazed/backpedaling, he does what he instinctively knows to do – wrestle. He had Mir on his back a few seconds later and was out of any danger. I feel like this is what’ll happen with Carwin too – Carwin has to one-shot KO Lesnar or he’ll be on his back…probably. This might be where Carwin can put his offensive wrestling into play and parlay a big shot into a dominant position.
In Carwin’s first fight in the UFC, he came in at a svelte 252 pounds, but was 262 for Wain and 259.5 for Gonzaga. He’s got a little room to put on some more muscle for Lesnar, but if he doesn’t want to cut any weight, he’s going to be at at least a 20 pound disadvantage in the fight. Lesnar is going to clearly be the bigger fighter come fight night although they are the same height (Lesnar is actually shorter than Herring…didn’t seem to matter much).
In researching this matchup, I was reminded that Carwin trains with Greg Jackson, the famed trainer of Rashad Evans, GSP, Jardine, etc. He’s certainly the winningest trainer in current-day MMA and can put together as good of a solid gameplan as anyone could for Shane. In this department, I don’t think there’s a better place for Carwin to be than with Jackson. If there’s a way to win, Jackson’s going to exploit it. The “Lesnar Problem” isn’t exactly a mystery – size, speed, and wrestling – and Jackson knows it. Jackson’s as good of a problem solver as it gets in MMA and he has 3 months to work out his solution with Carwin (Nov. 21 is UFC 106, the tentative matchup card).
All told, does Carwin stack up as a legitimate contender? I’m really not sure – there are a lot of “possibilities” here. Carwin’s BJJ, esp off his back, is largely unknown, as is his ability to defensively wrestle, nevermind the status of his never-been-past-2-minutes conditioning (in a fight that could easily go deep if Lesnar gets on top and decides to lay there). I don’t think anyone besides Shane and his team thinks Shane is a favorite in this fight – but it seems at least somewhat likely that he can make use of his maybe-good-enough wrestling, probably-good-enough BJJ, definitely-solid-enough striking and tie it all together with a great gameplan and beat Lesnar by KO/TKO/submission. There are a bunch of unknowns in this fight – simply because we haven’t seen enough of Carwin to know – but if he trains correctly it seems he has a shot to win. As a fight fan, I’m looking forward to seeing the fight – I think it’s the most interesting matchup available at heavyweight for Lesnar, anyway, at least for now.
No book has a line up at the time of this writing, but I’d expect Lesnar to open at -300 or so, maybe higher. I think the public’s money will come in hard on Lesnar, weighing too heavily on his recent victories and not giving enough credit to the relatively unknown Carwin (does Lesnar being a villain slow down people making bets on him?). There could be some EV in a bet on Carwin at +325 or greater and maybe even as low as +275 (he’d need to win 26.7% of the time to breakeven) if you don’t mind sweating a bunch of unknown variables. It’ll certainly make you the sympathetic hero at most viewing parties, that’s for sure.