(Many fans in attendance at the MGM Grand were given giant foam fists adorned with UFC gloves, which they drunkenly used to … oh, wait. PicProps: LA Times.)
When last we saw the UFC heavyweight champion on Saturday night he was slapping fives and doing bro grabs with his homies Stone Cold, Paul E. and Good Ol’ JR. And why not? The Dark Lord certainly had reason to celebrate: Though his face was scratched and his forehead bruised, the newly unified 265-pound strap was still around his waist. Maybe he’d even garnered some new fans with the gritty performance he’d just turned in, battling back from an early deficit to emerge victorious in the toughest fight of his career.
But damn it, just barely.
In fact, it’s difficult to know what to make of Brock Lesnar after a showing like this. The victory over Shane Carwin was definitely the most impressive moment of his short MMA career and it admittedly capped the best UFC pay-per-view we’ve seen in a long while. From Lesnar’s comeback to surprising wins from Stephan Bonnar and Chris Leben to the great scraps put on by Chris Lytle, Matt Brown, George Sotiropoulos and Kurt Pellegrino, UFC 116 delivered.
But Lesnar himself? Did he look great en route to the win? The real answer is both yes and no.
During his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan – in between some empty chatter about thanking his family and being “blessed by God” or whatever – Lesnar claimed everything went exactly according to his plan in his come-from-behind choke-out victory over Carwin. Those few minutes he spent turtled-up against the fence while Carwin fired a torrent of unanswered blows into his head and shoulders? That was just strategy.
Never mind the fact that Carwin made Lesnar jump back like a scared house cat when he popped his head up with a stiff uppercut near the beginning of the first round. Or the fact that the Colorado native went on to hang a 10-8 first frame on the champ, laying the kind of hellacious beatdown on a cowering Lesnar that – were the undisputed heavyweight championship not on the line – certainly would’ve stopped the fight.
Had referee Josh Rosenthall stepped in to call the action, nobody would likely be arguing about it today. We writers would all be lining up our reproachful 600-word articles about how Lesnar had been overrated from the start and how foolish we’d all been for believing the hype. We’d be listing the wholesale changes he needed to make in his training and wondering aloud if he truly had the commitment to MMA to stick with it through such an embarrassing loss. But Rosenthal didn’t stop the fight – kudos to him for that, it was the right move – and so this morning our 600-words are spent largely fêting Lesnar as the best in the world.
The champion told Rogan he was just making the best of a bad situation when Carwin had him on the ropes. In hindsight, Lesnar appears borderline clairvoyant for simply lying in wait for the challenger to punch himself out. By the time Carwin answered the bell for the second round he looked – despite the smile and the wink — totally spent. Then it was time for Lesnar to unleash a heretofore unseen submission game, catching Carwin in a deceptively tight arm triangle that forced the tapout.
So, what’d we learn about the most despised man in MMA last night? Certainly we learned that Lesnar is a better fighter than many of the haters gave him credit for leading up to the bout. He showed he can take a beating and come back from it. He also showed that his mixed martial arts skill set is, in fact, growing. He even tried to demonstrate a bit of his nice-guy side in the cage with Rogan, though his words sounded stilted and thoroughly rehearsed.
All that said, he looked terrible in the stand-up game – getting punched in the face isn’t his favorite thing in the world, it seems — and we didn’t see a hint of the southpaw stance he’d talked about at the prefight media events. He also showed that when he gets in trouble, he may just curl up against the cage and wait for it to be over. This time, that "strategy" paid off. Next time? Maybe not so much.
Lesnar actually came away from this fight looking a bit more vulnerable, if an opponent can stop his takedowns long enough to lay hands on him. The real problem might be that, aside from Carwin, who can stay off his back for even the first round against the former NCAA wrestling champion? Possibly no one.
Unfortunately for the aforementioned haters, we learned that if Shane Carwin can’t get the job done, Brock Lesnar is probably going to be UFC heavyweight champion for a while.