You have to believe Shane Carwin knows this is his last chance. If not his last-last chance, pretty close.
If you’ll excuse the cliché, Carwin ain’t getting any younger. He’s 36 years old, has been a professional MMA fighter for six years and was an amateur wrestler and aspiring professional football player before that. Last year he had surgery to relieve chronic pain in his neck and has spent the last 11 months rehabbing. Athletically speaking, those are 36 pretty well traveled years.
Carwin is also wickedly smart. He’s one of the few high-level fighters with a bonafide career to fall back on when his UFC days are done, as an engineer at home in Colorado. It seems logical that if Carwin can’t beat Junior dos Santos at UFC 131 this weekend to become the No. 1 contender for the heavyweight title – and setting up a possible October date with champ Cain Velasquez – the utility of carrying on as fighter might become a little hazy.
Not be overly dramatic, you understand. Still, you have to believe that Carwin and his camp will be approaching the next year of his career with some added urgency. As analytical and black-and-white as he seems at times, I’d be shocked to find out he doesn’t recognize this may be his final opportunity to correct a few big what- ifs.
What if his fight against Brock Lesnar at UFC 116 had been stopped during his dominant first round? What if he hadn’t gassed himself out handing Lesnar that comprehensive, five-minute ass-kicking? Wouldn’t we be talking about Shane Carwin as the consensus No. 1 heavyweight in the world right now?
Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe it was something of a blessing in disguise that Carwin didn’t beat Lesnar in July of last year. For one thing, he wasn’t the UFC heavyweight champion in August, when his name showed up on a very bad list during a federal steroid trial. Had he been, it would have been a much, much bigger story. For another thing, we can expect Carwin to be ready to go three rounds this weekend when he fights dos Santos.
The 26-year-old Brazilian comes in as the favorite this weekend, perhaps with good reason. He’s 6-0 to date in his UFC career and was ticketed for a title bout before news of Velasquez’s shoulder injury broke late last year. He’s coming off a season of hype on “The Ultimate Fighter” and was largely expected to defeat Lesnar in their scheduled bout, before the former champion dropped out due to a second bout with diverticulitis.
Yet to date in the UFC, dos Santos has not faced an opponent with even a glimmer of Carwin’s NCAA Division II national champion wrestling credentials. In fact, dos Santos has yet to face anyone in the Octagon who even seemed that interested in taking him down. His ground skills are big question mark at this point, leading some to posture Carwin might be the more complete fighter and could have an advantage if the fight goes to the mat.
Oddly, Carwin insisted this week that he won’t do that. Instead of taking away dos Santos’ best known weapon (his standup game), he said he’d fight the young slugger on the feet. Was that just gamesmanship? We won’t know until Saturday night. It seems clear however that choosing to attack dos Santos where he’s strongest would be an odd choice for Carwain, especially if this is his last chance to make a run at the title.