Shane Carwin has been going stir crazy.
After being forced to pull out of his UFC 125 fight with Roy Nelson and undergoing surgery to correct lingering issues in his neck, the heavyweight knockout machine had to work through rehab while enduring a difficult situation.
“The hardest part of my recovery was staying out of the gym,” admitted the 35-year-old Carwin in a May interview with HeavyMMA.com. “My training partners had fights and I could not help. I’m usually so active that it was hard to just stay home and heal, but I put a lot of trust in my doctor, and followed his rehab instructions to the tee.”
Carwin says he had been fighting through the neck issues for a number of years, but after hitting the ground hard in a training session with teammate Brendan Schaub, his arm went numb.
“The doctor pretty much insisted that I have surgery. They found the nerves to be severely damaged.”
Six months removed from going under the knife, the former interim heavyweight champion is ready to get back into the cage for the first time since facing Brock Lesnar at UFC 116. When he walks into the Octagon at UFC 131 this weekend, Carwin says he’ll be healthier than he’s been in a very long time.
“The surgery was a success and I feel great. I had essentially been limping into my fights. I’ve made a lot of adjustments since my fight with Brock; from diet to the surgery, I’m excited to see how much I have evolved since UFC 116.”
It’s a good thing Carwin is fully healed and hungry, because he’s got a serious test on his hands in his return.
After originally being scheduled to welcome Norwegian grappler Jon Olav Einemo to the UFC, a return of Lesnar’s diverticulitis forced the former champion out of his headlining bout with Junior dos Santos, opening the door for Carwin to fill the void.
Returning after a ten month layoff and a surgical procedure to face the man widely regarded as the top contender in the heavyweight ranks is a tall older. Carwin’s manager, Jason Genet, made the decision on his behalf, though “The Engineer” says he would have had the same answer if he was the one answering the UFC’s phone call.
“Jason got the call and Dana told him he needed to know immediately, so he accepted the fight for me. Had I got the call, I would not have let Dana finish telling me about Brock’s injury; I would have asked to replace him. I think anyone in the division who had been in the gym that gets that call accepts the fight.
“The UFC belt is the ultimate prize, and that is why we make the sacrifices and train as hard as we do. When Jason told me about the fight change, I was excited and felt like I got a second wind.”
To go from facing a dangerous, but relatively unknown opponent like Einemo to battling one of the coaches from The Ultimate Fighter in the main event with a title shot on the line is a tremendous opportunity, and one Carwin aims to make the most of this weekend.
“I view [this fight] as an opportunity to fight one of the best heavyweights in the sport, and if I can find a way to win the fight, I get another shot at the belt. A lot of guys do not get a second chance at that.”
There are some who would argue that Carwin might be biting off more than he can chew in his first fight in nearly 10 months, stepping in to face the best boxer in the division when the opportunity for a tune-up fight existed. While it’s a valid and logical argument, Carwin offer his thoughts on the matter last week during the UFC 131 media call.
“You know, I don’t know if there are any warm-up fights in the UFC. You’re fighting the top [collection] of guys in the world that have competed to get to that level.
“Jon was no exception; he’s basically a gold medalist in jiu jitsu and I think training with a lot of the top striking teams in the world, he would have been a very tough opponent. He just hasn’t run the same course [Junior] has run through the UFC. Either way I had to make sure that I was prepared to come in there and make sure that I was prepared to fight at my best.”
Switching from a decorated grappler to a dominant striker would cause many fighters to change their approach. Considering that Carwin was a Divsion-II National champion wrestler, many wondered whether he’d return to his roots in this one, but Carwin says that won’t be the case.
“Let’s face it, both [Junior] and I got to where we’re at by knocking people out on our feet. I believe that’s where I’m passionate at right now, and I think we’re both explosive fighters, so I think the fans are going to have a real treat at UFC 131 when it gets to the main event knowing both guys have knockout power in their hands.”
This isn’t gamesmanship on Carwin’s part; he’s not taking the Josh Koscheck approach, promising to follow one strategy while intending to follow a different path entirely. He plans on meeting dos Santos in the center of the Octagon and banging it out until only one of them remains standing.
They both have a history of laying out their opponents, and only one loss each, so while who wins the fight is anybody’s guess, the real winners Saturday night are going to be the fans.