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MMA Submission: Sean Sherk’s Image Redux

April 24th, 2009 · 29 Comments · News

Image is Everything (And Nothing)
by Ryan Hockensmith
In MMA, image is a fickle concept. It wasn’t too long ago that Chuck Liddell was the baddest man on the planet. A few losses later, the consensus is he needs to retire—like, yesterday.

So imagine Sean Sherk’s image in July, 2007. He’d just starred in a UFC Countdown show on Spike, and followed that up with a commanding title defense against top challenger Hermes Franca.

Then he flunked a steroid test. His image as one of the hardest, most dedicated gym rats in the business took an enormous hit. Probably from the juice, fans said.

Sherk pushed back hard. He appealed the suspension and swore he didn’t take any kind of performance-enhancing drugs. He fought and fought and fought—and the California Athletic Commission actually caved a little. His suspension was reduced to six months, and Sherk started fighting again. “I had to get back out there and remind fans who I am,” Sherk says.

Last May he lost to B.J. Penn trying to get his lightweight title back, but followed up with a solid unanimous decision win against Tyson Griffin at UFC 90 in October. For the Griffin war, Sherk won Fight of the Night honors.

Next, he’ll face Frankie Edgar at UFC 98 on May 23. If he wins, he’s right back in the thick of the 155-pound title hunt. If he loses, he’s still a solid contender, with a 33-4-1 career record, who will continue making a good living as a UFC fighter.

But win, lose or draw, that one flunked drug test—which he still wants to eventually clear from his record—haunts Sherk. On the way to the cage for the Griffin fight, Sherk heard boos and steroid chants. “I care about peoples’ perceptions of me,” Sherk says. “I really do. I didn’t take steroids. I know it’s hard to believe, but I didn’t. Unfortunately, some people will only ever hear my name and think about that one drug test.”

How much does Sherk care? Well, when Round 5, a startup MMA figurine manufacturer, approached him about making a “Muscle Shark” toy of Sherk, he took it seriously. He didn’t want it to be ridiculously ripped, for obvious reasons. He wanted his tattoos to be perfectly replicated on the toy. There was even a little back-and-forth about the texture of his hair.

And when it came time to make the most critical decision—his figure’s pose—he thought long and hard about the image he wanted to present. He ultimately decided to go with the first image many fight fans ever saw of him. At UFC 42, Sherk fought legend Matt Hughes for the welterweight title. For the first time, Sherk was asked to appear on the promo poster the UFC puts out before every event. To introduce himself to the world, Sherk stood with two fists closed, one raised, a small smirk on his face. He felt the shot showed him as he is—workmanlike, not flashy, solid.

That’s what he went with for The Muscle Shark figurine, too. For the back of the box, Sherk had to come up with a quote that best sums up him. For example, Wanderlei Silva’s says, “I promise violence.” Sherk thought long and hard throughout the 10-month, intricate process that figurine-making requires, and finally came up with his perfect message.

“There is no substitute for hard work.”



29 Comments so far ↓

  • Petey L

    Sherk, I am a huge fan and appreciate your hard work. Your last fight was a total war and you showed great striking and solid take downs. Everyone is saying that you will beat Frankie but I hope you do not take him lightly. I know that you can rise back to the top and even beat BJ, you just gotta strike and keep shooting in for takedowns to gas him out. You can beat anybody with your conditioning. If Florian becomes the champ, then I know for sure you can give him a run for his money. Best of luck.

  • shawn

    Sherk is the hardest working fighter out there today. My perception of him and all the true MMA fans has not been tarnished by the false accusations. It just makes me cheer louder when the others boo….WAR SHERK

  • Shane K.

    Seriously man, you are one of my biggest inspirations. You gt me into MMA with your fight against GSP, and kept me going with all your fights before and after that. KEEP UP THE HARD WORK MAN!! You always have a supporter here

  • john c

    sean ill be in vegas routing for you its bs people r so one minded cause truly in this country ur guilty until proven innocent not innocent until proven guilty

  • shawn

    Nice comment. John let me know where you’re gonna be in Vegas. I’ll be there too….

  • Gavin C.

    For all you guys talking about Vegas, I live there so obviously I’ll be there as well.

