This weekend was supposed to be different for Shane Carwin.
The 6'2," 280-pound (now 250) Hulk-like heavyweight was returning to the Octagon after a year-long layoff, recovering from foraminotomy -- back surgery that relieved pressure on his C5, C6 and C7 vertebrae -- to take on newcomer Jon Olav Einemo on the UFC 131 main card.
Einemo, while certainly no pushover, was certainly the underdog. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist with Norwegian roots would likely have a hard time dealing with the strength and punching power of Carwin.
That's because everyone does, including Brock Lesnar, who barely survived a first round thrashing courtesy of Carwin's 4XL mitts at UFC 116 in July 2010. Lesnar would somehow bounce back in round two to submit a thoroughly exhausted Carwin.
It marked the first professional mixed martial arts loss for the 36-year-old "Engineer."
So this weekend was Carwin's opportunity to ease back into the title chase. Get some work in (emphasis on some -- his fights are fast) and knockoff a little ring rust. Work his way back up the ladder and establish himself once again as the number one contender.
My how things have changed.
Mere weeks away from fight night at the Rogers Arena in British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, on June 11, 2011, UFC President Dana White dropped a bombshell:
UFC 131 headliner Brock Lesnar had relapsed with diverticulitis and was forced to withdraw from his main event fight with Junior dos Santos. Shane Carwin agreed to fill the void and battle the Brazilian knockout artist in a number one contender eliminator match. The winner of the fight between Carwin and dos Santos would earn the opportunity to fight Cain Velasquez later this year for his world championship.
We recently caught up with Carwin to discuss this whirlwind chain of events.
He tells us that he welcomes the opportunity to be thrust right back into the mix. And, more important, that he's healthy -- the healthiest he's ever been -- and more than ready to finish dos Santos when he crumbles. Then he can move onto Velasquez and, if the opportunity exists, exact revenge on Lesnar.
It's rather ambitious, but certainly nothing "different" for Carwin. In fact, it's all in a day's work for the blue-collar family man from Greeley, Colorado:
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: While most fighters make training MMA their full time job, how comforting was it knowing that you have the engineering career as a safeguard especially since you were away from the sport for nearly a year?
Shane Carwin: It was still one of my best years in MMA financially speaking so I can't say the layoff had any impact. Having a job gives me something to do when I can't workout and train while injured. Even when I am healthy I work it full time and I train just as much -- if not more than -- most "full-time" fighters. My down time is just being productive at work instead of partying or hanging out.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: You took some heat for "electing" to undergo back surgery, considering your age and standing in the division. Is this turn of events -- thrust into a number one contender eliminator bout upon your return -- vindication for that decision?
Shane Carwin: Certain members of the media like to create drama for no other reason then to increase traffic and their profits. I would dare to say no one in the media would have ever competed at the level in which i competed with the injury. Fighting anyone and everyone they put in front of me. I only "elected" for the surgery when my arm and hand went numb and I lost all feelings in my arm. How would anyone be able to train through that? During the surgery it was discovered that the damage was worse then initially thought and surgery was the only option. That is according to the best Doctor in the world not some fanboy journalist who tosses out his opinion as if it matters.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Did you bite off more than you could chew, taking a high profile fight against a dangerous fighter coming off such a long layoff and recovery period?
Shane Carwin: Nope. It is my job to fight anyone, anytime and to be ready. I was fighting a very tough guy in Einmenio, but no one knew who he was. Now I am facing Junior because that is the person Dana and Joe need me to face. No questions asked!
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: With guys like Frank Mir working to pack on weight, while guys like Roy Nelson are rumored to be considering trimming the fat, how do you see the role size and nutrition plays — specifically for the heavyweight division — as the UFC continues to grow into the lone premier MMA league? Do you think the tendency to pack on muscle to compete with bigger guys like you, Lesnar, Alistair Overeem and Antonio Silva being a key focus of the future of the division?
Shane Carwin: To each their own. I think that what works for the athlete is what works. For me I am walking around in the 250's and never felt better. If I was to face Brock again I do not think I would do anything different and I would weigh 250 pounds this time around. I have redesigned my diet and you can see that here.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: As a follow up, do you see the HW division of, say, 5 or 6 years from now being made up of guys 265+ (meaning guys who have to cut to make the HW cap)? Do you think the UFC will need to introduce a Cruiserweight for smaller heavyweights like Fedor Emelianenko or even bigger light heavyweights such as Forrest Griffin?
