On October 26, 2013, Steve Carl upset Josh Burkman to become the first ever World Series of MMA champion. As his arm was raised by the referee following Carl’s fourth round triangle submission win, it was the first time the fighter had ever had a title belt wrapped around his waist.
The moment was a special one. Just don’t try and get Steve Carl to say that. “Honestly, I know it is not quite what everyone wants to hear, but I wasn’t in a good mood that night,” Carl tells Cagewriter.
“I’m proud of it now but in the moment, I was so physically and mentally exhausted from not being able to train before the fight. I thought the fight was garbage. I was in a horrible mental state. We were barely moving for the first few rounds. I didn’t think it was an exciting fight and I wasn’t enjoying myself.”
Here’s some context. Five weeks before he fought Burkman (who himself dealt with multiple herniated discs in his back and neck), Carl pulled a muscle in his back while performing dead lifts in the gym. The Iowa fighter stubbornly refused to slow his training down and so the pulled muscle turned into a torn one, which then caused a bulging disc in his back two and a half weeks before fight night.
Carl couldn’t walk so, he certainly could not train. Still, he knew he would fight.
“I went to the ER, saw a physical therapist and I let ‘em know – ‘It doesn’t matter if you have to roll me in a wheelchair to the cage, I’m taking this fight. So, get me there as healthy as I can be.’ They told me that the only way I could have a chance of doing that is if I did nothing for the rest of the training camp up until the fight. I had to save it all for that day. I needed to rest and heal up a little bit,” Carl remembers.
His back healing was one matter, so was managing to get conditioned for a five-round title bout. Making weight without being able to break a sweat for the two and a half weeks before his fight was a whole other matter.
Carl tells Yahoo Sports that five weeks out from fights he typically weighs between 200 and 210 pounds. With two and a half weeks before weighing in, he had cut some of that off but still had a good deal to drop, and now, without the benefit of exercise.
Carl had already made his bed when he decided to fight injured so taking the last step to making sure he could fight was a no-brainer. Basically, Carl stopped eating.
“I started fasting the day they told me I couldn’t do anything,” he explains.
“I spent an entire weekend in bed and during that time I just drank water and stuff. Since I physically couldn’t do anything, that was the one thing I could do to get my weight under control.”
Luckily for Carl, and unluckily perhaps for his long-term health, this wasn’t his first extreme weight-loss rodeo. “I’ve taken fights last minute before,” he begins.
“I’ve taken fights an hour before weigh-ins, I’ve hit the sauna and dropped 16 pounds in five hours.”
After all that hard work and discipline, Carl won WSOF’s welterweight title. On Saturday, he defends it for the first time against former UFC terror Rousimar Palhares (who was cut from the top promotion not because of losses, but because he was too brutal in many of his wins).
Carl says that defending his new title doesn’t add any significance to the fight for him. Fighting Palhares does, however.
“Not really,” Carl says of the extra importance of being a champion.
“It’s great being a champ. I don’t want to degrade it or anything. But, too many people get that belt in their eyes. I’m not thinking about the belt, I’m thinking about the fight. It’s the same fight if were on the under card or in the main event for a title. It’s still the same fight, whether or not it’s for a belt.”
Carl does know that beating Palhares, who is alternately vilified and glorified for his nasty submissions and penchant for hanging on to them long after the referee has tried to stop the fight, will get him more attention.
“That’s one of the good things about this fight,” he says.
“The world is watching. There’s going to be people tuning in to watch him rip a limb form my body and there will be even more people wanting to see somebody beat him.”
Some fighters, like Jon Fitch, have said that they wouldn’t even fight Palhares because of his dirty approach. Carl says he understands that perspective but that may also be the only thing that being a champion has changed for him.
“First off, fighters really are scared of the guy. Not only is he dirty in not letting go [of submissions] but he’s also world-class. He’s amazing. That’s why people fear him. Not only is he dirty but he’s hard to stop. He’s so good at what he does. It’s one of those things where some people don’t want to fight that guy. Fitch didn’t want to fight him. As soon as I got the belt around my waist, my attitude changed.
“I want to be the type of champion everyone looks up to. I was offered the fight and I immediately took fight. Champions don’t pick and choose fights. Champions fight everybody.”