Tomorrow night (June 11, 2011), two of the biggest (literally) men in the UFC will wage war in the main event of UFC 131 as Junior dos Santos battles Shane Carwin for a shot at Cain Velasquez and the UFC heavyweight title.
Junior dos Santos has had a title shot within his reach in the last year after barreling through the UFC heavyweight division but he's continued to be denied. The Brazilian brawler is hoping to finally earn his right to challenge for the title for good with a win on Saturday night.
Shane Carwin hasn't fought in the UFC since coming up short last July in his first title shot against Brock Lesnar. He had the champion on the ropes but got a little too excited and couldn't secure a finish. After 11 months, a major back surgery and dropping 30 pounds, he's ready to earn another shot.
Will Junior dos Santos finally break through and earn his rightful title shot? Can Shane Carwin last more than a round? Which heavyweight will be the first to go down?
Check out our complete fight preview after the jump to find out:
Junior dos Santos
Record: 12-1 overall, 6-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Junior dos Santos made one hell of a first impression in his UFC debut with a tremendous first round uppercut knockout over Fabricio Werdum at UFC 90 back in October of 2008. The Brazilian proceeded to run the gauntlet of heavyweights from Stefan Struve, Mirko "Cro Cop", Gilbert Yvel and Gabriel Gonzaga, scoring stoppage victories in each fight.
"Cigano" was finally awarded a number one contender's match against Roy Nelson at UFC 117. Dos Santos laid into "Big Country" with everything he had for three consecutive rounds but his opponent proved tough as nails and nearly impossible to finish. He would go on to win a lopsided unanimous decision.
Junior was all set to face Cain Velasquez for the title but the champ went down with a shoulder injury. Instead of waiting on the sidelines while Cain recovered from surgery, he signed on to coach season 13 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) against former champion Brock Lesnar with the intent on facing Lesnar in another number one contender's match.
When Lesnar pulled out of his fight with a relapse of diverticulitis, former title challenger Shane Carwin stepped up to face Junior in the main event. Dos Santos will hope that this bout finally gives him his much-deserved shot at UFC gold.
How he gets it done: This one is pretty easy. Junior dos Santos loves to box and pretty much nothing else. He's overwhelmed many an opponent with his sharp combinations and his wicked uppercuts.
If "Cigano" wants to play it smart, he'll try to take Carwin into deep waters. Shane's only ever made it to the second round one time in his career and he completely gassed and was defeated easily. Dos Santos has been into the third round twice in his career and looked fresh there against Mirko Filipovic at UFC 103, forcing the former Pride Grand Prix winner to quit after crushing his orbital bone with a devastating punch.
One thing the Brazilian needs to keep in mind is his defense. He's shown a sturdy chin in past fights, but this is a whole different beast. Shane Carwin hits harder than any man in the UFC, hands down. If Junior doesn't finish him with a big combination and leaves his chin exposed, he could be put down.
He should keep his distance for the first round and force Carwin to have to push the pace, perhaps tire himself out if he gets frustrated. Once Carwin tires, then go in for the kill. It won't be pretty, but at least he won't be on a highlight reel.
Record: 12-1 overall, 4-1 in the UFC
Key Wins: Frank Mir (UFC 111), Gabriel Gonzaga (UFC 96)
Key Losses: Brock Lesnar (UFC 116)
How he got here: Shane Carwin started his career in MMA later than most at age 30. After demolishing his way through the local circuit with none of his fights lasting more than 2:11, he earned an invite to the big leagues in the UFC.
Once there, Carwin crushed middling heavyweights Neil Wann and Christian Wellisch in less than two and a half minutes combined which earned him a fight with former title contender Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 96. Carwin ate a big right hand from "Napao" but responded with an incredibly impressive knockout with what looked like short jab.
With the major victory, "The Engineer" earned a title shot against Brock Lesnar but would have to settle for Frank Mir when the champ came down with his initial case of diverticulitis. After over a year away from the cage, Carwin put away Mir inside the first round yet again to win the interim heavyweight title.
In a battle to unite the titles, Carwin crushed Brock Lesnar in the first round but simply couldn't put the champ away. He left it all in the cage in that first round and when the second round started, he was completely gassed. Lesnar took him down and easily submitted him with an arm triangle.
Carwin would wait almost another year before getting back in the cage after having major back surgery to ease pain and free movement. He dropped about 30 pounds and he's ready to get back and contend. He'll earn another title shot with a win over dos Santos on Saturday night.
How he gets it done: Shane has multiple options here. He's fell in love with his striking, but he's dangerous in the clinch and on the ground if need be.
Carwin put away Frank Mir with some vicious short uppercuts in the clinch and he decimated Neil Wann with ground and pound.
Now obviously the smartest thing to do would be to shoot on "Cigano" and put the Brazilian on his back for the first time in his UFC career. Carwin has legitimate wrestling skills, having won a division II national championship back in 1999 and if he can put dos Santos on his back and keep him there, he could easily have an opportunity to ground and pound his way to a victory.
He's probably not going to do that though. If he chooses to stand with dos Santos, he'll need to be careful and pick his spots. Carwin has insane power in both hands and if Junior leaves an opening, he needs to seize it immediately.
Even after dropping 30 pounds, there's no guarantee that Carwin's gas tank has improved. He needs to seize every opportunity he gets and go for the kill. Don't be surprised if Grudge fighter puts dos Santos against the fence and goes back to those nasty short uppercuts as well. All he needs is one clean punch.
Fight "X-Factor:" The "X-Factor" here has to be Shane Carwin 2.0. Carwin has had a LOT of downtime in the past two years, having only fought twice in that timespan. He'll be leaner and meaner for this fight after reportedly cutting about 30 pounds from switching to a healthier diet as well as while recovering from surgery.
There are so many factors to consider. How will the downtime affect him? He looked solid the last time against Mir when he'd been away from the cage for a year but then again, he wasn't recovering from major surgery at the time. Also, will Carwin's gas tank be improved? He can say anything he wants now, but many won't believe him until they see it for themselves.
Bottom line: Say what you want about the star power on the rest of the card, but this fight is absolutely phenomenal! It's not often that an injury replacement bout is more intriguing than the original fight but Carwin and dos Santos have set the stage for an incredible heavyweight showdown. This bout is just oozing with potential and if there's any fight on Saturday night that you watch, it had better be this one. There's a very real possibility that one of these Goliaths is going down in the first round.
Who will come out on top at UFC 131? Let us know in the comments section below!