More than five years since his last fight and less than a week after tweeting a picture of MMA gloves adorned with the Rizin Fighting Federation logo and pointing out that his quadruple-quintuple-googolplex-XXXL-sized hands would never fit in them, it’s official: former UFC interim heavyweight champion Shane Carwin is returning to mixed martial arts on Dec. 29. Rizin officials announced Thursday that Carwin is a wildcard entrant in the promotion’s open weight grand prix, joining the likes of Cro Cop, Wanderlei Silva, and the inimitable Baruto Kaito in the second round.
The 41-year-old fighter’s opponent has yet to be announced, but Carwin has been talking about a return outside the bounds of the UFC for the last several months, including a potential bout with Fedor Emelianenko (a fight Carwin says he accepted but which might not come to fruition). Earlier this month, he had a tune-up in the form of an exhibition-boxing match against Jason Ellis—the pro skater, radio host, and occasional fighter himself—at EllisMania 13 in Las Vegas. Carwin outweighed Ellis by dozens of pounds, so to even the playing field, he agreed to duct-tape his right arm and fight one-handed. The picture of the ceremonial weigh-in was a laughable reminder of just how large Carwin actually is, and the second-round knockout was a display of how brutal Carwin can be even without his power hand.
The biggest reason to look forward to Carwin’s return is that he’ll get to use both fists. They were the ticket to a title shot for a full-time engineer and former NCAA Division II wrestling champion, the appendages he used to knock out his first four straight UFC opponents in the opening round—the last of whom, former champion Frank Mir, earned him the interim heavyweight belt while Brock Lesnar was sidelined with illness. And along with Lesnar, Carwin was part of a wave of fighters circa-2009 who suggested that the future of heavyweight was literally very big, and that if you fell in the middle of the 60-pound swing between 206 pounds and the division’s upper limit, you’d be chewed up by monsters who cut dozens of pounds to make 265. Based on the end of the first round of his title fight with Lesnar at UFC 116 in 2010, it looked like Carwin would be the one to do the chewing: he had fewer compunctions about hitting and getting hit, and another referee under other circumstances might have stopped the fight after seeing Lesnar shrink under so many punches.
Then the pendulum swung, and Carwin came into the second round tired and empty, falling prey to Lesnar’s arm triangle. Returning a year later against Junior dos Santos, Carwin lost a one-sided decision. Along with Cain Velasquez, dos Santos’s ascension to heavyweight gold put a hole in the fantasy that MMA’s heavyweight champs would have to be storybook behemoths: instead, the best big men wouldn’t be so large that they couldn’t carry their weight for 15 minutes or more. Carwin faded out over the next two years as an accumulation of injuries to his back and knee scuttled every fight he attached his name to. When he finally called it quits in 2013, Roy Nelson sent him an e-card to wish him well.
We all know that MMA retirements hardly ever stick the first time, and heavyweights tend to have more longevity than the under-200-pound set. Carwin’s addition to the Rizin tournament is intriguing, but also genuinely scary: imagine a former UFC heavyweight champion (of sorts) in a New Year’s Eve tournament in Japan, the full array of soccer kicks and head stomps available to him, without any of the administrative concerns of getting you and your opponent inside the same weight class. Even the 300-plus-pounders aren’t safe: Carwin was a giant who made other giants look average-sized.
Good luck, Baruto.
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