Headed into his heavyweight title unification bout at UFC 116 on July 3, 2010, Brock Lesnar was MMA’s biggest star as well as its most divisive figure. He had assumed those roles by the end of his fourth professional fight a year and a half before, when he had dethroned Randy Couture to capture the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight title in only the second million-selling pay-per-view in the history of the promotion.
After winning the title, Lesnar had defended his title—and avenged his only career loss—by pounding out Frank Mir at the blockbuster UFC 100, wrapping things up with a memorable heel rant in the cage, then had been shelved for a year with what turned out to be diverticulitis. In the meantime, Mir and Shane Carwin had met at UFC 111 to fight for an interim belt. When Carwin mauled Mir with a torrent of first-round uppercuts against the cage, the stage was set for a showdown between the two biggest and most feared fighters in the division.
Carwin, a hulking former NCAA Division II wrestling champion, was one of the hardest two-handed punchers the heavyweight division had ever seen. He was 12-0, with all 12 wins coming by first-round finish and all but two by knockout. He had accomplished this in a stunningly short amount of cage time; while his 3-minute, 48-second drubbing of Mir had been one of Mir’s worst losses, it had also been a moral victory in that Mir had lasted a full minute longer than any of Carwin’s first 11 opponents. Despite Carwin’s terrifying power and aggression, bookmakers and bettors looked at Lesnar’s greater size, stronger wrestling credentials and the superior competition he had faced, and installed the Minnesotan as a slight favorite.
Bettors holding onto “Lesnar -175 to win” slips were in for quite the emotional roller coaster, as were the 12,000 fans who made up the audibly pro-Carwin crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Once referee Josh Rosenthal waved the two men into action—and got the hell out of the way—the fight started much the same as just about every other Carwin fight. Within the first minute, Carwin had stung Lesnar with a hard right hand, successfully defended a takedown attempt and then dropped him with a combination. Lesnar tried to clinch, was shucked off, and went staggering away as Carwin gave chase. 80 seconds in, Lesnar was turtled up at the base of the fence as Carwin stood over him and teed off with punches. Rosenthal hovered nearby, looking for all the world as if he was about to stop the fight. Lesnar kicked Carwin off of him, only to have the interim champ leap back in, landing in side control, where he bloodied his face with smashing elbows.
All told, the beating lasted two full minutes, during which Rosenthal could have stopped the fight at almost any time and nobody would have blinked an eye. However, Rosenthal did not stop the fight, and with a minute left, Lesnar escaped and returned to his feet. As the round wound down with Lesnar pressing Carwin against the fence, color commentator Joe Rogan wondered aloud whether Carwin had punched himself out. The visual of an exhausted Carwin on his stool between rounds, breathing through a wide-open mouth, contrasted with Lesnar calmly listening to his coaches and answered the question eloquently.
Just before the second round began, Lesnar grinned and winked at Carwin, who returned the wink, looking rather less enthusiastic. It was a moment of understanding between two men who both seemed to know how this was going to turn out, 10-7 first round or no. A minute in, Lesnar changed levels and ran Carwin to the ground with a double-leg. After a patient setup aided by a few choice ground strikes, Lesnar locked up an arm-triangle choke and hopped across Carwin’s body to finish. Carwin reddened, grimaced and then tapped out a 2:19 of the second round. Lesnar was the undisputed UFC heavyweight champion once again. As Lesnar made a face turn in his post-fight interview, proclaiming himself a blessed and humble champion, he likely had no idea that he was experiencing his high-water mark as a mixed martial artist. In fact, neither he nor Carwin would win another fight, aside from his PED-tainted, overturned fight with Mark Hunt six years later.