On the eve of the Fourth of July, UFC 116 provided some fireworks to say the least. Chock full of KO's, submissions and exciting fights, the card was highlighted by the return of the UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar who did his part to add to the festivities. In only his sixth professional fight, Lesnar (5-1, 2 KO's 2 subs) showed tremendous growth and evolution as both a fighter and champion.
In only his second title defense and first fight in just under a year, Lesnar submitted interim champion Shane Carwin (12-1, 7 KO's, 5 subs) via an impressive arm triangle choke in the second round. I had predicted Carwin would knockout Lesnar in the first round and for four minutes, it looked like that was the way it was going to play out.
Carwin caught Lesnar with a looping left uppercut that staggered the champion and proceeded to unleash a flurry of punches that would eventually drop Lesnar against the cage. With four full minute's left in the round, Carwin maintained top position on Lesnar as he rained down power shots and hammer fists. Lesnar to his credit covered up well and maintained his composure, weathering the storm while Carwin seemingly punched himself out through the round. Luckily for Lesnar, while he offered nothing in return, he stayed active and alert enough to keep the referee from stopping the fight.
As the second round began, a clearly gassed Carwin looked across the cage to find a smiling Lesnar coming at him. Apparently, surviving the best Carwin had to offer gave Lesnar a boost of confidence because he came straight at him and eventually took him down. Instead of using Carwin's approach of trying to punch him into submission, Lesnar showed patience as he used his wrestling to control Carwin. Eventually he worked himself into an arm triangle and unlike a man that weighs 265 lbs., he quickly changed his position to side mount from Carwin's half guard giving him all the leverage he needed. With Lesnar's power and the choke locked in tight, Carwin had no other recourse but to tap or go to sleep.
In his post-fight interview, Lesnar was a totally different person from the one who berated his opponent and UFC sponsors last summer @ UFC 100 in his win against Frank Mir. Apparently, his near career ending bout with Diverticulitis, an intestinal infection, was enough to wake up, humble and tame this once wild beast. "This isn't about me tonight, this is about my family, my doctors, my training partners and my training staff."
However, he made sure to let it be known that it his newfound epiphany doesn't mean he's getting soft. "I am blessed by God ladies and gentlemen; I stand before you a humble champion, but I'm still the toughest SOB around baby."
In the post-fight press conference he showed the same calm humble demeanor as he answered every question reporters threw at him and also displayed a sense of humor in the process. When asked when will he fight again, Lesnar took at look at Dana White from the corner of his eye, smiled and said, "we'll get together and talk about it."
I'm not a professed fan of Lesnar's and as I stated above, I thought Carwin would knock him out. I figured ring rust and the comeback from the illness would be too much to overcome. I also made the mistake of thinking he had no heart, as most bullies don't. I figured that once he got cracked in the jaw and found himself in trouble he would fold under the pressure and give up. On the contrary, he didn't wilt and he showed tremendous heart in coming back the way he did. He showed he does have what it takes to be a champion.
After the fight I discussed his performance over the phone with Brian 'Goze' Garcia, producer of MMAJunkie Radio. I told him I felt Brock not only deserved respect for the way he fought, but for evolving as a fighter. He told me that in his eyes, "Brock grew as a fighter tonight." One thing's for sure, this Independence Day 2010 will not only be remembered for our country's birthday, but as the day Brock Lesnar grew and evolved as both a fighter and champion.