On a Friday afternoon in September, former UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk walked into the Minnesota Martial Art Academy facility in Maple Grove and within minutes he was already on the mats, getting down to business.
With barely enough time to take his shirt and shoes off, Sherk and his training partner, UFC fighter and former University of Minnesota wrestler Nik Lentz, quickly go to the back of the gym and take to the mat, where Sherk struggles as he continuously tries to pass Lentz’s half guard.
After about five minutes, the horn sounds, and Sherk gets a one-minute break to catch his breath before a fresh grappler is brought in to continue the workout.
45 minutes and multiple sparring partners later, Sherk breaks from his training and steps into another room to whip up a quick protein shake in the blender, which he proceeds to chug down in about two minutes.
“I feel I’ve got this whole thing down to a science now,” Sherk jokes.
The St Francis, Minn. born fighter is in the final stretches of an 18-week training camp that culminates this Saturday night when he faces Evan Dunham (11-0) at UFC 119 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
This will be the first time the 37-year-old fighter has stepped into the Octagon in 16 months.
“I haven’t been sitting on the couch eating potato chips. I’ve been rehabbing,” Sherk said.
Sherk, who holds an official record of 33-4 with 1 draw, has been forced to withdraw from two fights in the last year, first a match with Gleison Tibau at UFC 104 and then again last March, when he was scheduled to face Clay Guida at the first UFC on Versus special.
“I’d never had to pull out of a fight before until last year I pulled out of two fights back-to-back. Which was very strange for me,” Sherk said. “I’ve fought injured many many times.”
“I’ve fought with torn shoulders, separated feet, torn knees, torn everything. And I’ve always fought through it,” Sherk said.
“I’m getting to a point now that the injuries are setting me back so far that I feel like it is not in my best interest to fight at 70%. I want to fight at 100%.”
Doctors told Sherk his injuries would require surgery, but he decided against it. “Surgery wasn’t an option because the doctor told me I’d never recover 100% again. So I decided to rehab those injuries," he added.
Sherk isn’t worried that the layoff will affect the fight.
“I don’t think ring rust will be an issue. I’ve been in the cage 11 years. This is my 43rd fight. Wrestled competitively my whole life before that, so ring rust won’t be an issue.” Sherk said. “I’m not going to forget how to fight overnight.”
With 43 fights under his belt, Sherk has a major experience advantage over up-and-comer Dunham.
“When you’re fighting, experience is obviously big," he said."You’ve seen and done everything. You’ve been in these positions. You know how to act and react to every position you’re in.”
It doesn’t just make a difference in the cage though, according to Sherk.
“Experience also plays out in training camps. It plays out in my diet, my preparations, my supplementation, my rest, my training partners. Experience comes into play in every aspect of this game," he said. "I leave no stones unturned, and when I step into the octagon I feel very very confident.”
As far as his opponent on Saturday night, Sherk said Dunham is a three-dimensional fighter, without any weaknesses, but “he’s never fought anyone like me before. I’m going to put some real pressure on him, I’m going to push the pace like he’s never felt."
Sherk said he is better in every aspect. "I’ve got more experience, so I think I’ve got a lot more to offer him than he does for me," he said. "I’ll just grab onto him and push the pace and we’ll see what happens."
Dunham, 28, fights out of the Xtreme Couture camp in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a southpaw and holds a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu. He’s 4-0 in the UFC and is coming off of split decision victory over Tyson Griffin in June.
Should he win on Saturday, Sherk feels he is still one fight away from being a championship contender. And while his eyes are firmly set on championship gold, there is one guy in particular he’d like to fight in another weight class.
“To be honest with you, I wouldn’t mind fighting Matt (Hughes) again. I consider Matt a friend of mine," Sherk said. "He’s come here and train before. We had a great fight five or six years ago for the welterweight title. I think we squared off again, a lot of fans might want too see that."
If you want more on the Sherk-Dunham fight and a look at UFC 119, check out the video we did yesterday with myself, Myron Medcalf and Tom Horgen, including some exclusive footage from Sherk's training camp. You can find the video at this link here.