Early in September former UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk announced his official retirement from the sport of mixed martial arts. It didn’t take much thought for Sherk to make that decision.
It just came down to injuries, they just kept piling up, the old ones won’t go away and new ones are popping up and I just figured I wouldn’t get back in the cage if I wasn’t anywhere near 100%.
Sherk (36-4-1) made his debut with the big show at UFC 30, where he picked up his 11th straight victory against Tiki Ghosn. Unfortunately for “The Muscle Shark” he fought his next six fights outside the Octagon due to the fact that the organization wasn’t holding as many events back then.
The UFC was a goal of mine from the time I got in to MMA because the whole reason I got in to the sport was because I watched the UFC. I was a fan. I watched UFC 2 and I knew who all those guys were. I knew their stats and where they were from and their styles. I was a huge fan of the sport. So for me to actually walk in to the Octagon and fight for the UFC was a dream come true and I just knew that was what I wanted. I wanted to spend the rest of my career there but unfortunately the UFC cut me after the first fight. It wasn’t because I lost or it was a boring fight it was because they were doing only 2/3 shows a year at that time and they didn’t have room for me and they had Matt Hughes who was a mirror image of me and he had already had 3/4 fights before my debut. So back to the smaller organizations for me.
He made his return to the organization in 2002 and after a three-fight winning streak under the UFC banner, he earned a welterweight title shot against divisional leader Matt Hughes. At the time Hughes had defended the belt three times and wound up beating Sherk via unanimous decision to retain the title.
Hughes was ranked pound for pound number one in the world, he was the number one guy in my weight class, he was the champion and he was basically considered unbeatable at that time. I don’t think anyone came close to him in that era. I had a 4 month training camp for that fight and if he was going to beat me he was going to beat me because he was better than me – not because of conditioning or technique. Or anything like that. I trained my ass off and I was in the best shape of my life. We went to war – I wish that fight had of been on the feet a little longer as that was the fight I trained for. We trained for that and he used it to his advantage and took me down. After the second round my corner said “no more boxing”, so I started to wrestle and that is when the fight became more competitive. He was a great champion and it was a honor to step in the cage with him.
After the loss to Hughes, Sherk was released from the UFC. After back-to-back wins, Sherk decided to make the trek across the pond to Japan to fight for the world famous PRIDE FC organization at PRIDE Bushido 2. This was a one-fight deal, but definitely stood out in Sherk’s mind.
I wish I had more chances to fight over there. PRIDE was the biggest promotion in the world at that point and back then the fighters were hot like they are now in the UFC. Sapp and Shamrock were huge stars doing TV endorsement deals and I had never seen that before so it was phenomenal. So walking down the street people knew who we were and were given us presents and I was like “holy heck” because in America they were calling us brutal! They called it cockfighting and it was looked down on but you come over to Japan and you are a superstar. It was cool and fighting in front of 20,000 Japanese fans was great, they are so quiet. I could hear my cornermen. Unfortunately I didn’t go back. I had a great fight over there and beat one of their guys and after the fight they offered me another fight but the money was really bad and they wanted it exclusive. I had a kid at that point and a house with a lot of bills so it didn’t make sense. I turned it down and that was the end of that.
After fighting in Japan he went on to fight for a number of regional promotions and after winning twelve fights in a row he earned his way back to the promotion. In his return bout he took on the current welterweight kingpin, Georges St-Pierre. “Rush” had won two in a row against Jason Miller and Frank Trigg, but was nowhere near the phenom he is today.
I knew at that time that he (GSP) was a big deal, the guy was undefeated and he was just manhandling everybody and he was beating everyone. I knew he was good so I knew it was a tough fight. He was number 2 in the world and I was number 3 or 4 so we were close in rankings but I had a lot more experience than him. I went in there and had a good training camp, wasn’t injured and he just was the better fighter you know. He was 2 or 3 moves ahead of me and his game plan was phenomenal and he did real well in the stand up. I always felt when I started to get competitive on the feet he would shoot and take me down and it really threw me off.
Following the loss to St-Pierre he went on to defeat Nick Diaz and earned himself a shot at the vacant lightweight championship. In one of the bloodiest bouts in the history of the Octagon, Sherk won the lightweight title against Kenny Florian.
I had a lot of adversity going in to that fight, I tore my shoulder before that fight but there was no way I was pulling out of that fight with a shoulder injury. Not when I had a chance for a world title. I fought that fight with a tore shoulder but they cancelled the fight as they found out I had a torn shoulder – someone snitched on me – I had to convince them I was okay. They let me fight, I got a real bad cut above my eyebrow and forehead and their was blood everywhere. Blood was everywhere it reminds me of oil it is slippy so it really affected my ground game it was hard to hold on to Kenny and hard for me to see. He couldn’t see as blood was falling on to him and I could hear him complaining to the referee that he couldn’t see. The referee was asking him he wanted to quit and he said no so we had to fight it out. My comments on that are if you don’t want to swim in someone else’s blood don’t get inside the Octagon. But that was some bad stuff!
After winning the vacant lightweight championship against Florian and defending it against Hermes Franca. One of the most heated rivalries of his career came in his next bout against B.J. Penn at UFC 84. The two fighters had an honest distain for each other and it showed in the moments leading up to the fight.
That was the first time I fought somebody where I really disliked them. I think that was part of his game-plan to get in to my head and he eat me up and make me angry. I think BJ is the kind of guy who fights better angry whereas me, I had never hated an opponent before. I don’t look at it personal, I just want to get in there and win and that is what drives me. That fight we didn’t like each other. I wanted to hurt him and all the smack talk got to me and about a month before the fight the game-plan went out the window and I decided I wanted to box him and I just want to hit him in the mouth and shut him up. So yeah, BJ outboxed me and outpointed me. I threw twice as many punches as he did but his movement and his accuracy is what really got to me in that one. My punches were an inch off and were just missing by a little bit and all of his were right on the money on the jaw the eyes and if you saw what my face looked like after the fight you could tell. His accuracy was on the money. Was a great fight and after the fight we shook hands and ever since then we have been cool.
The 40-year old has fought in professional MMA since 1999; he has fought all over the world for numerous different fight promotions and he has held the highest title of them all – the UFC championship. He went out on a high, winning his final bout against Evan Dunham at UFC 119 in 2010. Were there any regrets in the ten-plus year career? Sherk says, “no regrets at all.”
No regrets at all. I set out to be a professional fighter and be one of the best in the world and I wanted to fight for a UFC title and win a UFC title and I accomplished all of those things. And to be a part of an industry like this where when I started it wasn’t cool. We had to go fight in Casinos as state law didnt work there. There was no money in it, I had a full-time job for my first 15 pro fights. I did it because I loved it and I fought all the way up to my last fight because I love the sport. From grassroots to the mainstream.
In the future, the Minnesota native would love to stay active in the sport, but as a coach of some sorts. He also has a couple other hobbies that he has been dabbling in as well.
I would like to coach and become one of the TV analysts on Fox I think something like that would be fun. To help out up-and-coming fighters with seminars would be fun. Besides that I have two businesses I own, Training Mask is one of them and I am house-flipping. Training mask has been going for two years and I have been flipping houses now for 9 months. It is something I can do until I am 70.
In the end Sherk had a very illustrious career with a 36-4-1 record, winning UFC gold and being able to fight in the sport he loved.