's illness and one-year layoff are the dominant storylines heading into his UFC 116
heavyweight title matchup, but his opponent Shane Carwin
's life story is equally as compelling.
A former collegiate football All-American and Division II wrestling national champion, Carwin seemed on the way to a career in the NFL before an injury derailed those plans. Years later, he picked up MMA and proved a natural. To date, he's won all 12 of his fights, never going past the first round. Still, he remains story B for the media and the underdog by the oddsmakers. Yet despite his soft-spoken nature and willingness to cede the pre-fight spotlight to his opponent, with a single sentence, Carwin summed up his ability to capture it back.
"If I touch anyone with my hands," he said, "I can knock them out."
Carwin's overwhelming success is exceedingly rare among heavyweights. In fact, among active heavyweights, Carwin's 12-0 start is unmatched. Because of the size of the men in the weight class, combined with MMA's small gloves, knockouts are a fairly common finish, and one wrong move could lead to the end.
Carwin's managed to avoid any major setbacks, though the one time he found himself in trouble against Gabriel Gonzaga, he quickly regrouped, rebounded and knocked him out.
In Lesnar, Carwin -- who captured the interim UFC belt when he knocked out Frank Mir in March -- faces a guy who is very similar to him in build and skill set.
Both men were collegiate wrestling stars, found MMA late in the life, and quickly transitioned to become top-level heavyweights. Both are powerful, cut a few pounds to make the 265-pound limit and work with all-star camps.
"It's such a great fight when two big heavyweights are athletic and believe in themselves, when they both know they're going to win," he said. "These are the great fights you remember."
Clearly, much of the interest in this fight is generated by the participation of Lesnar. On Tuesday's media conference call, Lesnar fielded 33 questions, Carwin just 16. Yet it's impossible to hear Carwin speak and not sense a level of quiet confidence.
In some ways, Carwin has been preparing for this fight for nearly a year. Last August, Carwin was pulled from a proposed fight with Cain Velasquez to face Lesnar. Lesnar, however, was soon to suffer from the diverticulitis scare that threatend his very career. The fight was postponed and then scrapped as Carwin eventually moved on to fight Mir.
Still, Lesnar was always the gold at the end of the rainbow, and when he announced his return in January and Lesnar pummeled Mir in March, the meeting was inevitable.
"Shane's got a lot of good things going for him," Lesnar said. "So do I. I could go into a he-said, she-said thing with what he's said in the past. I know what my credentials are, he knows what his are. I think mine outweigh his. I know my hand's going to be raised on July 3, and I'm sure he thinks the same thing. That's the beauty of the sport.
After seeing his opportunity fall away two previous times, Carwin is now facing the reality that after his run to the NFL fell short, after a second shot at pro sports dreams, and after a brilliant, unmatched start to his fighting career, his shot at glory is now directly in front of him.
"I got that never quit attitude, a lot of heart and determination," he said. "I like to get in there, bang and I love to fight. It's what I like to do. I'm passionate about it. I'm not in there to eke out a decision. I love to fight. That's my mentality and attitude."