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Sean Sherk has no regrets in retirement; discusses his big fights
1999. That was the year Sean Sherk started his 41 fight career.
14 years later and the man affectionately known as ‘The Muscle Shark’ by his fans has called it quits. His head is still very much in competition mode but after years of battles inside the cage his body has told him that this is the end. In a candid and revealing interview with ‘Sucka Radio‘ – the official podcast of MMAOpinion.co.uk and MMASucka.com - Sherk discussed his 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 has always been a competitor – he started wrestling from the age of seven and when his wrestling career was winding down – it was only natural he would look for a new challenge, a new competition. He found his calling in MMA. Sherk’s first challenge would be on the local scene of his beloved Minnesota against Roscoe Ostyn. Sherk soon realised this was his calling.
“My very first fight, I knew that I loved it – I trained for it and I had many years under my belt wrestling and boxing and I trained specifically for my first fight for 6 months – specifically for that 8 man tournament. When I got in there it was a complete adrenaline rush and I had a blast and it was the coolest thing in the world and at that time I knew I had found my calling in life and I revolved my life around mixed martial arts for the next 13 years”
Sherk went on to cruise through his competition; winning one night tournaments and impressively picking up two wins over future UFC welterweight Karo Parisyan. All this was on his way to building a 10-0 record, a record that would get him that long awaited UFC call, he would win – but it wasn’t as perfect as he imagined:
“The UFC was a goal of mine from the time I got in to MMA because the whole reason I actually 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.”
Sherk would go on to fight a list of all time greats in his career, here is what he had to say on some of those opponents; firstly that welterweight title fight with the legendary Matt Hughes:
“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”
Sherk would come back to the UFC to fight one of the then big talents at 170 pounds. His name was Georges St-Pierre. Did Sherk realise just how good St-Pierre would turn out?
” 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”
Sherk would bounce back by picking up a win over Nick Diaz but a move to 155 pounds was on its way. The UFC decided to bring back the lightweight title and in turn gave Sherk the first crack against Kenny Florian to be the champion. What would ensue was one of the bloodiest fights of all time.
“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!”
There was always going to be one fight that I, like many think was an important one in Sherk’s career and that was the UFC 84 clash with BJ Penn. A lot of trash talking (including the infamous ‘Sean Sherk you’re dead’ reamrk). Sherk admitted he had lost that fight before it even got underway as BJ got under his skin.
” That was the first time I fought somebody where I really disliked them. I think that was part of his gameplan 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 dont 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 gameplan 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. It was a great fight and after the fight we shook hands and ever since then we have been cool”
Sherk would go on to fight only 3 more times, ending his career with a win over Evan Dunham at UFC 119. So what does Sean Sherk regret?
“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.”
And just like that Sean Sherk sails away in to the night with his career fulfilled. His time as an active competitor may be done but the memories of some great fights will live on.
To hear the full episode including the Sean Sherk interview in its entirety check it here: