Is There A New Sheriff In the 170lb Town?
“The Juggernaut” Sean Sherk
By Chris Onzuka – Chris@Onzuka.com
Originally printed in the September 2001 issue of FCF
Sean Sherk There is a relatively new entrant into the 170lb class, I say “relatively new” because he has actually been fighting for three years now and has been quietly destroying everyone in his path. This juggernaut is Sean Sherk, out of the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy, the same academy that produced Dave Menne, Brad Kohler, and John Renken. Sherk has been making a name for himself by winning numerous tournaments, such as the Danger Zone and Extreme Challenge, he has not only racked up a lot of experience [18-0-1], but has proven that he is very durable, something that you don’t often find in today’s fighters. Many people saw Sherk for the first time when he took apart Tito Ortiz’s protégé, Tiki, in his UFC debut. Since then, Sherk has kept fighting, but for some strange reason has not been invited back into the UFC. I got a hold of this well-spoken warrior and dug into his background and uncovered his thoughts about his UFC and Pancrase debuts.
FCF: Let’s start off with your UFC debut, how did that come about? Did you just receive a phone call or something?
Sean Sherk: Actually, my trainer, Greg Nelson received a call from Monte Cox. Monte was the one who set that up. About two months before the fight, they set that up and let me know.
FCF: Was Tiki named as your opponent already?
SS: Yes, they matched me up against Tiki right away, so I knew exactly who I was fighting two months ahead.
FCF: What did you think going into the fight against the UFC Champ Tito Ortiz’s protégé, Tiki?
SS: I expected him to be tough. Fortunately, I was able to get hold of some tapes, so I had something to go off of. From what I got off of the tapes, he was a good stand up guy, good on his feet, he had explosive hands, good kicks and he also looked like he had a good base. I saw a couple fights that when a couple guys shot in on him, it looked like he had good balance. So I knew that he was going to be well rounded. He definitely looked well rounded. One of the fights that I saw was the one where he fought Bob Cook. I basically knew that it was going to be one of my best fights ever.
FCF: Did you feel that your normal game plan would work so well against him or did you train specific things for him?
SS: I trained some specific things just for him. I also tried to sharpen what I had already been trying to work on, a lot of ground and pound, and a lot of throws and a lot of takedowns. I really did not want to stand up with him because I knew that he had good hands. I really worked a lot of striking with my takedowns. My plan was either to shoot under his punches or shoot off of my punches, which is what I worked on for that fight. I did a lot of cable shots. A lot of shots with the cable wrapped around my waist, to just explode and keep driving and driving and driving.
FCF: In that fight you totally dominated him. Did you expect to take him apart like that?
SS: I really did not know what to expect. I was sick for about a month before that fight. I got some bronchitis and it really messed up my lungs real bad. I was actually really nervous before the fight because I was worried that my lungs would close up and I would not be able to breath. Once I got in there, things began to flow really well and I think that I performed well and fought a really good fight.
FCF: Because of the bronchitis, where you trying to end the fight early?
SS: I was planning on ending the fight as soon as I could. I think the fight lasted about 9 ½ minutes. Another thing that I worked a lot for that fight was throws. Fortunately for me, he gave me his back in the fight and stood up, that’s how I ended the fight. I launched him and he had landed on his shoulder and he dislocated it. I was looking for any opportunity to end the fight and when I saw one, I ended it.
FCF: After such an impressive victory in your UFC debut, why weren’t you invited back to the UFC?
SS: I am not real sure; hopefully it is not because they don’t like me. I thought that I fought a pretty good fight. Hopefully that is not the reason. I kind of assumed that it was because they introduced a new rule that they were only going to allow one fighter per manager in the UFC and they pretty much introduced that rule right after my fight. So I assumed that was the reason, if there is any other reason, I just don’t know. I haven’t been contacted by Zuffa or anyone since that fight.
FCF: Some fighters choke when they get in the UFC, some rise to the next level. If you do get invited back into the UFC, do you think that you will perform even better or on par because of your outstanding previous performance?
