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Exclusive Interview with UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk

Sherk_at_BCXThis interview was submitted and conducted by special contributor Eric Shapiro…

Making an appearance during Saturday’s BattleCage Xtreme III event in Atlantic City was current UFC lightweight champion Sean “The Muscle Shark” Sherk. I was lucky enough to grab some face time with the champ and ask him a few questions about a potential bout with B.J. Penn, the Randy Couture situation, and his long-term future in the world of MMA. Enjoy.

Eric Shapiro: Do you enjoy coming to these events and is this a regular thing for you?

Sean Sherk: I do these every weekend…you know I get paid for appearances but I like watching fights, meet new people make new fans. It’s great.

Eric Shapiro: Is this your first time coming to New Jersey for an event?

Sean Sherk: I fought in New Jersey back in UFC 30… which was the first UFC event I ever fought in and that was at the Trump (Taj Mahal) so its been a while.

Eric Shapiro: You defeated Hermes Franca, who is supposed to have excellent Jiu-Jitsu, do you think B.J. Penn’s Jiu-Jitsu game is that much better?

Sean Sherk: I really think so, you know B.J.’s won a world title and I think his Jiu-Jitsu is going to be the best I’ve ever faced.

Eric Shapiro: How do you feel about B.J. being at 155 lbs. now instead of 170 lbs. as a welterweight? Do you think he will lose some power dropping the weight?

Sean Sherk: I always thought that he was a better 155 pounder than he was at 170 I think hes got better cardio, he’s more agile, quicker, and I think he’s a better fighter at 155. I always said that about him.

Eric Shapiro: Are you training ground game more specifically for a fight with B.J. or is it just business as usual in the gym?

Sean Sherk: I train everything in the gym, I’ve been boxing for a real long time, wrestling all my life, I’ve been training Jiu-Jitsu for a long time now and I’ve got some real phenomenal people that I train Jiu-Jitsu with. I’ll probably bring a couple more Jiu-Jitsu guys to train with too.

Eric Shapiro: Assuming Matt Huges beats Matt Serra in the TUF finale, who would you see winning another potential match between Hughes and contender Georges St. Pierre? Since you’ve fought both of them before at welterweight.

Sean Sherk: Well that’s the rubber match and if Hughes can get that fight on the ground I think he’s got a pretty good chance but that’s a big if, you know GSP can sprawl and he’s a phenomenal athlete so if Hughes can get it on the ground he’s got the advantage but if it stays standing up I give the advantage to Georges St. Pierre.

Eric Shapiro: Matt Hughes said recently on the TUF series that he’s getting older and that he probably only has about two or three good fights left in him. Since you two are the same age (34) do you see retirement anywhere in your near future?

Sean Sherk: Do I plan on retiring any time soon? Not at all, I’m going to fight as long as I can. I love what I do and there’s nothing else I would rather do. When I start losing fights it will be time to walk away but as long as I’m winning I’m not going to retire any time soon.

Eric Shapiro: Assuming you face and defeat B.J. Penn, who’s left for Sean Sherk to face?

Sean Sherk: Well the weight class is stacked and there’s guys coming out of the wood work all the time. Joe Stevenson’s been on a winning streak, Frankie Edgar’s been winning some fights, (Kenny) Florian’s been winning a couple fights in a row…

Eric Shapiro: Would you be content with fighting Kenny Florian again?

Sean Sherk: Why not? I beat him last time. I don’t care. I’ll fight whoever they put in front of me.

Eric Shapiro: So you’re not a real picker-chooser when it comes to your opponents?

Sean Sherk: You know what, when I retire from this sport I want to know that I fought the best of the best I don’t want a question mark at the end of my career saying “Did I fight the best guys out there? Was I the best fighter?” If you want to be the best you’ve got to beat the best so put the best in front me and I’ll fight ‘em.

Eric Shapiro: Assuming you conquer everything there is to conquer at 155 lbs., do you think you might ever want to move back up to welterweight in the future?

Sean Sherk: You know what I just don’t fee like I need to, I like 155, I fought 37 fights as a welterweight. I walk around at about 175-180 lbs. so it’s no problem for me to make welterweight I actually have to cut a lot of weight to make 155. I feel exactly the same at 155 as I do at 170 that’s why it’s a big advantage for me because I don’t lose any power and my cardio is actually better and I have more speed, agility, all and all its just a better fit.

Eric Shapiro: Are you currently training full-time?

Sean Sherk: Oh yeah, I’ve been training full-time for years.

Eric Shapiro: Do you ever take a break from training?

Sean Sherk: Well I had to take a break after my last fight, I tore my shoulder which I had hurt before I even fought (Kenny) Florian. I had surgery and took six weeks off to rehab it.

Eric Shapiro: Do you have a strategy in mind for a fight against B.J. Penn?

Sean Sherk: Just tire him out. I don’t care how I do it, just tire him out.

Eric Shapiro: So you think cardio is still an issue for B.J. Penn?

Sean Sherk: Always man, I’ve never seen him fight and not get tired so that’s always an issue

Eric Shapiro: So you really think he will still get gassed and have that same problem again?

Sean Sherk: Look, if you don’t have work ethic you don’t have work ethic. If you can’t dieted properly and you can’t get your ass in the gym six days a week…I mean maybe he (B.J.) will do some things differently but he’s definitely not going to train as hard as I am, I promise you that.

Eric Shapiro: You’re a big name in the UFC and everybody is still talking about the Randy Couture developments, what’s your take on that?

Sean Sherk: I think Couture’s phenomenal man I think he’s one of the best guys to ever step foot in the Octagon. Like I said earlier about myself, I think Randy just wants to walk away from this sport knowing that he fought the best of the best. Right now Fedor (Emelianenko) is the number one heavyweight in the world everyone thinks he’s unbeatable and Randy wants to fight him and that makes sense. I hate to see him leave the UFC, but it makes sense for him and I support him. Randy’s 44-years old man; he’s a four-time Olympian (editor’s note: Couture was an Olympic alternate for the U.S. in Greco-Roman wrestling); five-time UFC champion; he wants to fight the best in the world and he deserves it.

Eric Shapiro: Have you ever personally experienced any of the problems that Couture claims to have had with UFC management?

Sean Sherk: I’ve never personally seen anything like that but there are other bigger organizations out there that are trying to compete with the UFC right now. UFC is obviously the big show in town and I think Randy left just because of Fedor.

Eric Shapiro: People have joked in the past that the UF in UFC stands for Underpaid Fighters, do you think that has some truth to it from your perspective?

Sean Sherk: You know, they’ve taken pretty good care of me in the past year, the paydays could definitely be better I’m not going to lie to you, but they have taken good care of me and outside of the paydays you’ve got all kinds of exposure and sponsorships, appearances, etc.

Eric Shapiro: A lot of guys in the UFC including yourself are sponsored by Xyience. Are they still treating you well?

Sean Sherk: Oh no, I’m not sponsored by them anymore. I used to be but they stiffed me a bunch of money. They stiff everybody. A lot of people are leaving them.