By Josh Gross
July 04, 2010

Brock Lesnar apparently has a thing for comebacks.

What better way then for the UFC heavyweight champion to return from a one-year layoff during which doctors thought the 32-year-old giant, one of the most physically impressive athletes of all time, may never step in a cage again.

Absorbing 47 XXXXXL-sized punches on the floor in the opening five minutes against the 6-foot-2, 265-pound, unbeaten-in-12-fights-that-never-made-it-out-of-the-opening-round Shane Carwin, Lesnar displayed the type of will reserved for only the very best.

In all, the 35-year-old Carwin landed 57 punches in the opening round. And while the blows Lesnar took with his back to the canvas were dangerous, it was the 10 heavy lefts and rights that put the so-called "interim" UFC heavyweight champion -- a title created while Lesnar faced the uncertainty of two weeks worth of eating through tubes from the diverticulitis that opened a hole in the lining of his stomach -- in position to win early.

Retreating to the fence, Lesnar almost appeared to want out of the fight. But he never did. Rarely thought of this way, professional fighting is a dance for three. And so even though it was Lesnar hanging in, remaining lucid, taking Carwin's absolute best, some credit for the result belongs to referee Josh Rosenthal, who intently watched while the challenger wailed away on the endangered champion. We so often harp on the poor quality of officiating in mixed martial arts. Done correctly, the way Rosenthal did tonight, refereeing is mindful not only of the welfare of the fighters, but it allows for competitors to peel off a bout's dramatic layers. A lesser official could have easily stolen several chapters of a classic, as Carwin (12-1) reigned down accurate punches.

But then Lesnar stood. Somehow he stood. Through it all, the champion managed to maintain some sense of control, of purpose. And there he was, pressing Carwin, sandbags now attached to his football-pad-sized shoulders, into the fence. Resting yes, but also measuring the state of his opponent with a swift knee to the gut before the period came to a close.

"I just had to weather the storm," said Lesnar, who moved to 6-1 with his second UFC title defense. "He has some heavy shots. I just had to hang back. I knew he was getting tired. Each shot was less dramatic than the other. I thought, 'I'll just let him go.'"

Assumed by many, though unverified until he submitted Carwin Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Lesnar is the best heavyweight on the planet. No question. You could make the claim that he's the most dangerous human on earth when it comes to hand-to-hand combat, and I doubt there's much of a debate. He showed that potential in the opening round by surviving. He earned the title in the second.

Carwin, arm weary, surrendered a rather sloppy power double. It looked more like Lesnar leaned on Carwin and he went down, like a cardboard mockup of the challenger, the champion toppled to the floor during a media workout midway through fight week.

Lesnar, a NCAA heavyweight champion wrestler for the University of Minnesota in 2000, relaxed and landed short, chopping shots to Carwin's body and head from half-guard. When he set up Carwin's left arm to be locked in an arm-triangle choke, Lesnar capitalized with a swift pass to mount. He jumped to side-control, decreasing blood flow to the brain by increased pressure that came with circling his body toward Carwin's shaved-bald head.

"I thought I had enough space to breath and keep working," Carwin said. "But he sunk it on tight, and I was going out."

The tap came at 3:52 of Round 2.

It was a monumental victory in a major fight, likely the biggest event the UFC will produce in 2010, unless Lesnar fights again. He already has an opponent, the unbeaten 27-year-old lion Cain Velasquez (8-0), who is equipped to give Lesnar another serious fight. In reality, these wars are what Lesnar should expect through his time at the top. After Velasquez could be Brazilian powerhouse Junior dos Santos. And there will be others, as MMA moves headfirst into an exciting stretch with its heavyweight ranks well stocked and supremely competitive.

After a decade in which everyone gunned for an undersized Russian in possession of the same determination Lesnar showed in Las Vegas, it will not be the American powerhouse, not Fedor Emelianenko who inspires a young class to meet the champion's challenge. Unless, of course, Emelianenko comes on strong. Everyone loses in MMA, remember. Lesnar lost his first bout in the UFC. It made him a better fighter, the type capable of weathering a storm as bad as tonight's tornado from Colorado. And, who knows, demand may once again simmer to the surface for a clash of the best heavyweights of our generation. Because, now, after pulling off what he did at UFC 116, that's where Lesnar ranks.

"This isn't about me tonight," Lesnar said after his most recent and compelling comeback. "This is about my family. This is about my doctors. My training partners. My training staff. I'm blessed by god. Ladies and gentleman, I stand before you a humble champion. And I'm still the toughest SOB around, baby."

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