LAS VEGAS » On a night Chris Leben and Kendall Grove were victorious, Brock Lesnar stole the show, battling back from a horrific first-round beating to stop Shane Carwin with a choke in the main event of UFC 116.
Lesnar (5-1), the intimidating former pro wrestler and the UFC’s biggest pay-per-view star, won his first fight in nearly a year despite taking a pounding in the opening minutes from Carwin, the previously undefeated interim champion.
Lesnar took down Carwin in the second round and got Carwin in an arm triangle choke, forcing Carwin to tap out at the MGM Grand Garden.
"I knew he was getting tired," Lesnar said. "Each shot was less dramatic than the other. … I stand before you a humble champion, and I’m still the toughest (guy) around."
Lesnar canceled two previous bouts with Carwin (12-1) after developing an intestinal illness that nearly killed him. His first bout since UFC 100 showcased his improving mixed martial arts skills alongside his brute toughness — and he celebrated relatively humbly, with none of the arrogance and bad sportsmanship he showed after beating Frank Mir in his last fight.
The comeback victory is another surprising twist in the unique career path of Lesnar, the former college wrestling champion, professional fake wrestler and Minnesota Vikings tryout player who has become MMA’s biggest name, if not its most skilled practitioner, in just six pro fights.
Carwin and Lesnar slammed heavily into the cage in the opening minute, but Carwin quickly got Lesnar on the defensive with an uppercut that staggered him. Carwin punched Lesnar in the head for the better part of 2 minutes, cutting Lesnar badly over his left eye, yet he survived and even stood up from a barrage that would have stopped most fighters.
The fighters exchanged a high-five before the second round, and Lesnar got on top of Carwin with a takedown move. Lesnar’s wrestling skills eventually put him in position to choke Carwin, who might have expended too much energy trying to finish it in the first round.
"My hat is off to him," said Carwin, whose previous 12 fights never reached the second round. "He’s the champion. I fell down the mountain, but I’ll get back up."
Just two weeks after beating Aaron Simpson in another Las Vegas show, Leben returned to the octagon as an injury replacement for Wanderlei Silva. Despite one of the quickest turnarounds in recent MMA history, Leben survived Yoshihiro Akiyama’s skill and landed superior strikes before getting Akiyama in a triangle choke, forcing the touted Japanese judo star to tap out of his second UFC bout.
"It doesn’t matter if it’s on my feet, on the ground," said Leben, who demanded to fight Silva next. "If I’m in the fight, I get the job done."
Leben and Akiyama earned fight of the night bonuses as both men looked at times to be on verge of a victory.
In a preliminary fight shown on PPV after the main event, Grove earned a split decision victory over Goran Reljic to improve to 7-4 in the UFC.
Grove landed a vicious upkick in the first round and held on for the win despite getting into trouble late in the final round. Reljic had side control on Grove but not enough time to take advantage.