Ben Fowlkes
Saturday August 22nd, 2009

No one was more surprised than Shane Carwin to learn that his bout with Cain Velasquez was being scrapped in favor of an immediate title shot against UFC heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar at UFC 106 in November.

"My manager called late, which is never a good sign," Carwin said. "He told me the news and I was shocked. I was half asleep when I got the call but I was excited and in shock all at the same time. I woke up my wife and I think she thought I was just messing around with her."

The UFC's about-face was completely genuine, however, and now Lesnar (4-1) will do something he's never done in his brief career as a pro fighter: pick on someone his own size.

Carwin (11-0) will be the first opponent Lesnar has faced in the UFC who can (very nearly) match him inch-for-inch and pound-for-pound. Perhaps more importantly, he also has the raw power and the wrestling chops to challenge Lesnar at his own game, which is as much about speed and athleticism as it is about brute force.

On paper, the two are eerily similar. Both were national champion wrestlers in college (Lesnar at Division I Minnesota; Carwin at Division II Western State College) and both came within a hair of playing in the NFL. Lesnar enjoys a one-inch advantage in height and reach, and both weigh in near the 265-pound limit for heavyweight, with Lesnar probably adding a few pounds by the time fight night rolls around.

But with Carwin's strength, size, and background as a wrestler, he's definitely the closest thing to a Brock Lesnar that Lesnar has ever faced. That's ironic, considering that UFC President Dana White seems to have had his interest in this bout piqued by some hint of animosity between the two.

On his blog, Carwin criticized Lesnar for his post-fight antics at UFC 100, calling them "lame" and taking a dig at Lesnar's pro wrestling past by insisting that there were "no scripts" in MMA. Apparently, Carwin got his message across. In talking about his decision to make the fight, White told Yahoo! Sports that Carwin "hates" Lesnar.

"I think hate is a strong word, but yeah, I hate what he did after UFC 100," Carwin said, referring to Lesnar's obscene gestures toward fans after his victory over Frank Mir in July. "I hate that he disrespected the greatest sporting fans in the world and I can't wait to fight him. ... Really it comes down to respect and I do not think that he respects the sport or the fans of this sport. He may be well known, but fame does not equal respect."

If Carwin beats Lesnar to claim the UFC heavyweight title, he'll be the only current champ who also works another full-time job outside of fighting. Carwin works as an engineer in Colorado, and has since earned a second degree from the Colorado School of Mines. He insists it doesn't keep him from getting the time he needs in the gym before fights, and doesn't see any reason why he should quit just yet.

"My reasons for keeping my job are not about the money or time," he said. "I have a young son that has been my rock through the highs of heading to the NFL, to the lows of no one in the NFL knowing [my] name. When everything seemed dark he was the light that kept me going. I knew right then that everything my mother had told me about getting my degree, putting my education before the NFL were as much for my well being as they were for those that were relying on me."

It's honorable, even if holding down a regular job as the UFC heavyweight champ would be a little like still going into work everyday after winning the lottery, but those types of concerns are still just hypothetical at this point. First he has to win at UFC 106, and there's a very big obstacle standing in his way.

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