SS: It was surprising that I felt really good when I went out there because I didn’t know what to expect. I thought the cameras, lights and all the people would throw me off, but when I walked out there I just sunk my head down and looked at the floor and pretended like there was nobody there. I think that all my wrestling experience helped. I have wrestled in front of 20,000 people before, so just being used to all those people watching you allowed me to block it out of my head and not let it bother me. So, hopefully, if I do get invited back to the UFC, I think that I should be able to perform at a good level, hopefully better than last time.
FCF: Do you have your sights set on anyone in particular in the UFC?
SS: No it doesn’t matter. I assume that they are going to put me in against someone in the top 5 or top 10 in the world. Whoever it is, all I can ask is for two months, so I can train and get ready for it. Hopefully I am at a point where I can hang with anyone in the top ten. With enough notice, I think that I can prepare myself for just about anybody. Whoever my manager throws me up against, that’s who I’m fighting.
FCF: What do you hope to accomplish? Are you aiming for any titles?
SS: I definitely would love to fight for the UFC title. I’d like to be a regular in the UFC. Actually any big event, UFC, Pride, King of the Cage, anything like that I would like to win their titles and be a regular in their events.
FCF: What steps are you taking to get there?
SS: I need to win a couple of big fights. Right now I am fighting as much as I can. I try to fight every month, so that way my name is always out there and people are hearing about me. Then the promoters are hearing about me and they will want me to fight for them because they know who I am. As far as the UFC goes, hopefully I will be fighting back in the UFC in the next couple of months. If I do get another UFC fight, it’s my job to just win and I assume that if I keep winning, I will just keep going back.
FCF: A lot of the guys that you have fought are not that well known. Are you making a concerted effort to fight some bigger name fighters?
SS: I fight pretty much anyone who I am matched up against. Right now, I am managed by Monte Cox. I take whatever advice he gives me; if he says that he wants me to fight so and so, that’s who I fight. Maybe a lot of the guys that I have fought are not well known, but they are pretty tough, even though they are not well known like a Miletich or a Newton.
FCF: Do you have any comments about people comparing you to Matt Hughes, some people are saying that you may have more potential than him?
SS: I have only seen Matt fight a couple of times and from what I have seen from Matt, he’s phenomenal. He’s fast, he’s tough, he’s an awesome wrestler and from just talking to Monte twice a week, Matt’s stand up game is getting so good now and his ground game as far as submissions are getting really good too. I guess it is hard for me to look at myself and compare myself to somebody else. I have never seen myself fight in person; you know what I mean? It is hard for me to look at myself and say, “Yeah, I can hang with this guy.” I have never felt my strength, I have never felt my speed, I haven’t felt that. I will probably be going down to Pat’s gym in the next month or two and work out with those guys, so I will probably be able to work out with Matt and see how I compare to him.
FCF: Do you think that training with Miletich’s guys will compromise your opportunity to fight for the UFC title if Pat wins it back?
SS: Well, I don’t think that it will pull me away from a title shot. I think that if I had moved down to Iowa and trained with those guys on a regular basis it would probably hurt me. Dave Menne trains down here in Minnesota and he has been down to Pat’s place a number of times and I know that him and Matt have fought before and I am sure that they will fight again and he would fight any one of those guys down there. Whatever happens in the ring, stays in the ring. It’s nothing personal. I would definitely like to go down there and train with those guys, but I don’t think that it will pull me away from a title shot.
FCF: Basically keep it on a professional level?
FCF: Let’s switch gears and talk about your recent fight in Pancrase. Was that the first time you fought in Japan?
FCF: Tell us about that fight. It was ruled and draw; that was your first draw wasn’t it? Tell us what this opponent did that the others couldn’t to bring you to a draw.
