If it wasn’t for Josh Rosenthal allowing Brock Lesnar time to recover we’d have had to contemplate the Shane Carwin era of UFC heavyweight champions. He may have lost in the second, as Lesnar recovered to pull off the submission win in the second in what might be the best fight of the champion’s career. During that time many people openly contemplated whether or not the UFC should establish a cruiserweight division between light heavyweight and heavyweight due to the influx of massive heavyweights, all cutting to make the 265 pound limit.
Carwin and Lesnar were the first wave of this group of monsters who were supposed to take over because they were talented fighters who were just too big for smaller heavyweights like Junior Dos Santos and Cain Velasquez. The heavyweights would be where the big boys were, with the biggest baddest men at the top and everyone else being undersized or moving out of the division. And even after the Lesnar fight was over there was a certain buzz in the air: the heavyweight division was the place where the biggest fighters had to be and size was at a premium.
And then in the next 12 months that myth was shattered. And since then those shards have been doused in gasoline and lit on fire.
Lesnar would be beaten, soundly, by Velasquez for the heavyweight title by the end of the year. Carwin would join him, as JDS would put a three round thrashing on Carwin that wound up being Carwin’s swan song from MMA as injuries took away the final stretches of his career. He was last seen in an MMA context coaching the worst rated season of “The Ultimate Fighter” opposite Roy Nelson, neither fan favorites who won the hearts and minds of viewers during what has been labeled the worst season of TUF history. And another injury, this time his knee, would take him out of the Nelson fight and it felt appropriate in a way. Carwin’s injury problems, and multiple neck and back surgeries, wound up taking away the final vestiges of his athletic prowess to the point where he would hang up his gloves.
Carwin, who had a career as an engineer to fall back on, walked away with a grace few athletes get despite our lasting image being of Junior Dos Santos nearly exhausting himself punching Carwin in the face for 15 minutes. His body had finally betrayed him and at age 38 it wasn’t going to miraculously heal up, either. So he walked away, back to being an engineer, and you can’t argue that he should’ve stayed on. With the sheer volume of major injuries happening on such a consistent basis, and seemingly no respite from the injury bug looming, Carwin walking away makes sense.
It’s better to burn out then fade away, especially in MMA.
Carwin’s final legacy will be a positive one, of course, as he held UFC gold and only lost to two of the greatest heavyweights of his era. The spectacular knockouts will stay on highlight reels and people will fondly recall Carwin’s brief run in MMA. But he represents an era of UFC heavyweights where for a brief moment in time the size of the man was seemingly as important as his skill.