clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Shane Carwin Was Special From Beginning, but Can He Rock Brock?

LAS VEGAS -- Trevor Wittman has seen many fighters walk through the door of his gyms. Within moments of meeting them and seeing a few minutes of sparring, the noted trainer usually has an opinion.

When it came to Shane Carwin, there was something different about him from the beginning. Carwin didn't just want to hit the pads with Wittman, he wanted to ask questions. Lots of questions. "When would I do this?" "Why would I do this?" "How would my opponent counter?" It was clear that Carwin's mind was as dangerous a weapon as his body, and his body was nothing to dismiss.

Just shy of 6-foot-2 and around 275 pounds -- and strong and versatile enough to be a collegiate wrestling and football All-American -- Carwin's frame was something to behold. His legs were thick, like oaks planted into the ground. Though raw, he hit with such power that Wittman's hands hurt afterward. And by the end of that first day together, Wittman was convinced that he had seen the future of MMA's heavyweight division.

"I went home that night thinking, 'Oh my gosh, with his size and ability, I finally got my gift from God, a heavyweight champion,'" Wittman told MMA Fighting.

Wittman's already been proven at least half-right. Carwin won a piece of the UFC belt, the interim title, when he defeated Frank Mir at UFC 111 in March. But now comes the second leg of his championship doubleheader, a unification bout with current reigning champ Brock Lesnar at Saturday's UFC 116. The fight takes place at MGM Grand Garden Arena. The UFC expects the event to be a sellout of over 15,000 fans and draw over 1 million pay-per-view buys.


In other words, they're banking on Carwin, and Carwin's not one to let people down. After all, this is a guy who's kept his full-time job as a civil and mechanical engineer with the North Weld County Water District in northern Colorado despite being one of the best fighters in the world. He's never let Wittman down, either. The unbeaten heavyweight travels an hour from his hometown of Greeley, Colo., to Wittman's gym in Wheat Ridge and he never misses training. Aside from being reliable, he's also good for a surprise. Every once in a while during training, he does something that makes Wittman's jaw drop.

Recently, the trainer bought top-of-the-line, $475 punch mitts from the Japanese equipment company, Winning. The mitts are used by many top boxers, including Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Wittman didn't have them for a week before Carwin blew one out with a punch.

"I tried to return them and they wouldn't take them back," Wittman said. "They're like, 'All the best boxers use these. No one can punch these out.' Kazumichi [Hayashi, Winning's USA representative] thought I was crazy. He's like, 'These don't break!' But that's Shane, his power is incredible."

Carwin and his size 5-XL fists have caused havoc in every fight he's been in. Though five of his 12 wins are by submission, some are from opponents tapping to strikes. In the UFC, he's flashed ridiculous power with a one-punch knockout of Christian Wellisch, and floored Gabriel Gonzaga and Mir en route to quick finishes.

It's power that is natural, yet polished over time.

"I think it was something that when I started, coach said I had the power and so did the guys," Carwin said. "The interesting thing is he taught me how to relax through the punch, and have better technique which creates an even more powerful punch. So I think the power's always been there, it's just refining it to where it's really there now."

That improvement process has come with sheer repetition and the hard work that has become Carwin's calling card. For the first two years working with Wittman, striking was his biggest focus. He would start his day rolling his shoulders. He'd hit the bag at home. He put in a heavy bag at his day job so he could practice more during breaks.

"When you're passionate about something, it's easy," he said.

Wittman wasn't the only one who saw a big future for Carwin in MMA. Ron Waterman, a longtime MMA fighter who competed in the UFC and PRIDE and who ironically happened to be Carwin's high school wrestling coach, told me before Carwin's fight with Gonzaga that he would give Lesnar a good run for the belt then.

That was about 16 months ago, and Carwin's had a lot of time to work on his game since.

Interestingly, Carwin says now that the Gonzaga fight led to the most pre-fight nerves he's yet experienced ("You watch that Cro Cop head kick 10 or 12 times and anybody would," he said), while Wittman notes that both he and Carwin both felt Mir would be a bigger style test than Lesnar would.

"I thought Brock would be an easier fight for us because we could nullify his size, and they both have a wrestling background so it's more of our type of fight," Wittman said.

The going belief is that if Carwin can keep the fight standing, he will have the advantage as the more fluid and powerful striker. If Lesnar can take him to the ground, though, the outcome is much murkier, though Carwin camp insiders say he has severely underrated jiu-jitsu. It's simply not a weapon he's had to flash in his career thus far.

It's been 12 fights, 12 wins in less than 16 minutes of cage time. That powerful body, that astute mind, they've both been weapons from day one, and it's taken Carwin to the cusp of becoming the best heavyweight fighter on the planet.

Right now, it's all clear in his mind. The game plan is set. The only doubts are from the critics and curious, so when he's asked what he'd do if he connects on Lesnar and the champ does not go down, Carwin doesn't need a second to think about his plan B.

"Hit him again," he says with a smile, the future literally and figuratively in his hands.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Fighting Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Fighting