When a back injury kept two-time Division II All-American linebacker Shane Carwin from making a run at a career in the NFL, there was no telling him that this was just a detour and not his final destination.
“Honestly, when I got injured before the NFL, it was everything I was living for at that point, and I was devastated,” said the Western State College of Colorado graduate.
But eventually, he dusted himself off, went off to the Colorado School of Mines to add a BS in Mechanical Engineering to his BA in Environmental Technology, and soon, he was engaging in a new professional sport – mixed martial arts.
Speed ahead to the present day, and Carwin is one of the biggest names in the sport, unbeaten in 12 fights and a day away from competing for the UFC heavyweight crown against Brock Lesnar in the most talked about event of the year. But the Colorado native isn’t overwhelmed by the moment; in fact, he’s taking it all in, relishing each day since one of his worst. It’s probably the biggest lesson he took from the disappointment he felt all those years ago – take stock of the journey, because that’s what eventually makes the man.
“I rethought a lot of things,” said Carwin of life after football. “And sometimes, it’s not the end result, but it’s the process in getting there and making sure that you enjoy those moments, and all these special times. This is a special time in my life, in my family’s life, and for my fans, and it’s been building up to this fight. I think that’s where a lot of memories come from, at least for me. The fight is just the end result, and what I can do in the fight is go in there and do the best I can do, and that’s all I can ask of myself.”
With that statement, Carwin has done the most important thing he can do before what is undoubtedly the biggest fight of his life – he’s taken the pressure off. Now all he has to worry about is fight night, a one on one struggle with Lesnar. Doesn’t sound easy, especially to us civilians, but when you take away all the media appearances, bright lights, photo ops, and pulls on your time, you’ve whittled things down to their basic element, and that’s the fight. Carwin doesn’t even concern himself with who it is standing across the Octagon from him Saturday night.
“I really don’t focus that much on my opponent,” he said. “I know its Brock, but honestly, this camp has been a little bit quieter than the rest of the camps. It’s either that or maybe I’m used to it. There was the Countdown and all that stuff with (Gabriel) Gonzaga and then the same thing with (Frank) Mir, and it seems like that stuff was shorter and easier this time. It’s just like anything – it becomes second nature. All that stuff is part of it, so when producers come in I have a good time with them and we have fun and they know that if they come to my camp, they’re gonna get a couple bodyshots. (Laughs) But it’s actually been like the calm before the storm.”
There will be a storm though, and to get ready for it, Carwin has been putting in his usual long hours at the Grudge Training Center in Colorado. Yet once again, there is no ‘come on Shane, do another round, this is the biggest fight of your life’ type pressure. The boys in the gym have been there before, and they’re treating this one as just another fight.
“Its business as usual,” said Carwin. “The main thing and the things that I like to focus on are myself and improving myself. That’s where I think the biggest gains for me can be in a fight - making myself a better fighter rather than trying to prepare myself for who I’m fighting against and their strengths. I believe that I can increase my strengths in all the areas that much more.”
The evolution of Shane Carwin – mixed martial artist – was evident in his most recent fight in March against Frank Mir. Yeah, the concussive power was still there and perhaps even more impressive considering that the finishing sequence was kicked off by close range shots that he didn’t get his full torque behind, but what was most impressive about Carwin was his patience and poise before the end came. Or as Carwin says with a chuckle, “I came in a little relaxed for once, I didn’t just charge across the Octagon like a big ape.”
Such patience will serve him well against the dangerous Lesnar, whose speed, strength and athleticism can take a dose of over-aggression from his opponent and turn it into a victory. But Carwin likes to think he’s got what it takes to do the same to the champion.
“Hopefully I can combat his athleticism and size with my own,” he said. “I like to think that I’m a better athlete than him. I don’t know what the other sports or athletic endeavors he took part in, but I’d be willing to challenge him in a lot of things.”
This competitive spirit, which is matched by Lesnar’s, adds to the intrigue of this fight, and while Carwin hasn’t gone to extremes in thinking about his opponent – no pictures on the mirror or that sort of thing – he doesn’t believe a year long layoff will affect the man across from him on fight night.
“The thing about this sport is that if you watch me and the progression of my fights, that progression is really fast for a lot of us, so I expect Brock should be a more complete fighter when he comes out there, so I have to be prepared for that. It wouldn’t surprise me if his striking is that much better, and his ground game is as well.”
If Carwin has his way, we won’t get a chance to see if Lesnar has progressed at all, and he will notch lucky number 13 the way he has the previous 12 – in 3:48 or less. Which of course brings up the 800-pound gorilla in the room, but he’s become immune to questions about his cardio.
“I get that question a lot and it always leads into something else,” he laughs. “It’s still the question about my cardio. Until it’s proved, people are always gonna have those questions, and even when that happens there will be a question about something else. It’s just the nature of the beast, I guess.”
Carwin does admit that he wouldn’t mind a classic war though, whether Saturday or in the future.
“I think I kinda crave a little bit of a war inside, and it’s those battles when you come out with the victory that probably mean the most just because you’re tested through a little bit of adversity.”
“But getting a quick knockout and finishing the fight early is great also.”
Shane Carwin’s come a long way in a short time if you look at his life in the fight game, but in reality, this has been a lifelong quest to get to this point. No pressure though; and if you think things will be different for him on July 4th, they will be, but he will still be Shane Carwin.
“I’ll still be the same guy,” he said. “My family is first and foremost, the most important thing in my life, and as long as my wife and I are talking about what needs to be done at home and with the family and with fighting and everything else, I think everything will be good.”