SS: Well, all around, my experience in Japan was pretty good. It was unique for me to go overseas and go to another country. As far as my fight goes, it was definitely a good fight. Unfortunately, I sprained my ankle in the first 15 seconds of the fight, so I had to fight for 15 minutes with a sprained ankle, which I think took a lot out of me. The guy that I fought was their [Pancrase's] number one contender, [Kiuma] Kunioku. He was definitely very well rounded and a tough guy. The way that I look at it is, in my mind, I feel that I won that fight. I feel like I dominated the first two rounds and the third round was close. But I guess when you’re fighting over in Japan and fighting one of their guys, the second I walk into the ring, I am already losing. That’s the way I look at it. That was tough, but it was a good experience. I’d like to fight for Pancrase again.
FCF: Have they expressed any interest in bringing you back?
SS: Yeah, Monte said that they had a lot of interest in bringing me back and having me fight for them again. Nothing set up or anything.
FCF: Can you tell us about your training background. It’s obviously wrestling based.
SS: Yeah, you’re right, it is wrestling based. I started wrestling when I was seven and I pretty much did that my whole life. At about 20, I took Judo and did that for a short period of time and worked my way into shootwrestling. I started doing some Muay Thai in 1994. From there, I have been at the same gym, which is Minnesota Martial Arts Academy. Since I have been there, I’ve trained shootwrestling, jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai and combat submission wrestling.
FCF: Did you wrestle in college?
SS: No, just up through high school. I wrestled since I was seven. I wrestled for 13 years competitively and once I was done with wrestling, I started doing submission wrestling and Muay Thai and all that stuff. I have never been out of it. I have always been involved in it.
FCF: Was all the shootwrestling at Minnesota Martial Arts Academy?
SS: Yeah, at the time, he [Greg Nelson, head instructor at MMAA] did shootwrestling and Muay Thai. The shootwrestling class was an hour and a half and right after the shootwrestling class was Muay Thai. They were back to back. Back then, I only trained 2 or 3 days a week. I was doing it more for fitness and because I liked the wrestling, so at that point I really didn’t have any plans as far as competing or anything like that.
FCF: How would you describe your fighting style?
SS: I describe my current style of fighting as Combat Submission Wrestling, which is vale tudo style, submission wrestling and Muay Thai. It’s as well rounded as possible.
FCF: How long have you trained there before getting into fighting?
SS: I had trained there for… my first fight was in ’98, so I was there for probably 4 years. I was off and on for about 3 and then I got serious about it for about a year and that’s when I started fighting.
FCF: You mention that you are serious about fighting now, how much are you training?
SS: Now I train 6 days a week, probably anywhere from 3-4 hours a day.
FCF: Run us through a typical training for you…
SS: It basically starts at about 11AM, where I come in and roll with all the jiu-jitsu guys and wrestlers for about an hour. After that I will usually work some hands, maybe some focus mitts or some sparring or bag rounds. I will do that for anywhere from a half an hour to an hour. Then I will eat and then I go to Bally’s and lift for about another hour. Then I will usually get some cardio in which is usually some running, stair climbing or swimming. I do all three of those at least twice a week. Sometimes I end up doing two of those a day. And then a lot of times I will come back at night and train again, so I get about 3 or 4 hours a day of just pure training. My routine stays pretty constant. Even when I’m not fighting, I am still training like that because I always like to stay in good shape like that. I mean, there have been times, when I get phone calls that I have been offered to fight someone good for decent pay, with a week away. And I always like to be ready because you never know when you are going to get a phone call, so I am ready to go all the time.
FCF: Are you fighting full-time right now, or are you still working or going to college?
SS: Right now that is my full-time job. For the last 3 years I was working as a machinist at a factory here in Minnesota. I worked there from 3PM-11PM, so what I would do is train all morning long up until about 2:30PM and then go to work until 11PM at night. I got laid off about two months ago, so now I’m just fighting.
FCF: Are you teaching too or is fighting enough to pay the bills?
SS: I just fight, that’s all I do. I don’t do any teaching or anything like that. Sometime in the future I’d like to own my own gym and have some fighters and train with them and teach them.
FCF: What exactly got you into fighting?
