Shane Carwin: A Look Back at Untapped Potential


A bombshell was dropped on the MMA world last night when former UFC Interim Heavyweight Champion Shane Carwin  announced his retirement from MMA competition. While Carwin’s recent injuries were well documented, it was thought that he was simply on the long mend and would one day make his return to the Octagon.

Quite the opposite is obviously the case, however, and with the announcement, the UFC loses a power hitter that never really lived up to his full potential.  The monster made his UFC debut in 2008 with a vicious KO, and parlayed that into a four-fight winning streak of first round stoppages. His most notable wins were destructive knockouts of Gabriel Gonzaga and Frank Mir, the latter for the UFC Interim Heavyweight title.

Carwin’s power became almost legendary in a short amount of time, and it must be noted that he rarely had to use the wrestling pedigree that earned him an NCAA Division II National Championship in 1999. His athletic potential was almost unlimited, and it’s a shame we never got to see him use it fully. Carwin suffered a downslide at the absolute top of the UFCs biggest division, losing to Brock Lesnar via submission after dominating the first round with strikes. He also got throttled by an impressive Junior dos Santos in what was to be his last fight ever in June of 2011. He then ran into his highly publicized bout with neck and back pain, resulting in a long layoff due to surgery.

Regardless of these setbacks, Carwin was expected to make his return to the Octagon last December as the culmination of his TUF coaching stint opposite fellow heavy hitter Roy Nelson. The bout would have been an exciting clash of heavyweights, but Carwin’s injuries again got the best of him. Injuries truly plagued him throughout his tumultuous UFC career, and ultimately lead to his retirement.

Carwin’s detractors will cite his alleged steroid use as a big factor in all of his injuries, but that’s really neither here nor there because it still remains a debate. I’m not a proponent of steroids or any other PEDs in fighting, but Carwin never failed a test. If he was injured due to PEDs, well, that’s his bad, and could have put a halt to a potentially great career.

What is clear is that he had a ton of untapped potential for the sport of MMA, potential that never got fully realized due to injuries and maybe even a lack of preparation. He could have beat Brock Lesnar for the title, in fact he should have. But he expended too much energy in the first round wailing away on Lesnar’s forearms that he was gassed by the second. To me, that’s poor preparation and conditioning.

Against JDS, he was a game fighter for sure, because anyone who eats that many shots from dos Santos and goes the full distance is a beast in my eyes. But that fight may have also proved that Carwin was very good, but maybe just not good enough to hang with the true elite of the division. A win over Nelson in late 2012 could have righted the ship somewhat, and given Carwin a chance to climb back up the ladder.

All in all, the sport lost a great fighter last night. He may not have reached the top of the mountain with young guns Cain Velasquez and JDS at the helm, but he was always ready to throw some bombs to put on a show for the fans. His potential was derailed by injuries, and now it will never be realized. 

  • 5ucks that he retired, such an exciting fighter

  • Carwin was a beast. Shame we didn't get to see him duke it out a couple more times.

  • Thought for sure he would hold the belt at least for awhile….he's a smart dude I am sure he's already got the rest of his career figured out, being the engineer and all..

  • I was and am, a big fan of The Big Man. I loved the guy. Not only was he a great fighter and competitor, but he's also a very sweet guy. He's like that Wanderlei Silva kind of nice.

    That aside, I truly did believe he'd take the belt one day. I thought he had all the tools, but if the body won't take the mind where it wants to go, there's not much which can be about it.

    I for one will miss him. I'm a fan of his both in and out of the ring. The HW division is lesser for the loss. I wish him all the best. His health comes first.

    …and great write-up, Michael. You summed up his career nicely. Cheers.

  • Sad to see him go before his time.

    He could have potentially been a bad match-up for Cain but even if not, he would be a long time top 10 and maybe even top 5.

    I know he will do well outside the cage, just a shame he has no other choice.

  • There were so many fights I wanted to see Carwin in.

    Carwin vs Overreem would have been an amazing…40 second fight!