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LAS VEGAS – Talk to anyone who has spent more than a few seconds with Shane Carwin, the Ultimate Fighting Championship's interim heavyweight title-holder, and it's inevitable that you'll hear about his commitment.
It bridges every aspect of his life.
"He's committed to his workouts like no one I've seen," said Jonathan Chaimberg, his highly regarded strength and conditioning coach.
"He wants to be the best in the world at what he does and he's willing to make whatever commitment he needs to make in order to achieve that," said UFC heavyweight Brendan Schaub, Carwin's primary training partner.
"He has an incredible drive and commitment," said Trevor Wittman, his striking coach.
Carwin's level of commitment, though, goes beyond just pushing himself to the limit in his athletic career. He's proven he'll buy a house, if that's what it takes to get what he wants.
It's how he managed to get a date with his now-wife, Lani.
When he saw her at the gym, he wanted to meet her. His shyness was a handicap, but Carwin wouldn't be deterred. He came up with a plan. He knew that Lani was a realtor, so he sent a mutual friend to her. The friend told Lani that she ought to meet Shane, because he was in the market for a home. Lani walked over as Shane was working on biceps curls.
"He's so super shy, he didn't even really look up at me," she said, chuckling. "I knew there was an ulterior motive there, but I went over. And then he was so shy, he couldn't really talk to me. So later, I took him out to show him some houses, and I sold him a house.
"It was after that that we finally started dating."
Buying a home to meet a woman: Now, that's commitment.
He'll need every bit of that commitment and determination on Saturday, when he steps into the Octagon at the MGM Grand Garden Arena to meet Brock Lesnar for the outright UFC heavyweight championship.
This thickly muscled 265-pounder is a mass of contradictions. The 35-year-old is an easy-going, soft-spoken sort who nearly makes reporters strain to hear him during interviews, yet he's one of MMA's most powerful punchers and best finishers.
He's got the physique of a body builder, with bulging biceps and a barrel chest, yet he's got the athleticism of a man 100 pounds lighter.
His trainer, Chaimberg, has him do hurdles as a means to increase his explosive power. Chaimberg, who also trains Georges St. Pierre, arguably the sport's best athlete and most well-conditioned fighter, said it's stunning to see how explosive Carwin is in doing the hurdles.
"This is crazy to say, but he jumps higher now than Georges," Chaimberg said. "When you have a guy 280, 285 (pounds) jumping higher than Georges, that's impressive. A regular vertical jump is one burst of power, which a lot of football players can get, because they train for explosion, but they can't do hurdles."
Well, most of them can't. Carwin, who is about 6-foot-1 and was a highly regarded NCAA Division II football player, has the vertical leap and can easily dunk a basketball.
"Oh," he said, beaming, "I can definitely dunk."
Chaimberg isn't particularly impressed that Carwin can dunk a basketball. But he is amazed by Carwin's ability to bound a 44-inch hurdle five times in succession.
That, he said, takes incredible power, explosiveness and athleticism.
"What Shane does when he does the hurdles is do one after the other after the other, and that's an elastic power," Chaimberg said. "That's someone who can explode and explode and do it one after the other. He can do five reps of 44-inch hurdles. Most of my athletes can do one, but they can't repeat it. They have to land and wait, but Shane's so explosive and can keep going and going."
Carwin has long seemed as if he's been in perpetual motion. He didn't play one sport in college, he played two. He didn't earn one degree, he earned two. He earned a degree in environmental technology from Western State College and a mechanical engineering degree with a business and economics minor from the Colorado School of Mines.
His father was not a part of his life, and he and his brothers were raised by their mother, Bonnie. She stressed education and responsibility repeatedly to them.
At one point, Shane told her that many of his friends were receiving $20 from their parents for every A they received on their report cards. He was getting nothing.
"I told him, 'Your grades are for you, and they're going to be with you forever,'" Bonnie Carwin said. "He needed to work hard and get good grades because it was the right thing, not because he was going to get a reward for it."
Carwin clearly reveres his mother and speaks of her in nearly every public appearance he makes.
Her impact upon him is undeniable, as Greg Waggoner found out. Waggoner was Carwin's wrestling coach at Western State in Gunnison, Colo., and is now the school's athletic director.
"Shane and his brothers [Don and Shawn] are all very impressive men," said Waggoner, who coached both Shawn and Shane at Western. "They are independent, and they are assertive, successful individuals. All of them are very responsible adults who are very respectful.
"That didn't happen by accident. They grew up without a male authority figure, but she was a take-charge person. When she needed to kick some tail, she did it. She's the matriarch and they're the result, and I can't say enough about the job she did with them. It's incredible."
Carwin, despite his annual late arrival to the wrestling team each season because of his commitment to football, became a leader by his sophomore year at Western.
"From his freshman to his sophomore year, he really matured and transformed into a man," Waggoner said. "He'd quickly turned into one of the most remarkably disciplined athletes we had. He had amazing focus and work ethic in all dimensions. He took things to a whole other level and not just in season, either.
"It's pretty amazing at the college level to play two sports, but he did it. He was an NCAA champion [wrestler], an Academic All-American [linebacker], and he was a year-round trainer, a year-round lifter. He's obviously a smart guy and he used his intelligence to make himself a better athlete. He would soak in coaching and advice like a sponge. I think you're seeing the result of that in MMA today."
He's become one of MMA's most powerful punchers – Carwin began the final sequence against former champion Frank Mir at UFC 111 in Newark, N.J., in March with an uppercut that probably traveled no more than a foot before it landed on Mir's chin – by working on his technique tirelessly.
Carwin (12-0 with seven knockouts and five submissions) wasn't particularly good at striking and had poor technique when he first started to fight in 2005. But he shadow boxed incessantly and, by sheer hard work and force of will, turned himself into a good MMA striker. He spent hours with Wittman, refining his technique.
"Before I got to the UFC (in 2008), I don't even know if I threw a punch," Carwin said with a grin. "I was a pure wrestler then and, quite frankly, when I first started MMA, they'd say, 'We need to put you on some shadow boxing.' And I was like, 'Oh, man, this is the worst part.' I felt so uncomfortable doing it."
He's clearly comfortable with it now, and admits that striking "is the thing that I'm most passionate about."
When Carwin says passionate, he means passionate. He works full-time as an engineer for the North Weld Water District in Colorado, a job he loves. On his breaks and his lunch hour, he goes and hits the heavy bag. He does it when he's at home. He's the leader when he's in the gym, pushing and pushing to refine his technique.
Carwin first began to work with Chaimberg in late 2008. And though Carwin was an extraordinarily hard worker when they met, he wasn't training the right way, Chaimberg said.
After the first workout with Chaimberg, Carwin struggled vomited in a corner.
He's now one of Chaimberg's most committed clients. Chaimberg is based in Montreal and spends most of his time there, while Carwin trains in Denver. Chaimberg designs workouts and sends them to him and visits occasionally.
If he hasn't sent one, he knows he's going to get a quick call – or text or e-mail – from Carwin.
"Shane is the one guy I train who is not in Montreal who actually chases me for his workouts," Chaimberg said. "I'm so busy and if a workout isn't there, guys will like to get away with it and [skip one] or do an old one. But not Shane.
"He's really committed to what he's doing. He pushes me more than anybody. Think about this: He has a full-time job and he's working harder at his training than anybody else. That's why he's so good, and it's why he just keeps getting better and better."
And it's why on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, he just may drop the "interim" from his designation and become the UFC heavyweight champion.