Sunday, July 4, 2010 | 2:19 a.m.
Brock Lesnar was not about to survive a deadly stomach ailment and a long recovery in the gym, only to go down in the very first round of his comeback fight.
No matter how bad things got.
The UFC heavyweight champion was tested the most he’s ever been Saturday, after getting knocked down by Shane Carwin in the opening minutes of their title fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
As the 265-pound Carwin rushed in to finish the fight, Lesnar later said he did think back to his battle with diverticulitis earlier this year to help him survive.
“The thought did cross my mind when I was underneath that I’ve been through a lot,” Lesnar said. “I thought to myself, this isn’t how it’s going to end.”
After a rough two minutes, during which referee Josh Rosenthal seemed constantly on the verge of stopping the fight, Lesnar (5-1) somehow worked back to his feet to finish the first round.
Despite taking a beating from arguably the hardest puncher in the UFC, Lesnar appeared to be the fresher fighter following the break. He needed just 2:19 of the second round to take Carwin (12-1) to the ground and submit him via arm triangle.
During the post-fight press conference, Lesnar specifically thanked Rosenthal for allowing the fight to continue. He went on to say that he could feel Carwin tiring with every punch and knew he had weathered the worst of the storm.
"I really have to thank the referee for letting that thing continue," Lesnar said. "(Rosenthal) did come to me before the fight and said, 'Heaven forbid, this fight gets ugly and somebody's in a bad situation, you have to show me that you're staying alive down there. That kept going through my mind. I could feel Shane. Every punch was less and less. When that happened, I knew the worst was done.
Considering Saturday was just the sixth professional fight of Lesnar’s professional career, it seems as though he’s answered a different question every time he’s stepped into the cage.
The one he answered against Carwin, however, is maybe the most impressive to date.
“He shows something different every time he fights,” said UFC president Dana White. “Tonight he showed how tough he is. We saw him pinned up against the cage on the receiving end. He was taking punches that have stopped a lot of guys in the past.”
The storyline leading up to the fight was whether or not Lesnar would be the same after suffering from an illness that at one point saw him drop over 40 pounds from his frame.
In the win over Carwin, not only did Lesnar appear every bit as strong as he did in a second-round win over Frank Mir in July 2009, he appeared even more evolved as a fighter.
After taking down Carwin early in the second round, Lesnar actually passed on the opportunity for an easy full-mount to go for the arm triangle instead — an aggressive move to end the fight that comes with certain risks.
“Those who know anything about the sport know that your arms are smoked if you hold a choke like that for too long,” White said. “It was a risky move for Brock. I’ve actually seen guys in this sport who are really good at submissions but don’t go for them because they’re so risky.
“Brock showed tonight he’s evolving and he wants to try out the stuff he’s been learning in the gym.”
The win sets up a future title fight between Lesnar and new No. 1 contender Cain Velasquez. Like Carwin, Velasquez will also enter the octagon against Lesnar with a perfect 8-0 record. On Saturday, White hinted that he'd like to see Lesnar back in action sooner rather than later and wouldn't rule out setting up a heavyweight title fight to headline the UFC 119 event expected in Indianapolis, Ind. on Sept. 25.
After the year Lesnar has been through however, Velasquez is just about the furthest thing from his mind.
For now, the defending heavyweight champion is just happy to be back from the hardest fight of his life — one that should make many of his future ones seem a lot easier.
“It’s just great to win,” Lesnar said. “Honest to God, what I’ve been through since November to this point feels like it’s been 10 years. It’s been a grueling, grueling road. To be here is really a miracle. Words can not describe it. I feel like I’m in a dream.”
Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or firstname.lastname@example.org.