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UFC 96: Previewing and Predicting Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Shane Carwin’s fight-by-fight preview of UFC 96 continues with an in-depth look at Saturday’s co-main event, the much-anticipated heavyweight clash between a former UFC heavyweight title challenger and a former NCAA Division II All-American in both football and wrestling.

Gabriel Gonzaga (10-3) vs. Shane Carwin (10-0)

There are a lot of biographical details that we know about Carwin: he’s a Colorado native; he’s 34-years old; and he’s a former NCAA Division II All-American wrestler and football player.

We also know that Carwin is 10-0 overall in his pro MMA career and 2-0 since debuting in the UFC. However, he remains a mystery as a fighter.

All ten of Carwin’s victories have ended via TKO or submission in the first round. I’m not sure if we’ve ever seen a fighter with such little cumilative time in the ring/cage after 10 fights than Carwin. No one can use his dominance as a strike against him but much like speed dating, you can come away impressed multiple times but you’re not really going to get to know someone in five minutes.

I might live to regret these words but against a WAMMA/Sherdog/MMA Weekly top ten ranked heavyweight in Gonzaga, we are finally going to see Carwin make it into deep waters and see what kind of fighter he really is.

Wins over Justice Smith from the WWE and American Gladiators and former UFC veterans Neil Wain, Sherman Pendergarst and Christian Wellisch aren’t bad, but Gonzaga represents a huge step up in competition. If Carwin makes me look like a fool and drops the former UFC heavyweight title challenger in the first round, my already high appraisal of his upside potential will skyrocket.

But while we know Carwin can punch, do we know if he can strike? Being big and strong and putting your fist on someone’s chin is one thing, but trying to use kicks and punch combinations to outpoint your opponent is something completely different.

Carwin has submissions to his credit but steam rolling athletically inferior opponents and slapping chokes on them isn’t the same as trying to gain position and hold position on the ground against a legitimate jiu-jitsu black belt.

Oh yes, we will learn just how really good Shane Carwin is on Saturday night. His best bet is to forget the standup and focus on his wrestling. Gonzaga is an immensely talented fighter but he does have some glaring weaknesses. If you apply pressure and put him in a situation where there is not an obvious escape, his will can be broken.

Carwin needs to put Gonzaga on his back and avoid the triangle. Once in Gonzaga’s guard, he needs to make sure he uses good posture and keeps the back of his elbows pressed against Gonzaga’s thighs so that he doesn’t get caught in a high guard. From there, he needs to ground and pound his way to victory.

That’s one recipe for potential success but is hardly a given. If Gonzaga can stuff his takedowns or turn the fight into a grappling match, Carwin could be exposed.

Prediction: I think that Carwin’s elite athleticism will prove to be too much and that he’ll achieve an early second round TKO victory against Gonzaga.

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