As two of the most promising prospects in the lightweight division battled it out yesterday at the Ultimate Fighter Finale, the champion of the division, Sean Sherk was suffering the consequences of losing his own battle. The battle to keep his Lightweight belt.
The UFC management decided to strip Sherk of his title after the California State Athletic Commission found him guilty after his UFC 73 title defense against Hermes Franca when he tested positive for a banned substance. This decision means now that the UFC 80 main event between Joe Stevenson and B.J. Penn will be upgraded from an Interim Title Fight to a fight for the vacant Lightweight belt.
This decision made by the UFC in my opinion was a tough call but the right call. Whether or not you believe Sherk when he says he is innocent, the bottom line is he was found guilty by the CSAC and the UFC had to act accordingly.
If the UFC did not strip Sherk then people from outside the sport looking in, such as the mainstream media would have only seen a fighter who is the champion of his weight class get convicted for steroids by an athletic commission but not punished by the organisation he belongs to. Being weak on steroids is not a tag the UFC wants when they are on the cusp of mainstream acceptance.
The UFC is also right now attempting to get MMA sanctioned in every state in the US. How would it look to the various athletic commissions who have not sanctioned MMA when the premiere organisation is seen to have ignored a ruling by a fellow commission?
The fight between Penn and Stevenson which was set to headline the UFC 80 card in in England would also have been greatly devalued if Sherk kept his title. Having the main event being for an interim title would have been redundant considering the champin was able to return prior to the event taking place. Therefore, stripping Sherk greatly benefits the card as now its for the actual championship. The UFC is putting a lot of effort into expanding into England, and to do that they need appealing cards. A pointless interim title match up would not suffice.
This must be devastating for Sherk who strongly denies any steroid usage. It also doesn’t help his cause, even if he does manage to clear his name, as the impression is left in the minds of the people who do not know the full story that he is a “drug cheat”.
Considering Dana White’s friendship with Sherk, this decision can not have been an easy one. But the damage that could have been caused if the decision was not made means it was a necessary one.
If you enjoy Sam Cupitt’s views on all things MMA, check out his website, The Sam Blog.