SS: Probably just watching the first few UFCs. That’s what introduced me to mixed martial arts, because I had no idea what that was until I started watching the Shamrocks and people like that get in there and fight. I know that Shamrock had a wrestling background, so I thought that maybe I can find a place that does submission wrestling and kickboxing and possibly some day fight. I really did not have any plans to fight; I guess I just assumed that when I was ready I would do it. Also a friend of mine introduced me to the gym where I train now and that’s where I have been ever since.
FCF: So you had a taste for fighting even before you got to this gym?
SS: Yeah, just being a wrestler, I have a little aggression in me, I guess. There have been a few cases where I have gone out and gotten into a fight or two; not anymore. When I was younger, I used to get into some stuff every now and then.
FCF: You currently have a record of 18-0-1. It seemed like you came out of nowhere. What organizations have you fought for? Where did you get all of these wins?
SS: Well, my very first event was a tournament for the Danger Zone. It’s an event that Dan Severn puts on. My second tournament was in the Extreme Challenge. I had fought for the Extreme Challenge a few times. I had also fought in the RSF, Reality Submission Fighting in St. Louis. That was my first 11 fights and my 12th fight was in the UFC. Then, from there I fought for the King of the Cage, Pancrase, a few fights here in Minnesota that Brad Kohler and Monte Cox put on. That’s about it.
FCF: What do you feel are your greatest attributes that have helped you achieve an immaculate record?
SS: I would have to say that conditioning and strength are some of my best attributes. Also speed, explosion, and having good base — basically being a good wrestler.
FCF: Tell us about the academy that you train at and your instructor?
SS: My academy is the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy, located in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. Since I have been there they have done shoot wrestling, Muay Thai, Jiu-Jitsu, and combat submission wrestling. My trainer is Greg Nelson, the owner of the academy. He has been training martial arts for probably 20 years. He is 35 [years old] now. He has wrestled for probably 10-15 years. He has also fought some shootwrestling and some Muay Thai fights, so he is very well rounded. There are a lot of guys there that cross train; we have pro boxers, kickboxers, and some college wrestlers there. We have a pretty good mix of well-rounded people and some people are one dimensional, but you can always find someone there to work out with. It’s a good school.
FCF: That academy has produced fighters such as Dave Menne and Brad Kohler. Are those guys still at your academy?
SS: Also John Renken. Dave opened up his own school in Forest Lake, Minnesota, so he’s got his own thing going on, but he probably trained 3-4 years here. John Renken moved to Kentucky and, I believe is running his own school. And Brad Kohler… he’s retired. Those guys have kind of moved on, but every once in a while they drop in.
FCF: So it is a good environment for them to come back to? No bad blood about them leaving?
SS: It is a great environment to come back to. All those guys are welcome to come back anytime they want. I am kind of hoping that Dave Menne comes back for his UFC fight. It would be great to train with him and I think we can definitely help him out and help him get ready. As far as I know there is no animosity as far as them leaving. There is no animosity with me anyway.
FCF: Are there any more stars training there that we should know about or have missed?
SS: I think Tom Schmitz — who is someone that I train with on a regular basis — I think he has a lot of potential. I believe he has a 10-3 NHB record, his three losses coming from Matt Hughes, Jesse Jones and Ben Earwood. He’s got wins over Dave Strasser and Shannon “The Cannon” Ritch. He is definitely an up and comer. We have a few guys that are coming up in the amateur ranks and a few that have a couple of pro fights. If they stick with it, they have a lot of potential.
FCF: Do you have any fights scheduled?
SS: Two coming up right now. One is on September 9th, here in Minnesota, where I will be fighting Cedric Marks. The next one is for the UCC title in Canada. I don’t know who the opponent is for that one. They do have an opponent, but I don’t know who that is.
FCF: Any closing comments?
SS: Well, I guess, I have a lot to show. For people that have seen me fight, they think that I am just a wrestler that ground-and-pounds guys, but I do work a lot of striking and submissions, so I have a lot to show and eventually it will come out, so just watch for me.
FCF: Thanks buddy.
SS: Cool, thanks.