The MMA world may still be reeling from the news that Brock Lesnar is once again on the shelf, but the wheels of the industry roll on.
As reported yesterday by NBC Sports' Ariel Helwani, Shane Carwin has replaced Lesnar in the scheduled No. 1 contender bout against Junior dos Santos at UFC 131. Late Thursday night Carwin opened as a more than a 2-1 underdog to dos Santos.
Interestingly enough, early public sentiment seemed to swing toward Carwin, however. After opening as a -265 favorite, the line on dos Santos quickly shrank to -225, according to reports. That shift may back up a percolating sentiment that many hardcore fans view Carwin as a more interesting and even matchup for the 26-year-old Brazilian than Lesnar.
The former WWE wrestler's image certainly took a hit in MMA circles after an underwhelming victory over Carwin last July and his ensuing first-round TKO loss to Cain Velasquez at UFC 121 in October. Following the defeat (and loss of his title), many fans and analysts began to view Lesnar as too one-dimensional, questioned his training at his private DeathClutch Gym in Minnesota and even questioned his commitment to MMA in general.
Rightly or wrongly, Carwin is viewed as the better rounded fighter. Himself an NCAA Division II national wrestling champion, Carwin owned five consecutive T/KO victories leading up to his UFC 116 bout with Lesnar. In that fight, he seemed once again on the verge of using his striking skills to craft a quick victory, flooring Lesnar early in the first round and spending much of the rest of the opening stanza battering the downed champion against the cage. An expected stoppage never came and by the beginning of the second, it was clear Carwin was spent. He tapped out to an arm triangle choke two minutes, 19 seconds into the second.
Carwin has not fought since that loss, owing to surgery to relieve chronic pain in his back and neck. During his absence his name also turned up on a list of professional athletes suspected of purchasing steroids from an online pharmacy, which was introduced into evidence by federal prosecutors during a trial otherwise unrelated to the UFC fighter.
Speaking of Nelson, it brings up one other unrelated (and very odd) note about Lesnar's current status: Back in January, the always conspiracy-minded Nelson theorized that Lesnar wouldn't make his June date with dos Santos, further speculating that Carwin would be brought in as a late-notice replacement.
At the time it seemed Nelson was just (once again) shooting his mouth off but now . cue "Twilight Zone" music . well, OK, it still seems like Nelson was just shooting his mouth off.
Still, with Lesnar's latest health setback his MMA career - and with it the future of the heavyweight division - is very much in flux.