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UFC 96 Musings

Michael DiSanto, UFC - Like many hot prospects, Shane Carwin entered the Octagon on Saturday night sporting a spotless 10-fight resume. And like most hot prospects early in his career, a cloud of doubt hung over his head as he stepped into the cage because his record, while blemish free, was built at the expense of less than elite fighters. Nobody knew whether he would continue his Herculean assault on MMA’s heavyweight division once he finally faced a true A-level foe.
By Michael DiSanto

CARWIN SENDS A MESSAGE TO FELLOW HEAVIES

Like many hot prospects, Shane Carwin entered the Octagon on Saturday night sporting a spotless 10-fight resume. And like most hot prospects early in his career, a cloud of doubt hung over his head as he stepped into the cage because his record, while blemish free, was built at the expense of less than elite fighters. Nobody knew whether he would continue his Herculean assault on MMA’s heavyweight division once he finally faced a true A-level foe.

Well, Carwin answered that question with a single short right hand at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Make no mistake about it: Gabriel Gonzaga is an A-list heavyweight. Yet, it took Carwin a mere 69 seconds to leave him lying in a heap and increase his record to an impressive 11-0, including three wins inside the Octagon.

One more thing: Carwin’s three UFC wins came in a total of 204 seconds, which is still 196 seconds shy of one full round of fighting.

The time it took him to dispose of Gonzaga is certainly impressive—Carwin stands as the only fighter to ever finish him in the first round. But that wasn’t the most impressive part of the fight. It was how he won that undoubtedly made the entire division stand up and take notice.

Seconds into the first round, Gonzaga, who carries a pair of bricks in his fists, landed a gorgeous right hand that temporarily wobbled his opponent. It wobbled Carwin, but it didn’t knock him out. In other words, this guy has a great chin.

But that ain’t the end of the story.

Gonzaga didn’t waste any time capitalizing on the concussive blow, quickly putting the former All American wrestler on his back, where he would presumably be a fish out of water. Remember, Gonzaga is not just a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt; he is a world champion black belt. Most thought, therefore, that the fight was all but over at that moment.

Carwin obviously failed to read that memo because he both prevented Gonzaga from passing his guard and quickly scrambled to his feet. Suffice to say, this guy may still be a newcomer to the UFC, but he has more ground game than anyone gave him credit for prior to Saturday night.

That still ain’t the end of the story.

Once Carwin got back up, he planted his feet and countered an attacking Gonzaga with a short right hand on the jaw that was thrown without any hip or shoulder turn. In other words, it was a prototypical arm punch, meaning that it was thrown with only a fraction of Carwin’s power potential.

Nevertheless, the blow stopped Gonzaga in his tracks like he’d been hit in the head with a sledgehammer. That isn’t just knockout power, folks. It’s scary knockout power.

Let’s recap what we learned about Carwin on Saturday night. His undefeated record is completely legit now that he has an A-list notch in his belt. He has an excellent chin. He is extremely difficult to control on the ground, even when fighting through cobwebs caused from a concussive blow. And he has scary knockout power.

This win sent a simple, yet chilling, five-word message to the rest of the heavyweight division: Shane Carwin is for real.

The UFC heavyweight division is now on full alert. There is no doubt about it.

WHO’S NEXT FOR EVANS?

Will it be Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson or Lyoto Machida?

That is the $64,000 question following Rampage’s hard-fought win over Keith Jardine at UFC 96.

The was simple enough. If Rampage defeated Jardine, he would challenge Rashad Evans for the 205-lb title. If Jardine defeated Rampage, Machida would challenge Evans.

Ok, well, Rampage won the fight, so he gets dibs, right?

Maybe.

Frank Mir threw a CC Sabathia curveball into the mix last Thursday when a surgeon used a couple of small incisions and an arthroscope to remove a few dozen bone chips from his balky knee, according to the interim champion. The procedure sidelined Mir for the next month or so, preventing him from facing Brock Lesnar at UFC 98 on May 23.

Mir’s inability to fight in May left UFC 98 without a main event, which meant someone had to step up and fill the void. Evans showed championship spirit by quickly agreeing to fast-forward his first title defense from this summer to May 23, so that the UFC could postpone Lesnar-Mir, rather than replacing the injured challenger with another top heavy.

That is great news for Lesnar, who desperately wants to avenge his loss to Mir, and fans who want to see the rematch. And it is both good and bad news for Rampage, depending on how his body feels over the next few days.

The good news is that Rampage gets first bite at the apple. Assuming he didn’t suffer any injuries to his hands or otherwise that would prevent him from properly training for a title fight in less than 11 weeks from today, he will be able to earn his third payday in five months.

The bad news is that Rampage felt overtrained during his preparations for Jardine because he didn’t take enough time off following his spectacular one-punch destruction of nemesis Wanderlei Silva. The only way to remedy overtraining is to rest and recharge the batteries; otherwise, the adverse effects of overtraining can compound themselves. Of course, Rampage will have about the same amount of time off between fights if he decides to give it a go on May 23, so the overtraining question is one that weighs heavily on his mind right now.

