The UFC is bringing us the most intriguing main event we have seen in a long time at UFC 116 in Las Vegas this weekend. After a string of main events that either haven’t made any sense or haven’t lived up to their potential we now have one that should not only be thrilling to watch, but which also will conclusively determine the pecking order in a division. When Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin meet late on Saturday night they will not only determine who is the heavyweight champion of the organization – Lesnar is the champion and Carwin is the interim champion – but quite likely they will determine who the best heavyweight in the world is right now. That title has long belonged to Fedor Emelianenko, but the Russian giant was shockingly beaten by Fabricio Werdum last weekend, so the spot at the top of the heap is wide open.
This fight has been a very long time coming. Carwin was originally supposed to be given a shot at Lesnar’s crown on November 21 of last year at UFC 106. Health problems – more on that in a moment – forced Lesnar to miss that fight. That means that this is Lesnar’s first time in the Octagon since July 11 of last year, and just his second time since November 15, 2008. There is going to be a whole lot of rust to knock off. It’s not like he has a whole base of experience to draw on, either – this is only his sixth fight, and his fifth in the UFC. We have no way of knowing how he will come back from the layoff because he has never had to come back from one before. Carwin is going to be much sharper from the outset as well – the undefeated heavyweight fought most recently on March 27 when he brutalized Frank Mir.
The layoff would be a concern for Lesnar in any situation, but it’s especially a concern because of the health issues he has faced. Lesnar originally fell ill in early October of last year. At first he was diagnosed with mononucleosis. That was indeed something he was facing, but it turned out that he was also dealing with something far more serious. A severe case of diverticulitis, an intestinal disorder, required surgery to repair. A perforation in the intestine meant that, in non-medical terms, stuff that belongs only in the intestine was leaking into the abdomen and causing all sorts of bad issues. The issue had been a problem for about a year according to doctor’s estimates, and the impact of the problem on his immune system made him susceptible to the mono.
The surgery, the time in hospital, and the illness has obviously taken a lot out of Lesnar. The obvious question here is how much. He’s been training well since early this year, and he has gone to great lengths – including training with Randy Couture – to ensure that he is not only ready for the return to the ring, but also more prepared than he has ever been before. There are concerns about his stamina and whether his strength has returned to pre-injury levels, but there are a couple of reasons to be optimistic that he’ll be just fine. First, if the diverticulitis was an unknown issue for a year then there’s a good chance that it was negatively impacting him as he trained for his last fight. He looked just fine then as he beat Frank Mir, so if he’s finally healthy now then he could be even better. More significantly, in interviews leading up to the fight Lesnar has convincingly talked about how the illness has acted as a real motivator for him in this fight and beyond – he had to flirt with the idea that his career could be over, and he didn’t like that thought. That could certainly be a deciding factor in this fight, and it has to be – Carwin is a better fighter at this stage of his career than any fighter Lesnar has seen before. By a lot.
Oddsmakers seem fairly confident that Lesnar will be okay – he is favored at a solid -145 to win the fight.
Both of these fighters have a whole lot on the line and desperately need a big effort, but neither need this fight to be huge as much as the UFC does. The heavyweight division is always the most popular, and it stands a chance of being even bigger if this fight is compelling and convincing. Dana White and company could definitely use a compelling story, too – Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva are two of the bigger stars, but there is no one in either weight class who seems able to measure up to them. The organization is stuck promoting has-beens like Couture and Ortiz, so they really need someone to step up and be the next one to fill those shoes. Lesnar is close, and would probably be there with a huge win here. The worst possible outcome would be a split decision in which neither fighter really looked impressive. Someone needs to get knocked out and knocked out in an ugly way.