Shane Carwin: I think the introduction of another weight class is not needed. You are either 205 or you are a heavyweight with a max of 265. There is no doubt that guys will need to redefine how they eat and perform.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: The acquisition of Strikeforce likely impacts the UFC heavyweight division the most, with the potential to transfer several highly ranked Top 25 competitors -- guys like Overeem (#7), Fabricio Werdum (#3), Bigfoot Silva (#6), Josh Barnett (#14), Brett Rogers (#15), Fedor Emelianenko (#9) and Sergei Kharitonov (#13). Is there any Strikeforce heavyweight who you’d love to fight if he makes it to the UFC? Is there a style match up you like, or just a guy you’ve always wanted to stand and trade with?
Shane Carwin: I have not given it much thought. When I win at UFC 131 I have to focus on how I can beat a very tough Cain Velasquez. Until then I cannot really think about anything else. Junior, Cain then we shall see.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: The only fighter to make it out of the first round with you was Brock Lesnar, a fight you nearly finished to earn the title. How important is a rematch for you to clear that one blemish off your record, or are you just interested in fighting whoever has the title?
Shane Carwin: I have not really spent a lot of time thinking about the loss aside from trying to see how I can improve myself from it. I am not obsessed with fighting Lesnar again. I am certain I would win the fight if we meet again, but my focus is Junior and then whatever is next.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: What are your feelings on the Rashad Evans-Jon Jones beef and are you still all good with Rashad? Any plans to train with either? To that effect, would you ever fight Brendan Schaub if asked to do so?
Shane Carwin: I really did not pay much attention until Rashad left Greg's and then it was pretty big news. I am always a friend to Rashad and if he needs my help he knows he has it just as he has helped me in the past. I do not know Jon too well so I really cannot comment. As far as Brendan goes, we fight almost every day.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Do you have any interesting pre-fight rituals?
Shane Carwin: Not really. We just stay calm and relax knowing there is no way the fight will be tougher than the practice.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Are there any rule changes you would like to see take effect? Or maybe any that you would like to see changed?
Shane Carwin: Not really. Maybe the yellow card can be used here in the United States?
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Like you, dos Santos has rattled off a series of first-round stoppage victories. How do you see this fight going? I’d imagine the odds of an early stoppage have got to be extremely high. What do you have to avoid to make sure you come out on top?
Shane Carwin: Without giving too much away I think you are going to see a knockout. We both hit harder than anyone can handle. It will come down to who lands that power shot first. In my opinion, it will be me.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: This is your second time headlining a pay-per-view. Do you ever feel any pressure to exaggerate your personality to "sell" a fight or do you just try to be yourself?
Shane Carwin: I think I have been called boring, so I would say no I do not exaggerate. I am a fight fan and I am excited for this fight. I just happen to be one of the contestants.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: Junior is a very quick heavyweight with excellent hand speed. Is there anyone at the Grudge gym that you've been using to try to simulate his fighting style or did you bring someone in?
Shane Carwin: So am I -- I have been training with a lot of tough guys like Todd Duffee and Brendan Schaub.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: You've stated that you're about 250 pounds coming into this main event fight, which is about 30 pounds lighter than your previous UFC bouts. Is there any concern that you'll see a drop in your punching power?
Shane Carwin: None whatsoever. I am more explosive and faster now and equally as powerful.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: If you have Junior dos Santos hurt in the same manner you had Brock Lesnar hurt, will you attack with the same killer instinct and fervor to finish the fight? Or will we see a more patient, long-winded approach?
Shane Carwin: I am a finisher and I dare any man to try to sustain through that. Letting me pound on you is a very low percentage path to victory in my opinion.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: So there isn't anything you'd change in your finishing mind-set now, knowing what happened in the last fight with Lesnar?
Shane Carwin: No. I am a finisher and I will finish dos Santos if he crumbles.
Thomas Myers, SBNation.com: You're already 36-years-old. What's the ultimate goal in your mixed martial arts career? Win the title and retire? Win and hold onto it for longer than anyone ever has? To be the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time?
Shane Carwin: Win the title and defend it. Establish myself as one of the greatest heavyweights of all time and leave a Shane Carwin legacy.
For comprehensive coverage of Shane Carwin, including all the news and notes you can handle in the run up to his fight against Junior dos Santos this weekend at UFC 131, check out our story archive right here.