This isn’t uncharted waters for Rampage. He fought six times during a nine-month stretch during 2003. He fought three times during a five-month stretch in 2002. And he fought basically every other month during 2001. So, Rampage has done it before.

We should know in the next few days if he is up for giving it another go.

HAS VERA FINALLY GOTTEN HIS GROOVE BACK?

Who was that guy who showed up and bludgeoned Mike Patt for two painful rounds at the Nationwide Arena? He was one bad dude, and that is putting it mildly.

Brandon Vera hasn’t showed up to fight with that much focus and intensity since his blowout victory over Frank Mir at UFC 65 more than two years ago.

Vera is so talented that many thought he might be the first man to simultaneously hold titles in two divisions—heavy and light heavy. That was back in the Mir destruction days.

Since his bout with Mir, Vera found himself embroiled in managerial problems that left him temporarily at odds with the UFC. Those problems left him sidelined for almost a year. When he returned, he suffered a lackluster loss to former champion Tim Sylvia. Sure, he broke his hand early in the bout, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was timid with everything from that point forward, including kicks.

His return bout wasn’t much better, suffering a first-round TKO loss to Fabricio Werdum, though the benefit of that loss was Vera finally embracing the reality that the somewhat chubby 220-lb Vera had a frame that was better suited for competition 15 lbs south.

When Vera finally arrived in the land of the light heavies in July 2008, he earned a yeoman-like decision over Reese Andy, a guy he should have dominated. Vera looked weary from the weight cut, which is understandable in a combatant’s first foray into a lighter weight class. But he didn’t look any better against Jardine—ok, he gets a pass for that one because nobody looks great against Jardine unless they steamroll him in the first minute.

I don’t know what happened to Vera following the loss to Jardine. I have no clue what awoke the beast within. Whatever it was, I hope Vera bottled some of it for later use, because the guy who showed up on Saturday night can beat any light heavy in the world on any given night.

I realize that is high praise for Vera, particularly since he was facing an overmatched foe in Michael Patt, a guy who should be competing at 185 or 170 based on his frame and body fat levels. Still, Vera was an absolute wrecking machine that night. It was apparent in his eyes when he stood on the scales for the weighins. He looked like a man out to prove something, and he did just that against Patt.

Vera is one of the most athletically gifted fighters in the game. His kickboxing is otherworldly at times, mixing ethereal kicks with pinpoint strikes, whether from an orthodox or southpaw stance. His BJJ is extremely underrated, as anyone who has rolled with him will certainly agree. And he was once considered as a possibility for the US Olympic Wrestling Team.

The only thing missing since the Mir bout was the fire burning inside of him. This is the fire that drives fighters during training camp as they morph into human wrecking machines. That fire was all but extinct since he undressed Mir. It burned white hot on Saturday night, and the end result was a joy to watch. Vera was masterful against Patt, giving a Muay Thai kicking clinic in front of a rabid Ohio crowd.

If Vera has finally gotten his groove back, 2009 is going to be one heck of a year for ‘The Truth.’

THREE OUT OF FIVE AIN’T BAD

Fans want to see hometown fighters win. That is part of the joy in going to the fights, particularly for casual fans.

The Ohio products didn’t disappoint at UFC 96, racking up three wins in five fights.

Dayton resident Patt made for a rough start, suffering a horrific beating to his legs thanks to Vera’s vicious assault. But Patt fought valiantly. He kept trying to find an answer to Vera’s superior skills, even when it was obvious to all that his left leg was completely shot, if not severely injured, after suffering repeated leg kicks. Things didn't improve much when Cuyahoga Falls' Ryan Madigan got stopped by New Yorker Tamdan McCrory.

But it got better when Gray Maynard stepped into the Octagon. Maynard was a wrestling star at Cleveland’s St. Edward High School a few years back. He probably enraged more than one hardcore amateur wrestling fan in his home state when he opted to compete at the collegiate level at Michigan State, rather than Ohio State. All was well, however, when one of Cleveland’s favorite wrestling sons returned to represent his state against Jim Miller, a tough-as-nails lightweight competitor.

Maynard completely dominated from bell to bell, but he looked a little hesitant at times. Maybe the pressure of performing in front of hometown fans got to him.

If Loveland’s Matt Hamill felt any pressure to perform in his home state, he didn’t show it once the action got underway. Hamill’s first-round knockout win over Mark Munoz was the first true highlight-reel knockout of his career, courtesy of a perfectly timed right head kick.

Not to be outdone, Xenia’s very own Matt Brown turned in the finest performance of his UFC career moments after Hamill won. Brown jumped on veteran tough guy Pete Sell from the opening bell, overwhelming the New Yorker with punches. The fight would have ended much sooner than it did but for referee Yves Lavigne’s head fake on stopping the bout following a bone-jarring knockdown. Brown temporarily halted his attack because of the false stoppage, and that was all the time that a very game Sell needed to partially clear the cobwebs and get back to this feet.

Of course, the end was already a foregone conclusion, and Lavigne finally stepped in for real at the 92-second mark.

Brown’s win capped off a great night for Ohio fight fans, with three wins in five bouts.

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