VANCOUVER, British Columbia – In some ways, little has changed for Shane Carwin, the one-time Ultimate Fighting Championship interim heavyweight champion. He still speaks barely above a whisper. He still is massively muscled. He still punches as if he hides a horseshoe inside of his gloves.
But in truth, it will be an entirely different Carwin, both physically and mentally, who steps into the cage on Saturday to meet Junior dos Santos in a heavyweight eliminator bout in the main event of UFC 131 at Rogers Arena.
It's being touted as Carwin 2.0. He has hired nutritionist Josh Ford of Forged Fuel and has totally revamped his eating habits and his lifestyle.
He expects to tip the scale at no more than about 252 pounds at Friday's weigh-in and said he anticipates weighing around 260 by the time he steps into the cage on Saturday. Last year, he estimated he would have come in at as much as 285 pounds. His body fat percentage, he said, "is way down" but his explosiveness has increased. He said he believes he'll be faster and more athletic while remaining as strong and as powerful as he was in 2010.
An outsider might look at Carwin's record and question why anything needed to be changed. Even after losing by submission to Brock Lesnar in the second round of their fight for the UFC heavyweight title at UFC 116 last year, Carwin was still 12-1 with 12 finishes.
He had been seconds away from wresting the title from Lesnar, who was in a fetal position covering his head for much of the first round of their bout. Referee Josh Rosenthal was so concerned about Lesnar's safety that he was shouting at him, telling him if he didn't show something the bout would be stopped.
Carwin, who entered that match as the UFC's interim champion, needed just one more hammer fist to find its home and the bout would have ended.
Carwin would have been the undisputed champion, holder of a 13-0 record with 13 first-round stoppages and clearly the most dangerous big man in the world.
But, as Carwin prepares to return to the Octagon for the first time 11 months later, ask yourself this question: If Rosenthal had stopped that fight in the first round, as so many referees might have done, would Carwin have felt it necessary to make such significant changes in his approach?
In LL Cool J's hit 1990 single, "Mama Said Knock You Out," he sings, Don't call it a comeback/I been here for years/Rockin' my peers and puttin' suckas in fear."
Carwin, too, has been around for years. And all you had to do is to have seen a handful of his fights to understand how badly he was rocking his peers and putting them in fear.
His inability to finish Lesnar may have brought to light a shortcoming that just hadn't been noticed previously because he was finishing his fights so quickly. Carwin wasn't treating his body properly when it came to his eating habits. When he needed a bit more explosion and a few seconds more of endurance against Lesnar, he didn't have it.
There was nothing left. He had lactic-acid buildup that nearly prevented him from moving and seized his body. Though he totally dominated Lesnar in the first round, when the second round began, he was essentially a sitting duck.
Lesnar needed just 2:19 of the second round to finish him with an arm triangle.
"It was a buildup of lactic acid in my body to where I may not have been properly been breathing and getting oxygen to my muscles," Carwin said Wednesday after a workout at Tactix Gym. "Lactic acid reaches a threshold and then after that, it just exponentially increases in your body. You're pretty much left dead for the wolves when that happens. That's the explanation I was given and there were some things we've worked on that will take care of that."
So maybe this shouldn't be Carwin 2.0 as much as Carwin 1.1. He's eating differently – mostly organic food, with lots of fruits and vegetables – which is a change he says he welcomes not only for the benefits it will provide in his fighting career but for the improvement in his overall general health.
But he's not going to abandon the style that got him to within a punch of the world title. Don't expect to see him willingly fighting off his back. His game is about power, in his striking and in his wrestling, and that hasn't changed.
Nor, he said, will he change his approach, even knowing what happened after he unleashed the furious assault on Lesnar in his desperate but unsuccessful bid for the finish.
"If I'm ever in that situation again, Shane Carwin and the personality I have, I'd do the same thing," he said. "I would go in to finish the fight. It was so close and Josh knew it was close. He said it several times. When you hear the ref telling the other guy that he's got to do something or he's going to stop the fight, being the top guy, you pick up your pace to try to get that stoppage.
"I kept hearing that every 30 seconds. It was all out there for a while."
And all out again it will be if he hurts dos Santos on Saturday. Professional golfers talk all the time about the importance of putting themselves into position to win. Stay around the lead long enough, their thinking goes, and a win will come sooner or later.
Against Lesnar, Carwin landed a thudding left hook in the first round that nearly knocked Lesnar out. Lesnar went down, dazed, and covered up trying to weather the assault. Carwin tore into him with a vengeance, but when the bell sounded to end the first, it was difficult to tell who was in more trouble.
Carwin was clearly spent, and a couple of minutes later, Lesnar took advantage.
Just like the golfers say, though, Carwin had put himself into position to win. If he puts himself into position to win on Saturday, his decision to pass on the pizza rolls in favor of fruits, vegetables, fish and chicken might very well be the one that makes a difference between finishing or not.
There's no doubt he'll go for it if the opportunity arises. This time, though, he's convinced he'll have the energy to finish what he started.
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