    To the topic at hand: Sean you’re an incredible athlete. Your workout is the most intense conditioning routine I’ve ever seen. I think anyone with half a brain would realize that you never took steroids and that you’re success is attrbuted to hard work, and raw talent. Hopefully one day I’ll get to be half as successful as you are. Good luck man, I’ll be routing for you.

  • Jakob

    Go Sean! Im rooting so hard for you in your next fight at UFC 98. Give him your best and you will come out on top.

    With best regards Jakob from Sweden

  • shawn

    Anyone going to Vegas, I’ll be there. Staying at the IP…I know baller…Would like to meet up with more Muscle Shark fans….WAR SHERK!

  • Todd

    Go get ’em guy. You know what you need to do. Tune everything out (except your corner of course) and fight your war, not his. Make a fellow Tornado proud.

  • Dennis

    Hello. I saw the UFC 98 fight and there is no doubt you are tuff, in great shape and are adding to your arsenal with your boxing skills. I think though in following your fights, that you have great success in using your wrestling skills in conjunction with ground and pound. You have only lost to the best before UFC 98…which makes you one of the best. But, be who you are…it worked.
    …And, seeing your workouts on countdown a few years ago changed how I worked out since…thanks!

  • austin

    r u from murray

  • Brandon

    Sherk, anyone who thinks that you actually took riods for your Franca fight never investigated the facts of the case.

    The fact that your positive read was so incredibly low as compared to what that drug tests for is a major point to look at.

    Then when you provided evidence from the suppliments Xyience and others were legally producing and could be purchased over the counter could produce that type of hormone increase and the california athletic commission never even looked at it is disturbing

    They lowered your sentence after two continuances that they weren’t ready for. if you were guilty why lower the sentence? They did it because they knew they were wrong and didn’t want to admit that

    Your a beast man!! Keep fighting! Keep wrestling man, The ground game is the best part of MMA!!!

    Sherk for president 2012!!!

  • shawn

    I agree. The CSAC screwed up and is refusing to admit their mistake. I do agree that you are your at your best in the ground and pound. Nobody can stop your takedowns! Work them over on the ground than finish on your feet. That title belt is close than you know! WAR SHERK!

  • Clayton parrish

    Hello my name is clayton and you and Brock lesnar inspire me so much when I work out
    When ever I come to a point where my muscles are completely drained I think of y’all two and I get through it my only problem is I need some advice on getting abs I do abs every day Sunday to Sunday and I still am not as cut as you are could you please give me some advice my email is

  • Declan

    sean! you are a truely great fighter! i love watching you fight, your take downs are phenominal, and your strength is unmatched, i cant wait for your next fight

  • Jeff

    Can’t wait for your next fight! I’ve been a huge fan forever, and hope you remember that every fighter has their ups and downs, but I know you still have it in you to get back up to the top.

    Take fights as soon as you can get them. Rip apart a fighter in a Fight Night, challenge another top 5 – top 10 contender in a UFC 103 or 104, and just impress everyone with your submissions and wrestling.

    You’re a powerhouse and a force to be reckoned with. Keep it coming man.

  • Johnny

    Really quick, boxing with BG and obvious reach disadvantage with you head leaning forward. Makes it easy for him to pick you apart on your feet.

    Need to take that fcker down no matter what. Don’t play his game. Play your game, to your strengths.

    Btw you the man!!

  • Trent

    Sean, if you read this at all or even care what i have to say i have one word of advice, you’re a great fighter and are extermley powerfull, you have been working on your boxing which has imporved alot but you need to stick to wrestling your opponents keeping them down and beating them up. when you try to box it’s effective at times but with a reach disadvantage a good stand up fighter can pick you apart and win on points…my point being lets see the old sherk back and see you dominate people with your world class wrestling and ground a pound…keep on fighting sherk

  • Wes

    Sean, man you define badass. You are one of the strongest fighters i have ever seen at 155. My opinion the best. Do what you do man. Cant wait to see you fight.

  • Anthony

    Sherk is one of the few people i look up to even idolize, he shows anyone that hark work with a lil “talent” beats anything.. sherk is gonna win the lightweight belt again bj penn doesnt have the drive that instinct that sean has its only a matter of time.

  • Mike

    Sherk is no doubt worthy of that belt, people say b.j. Penn “man-handled” him. Not what i saw, i saw an amazing fight that got ended by an admittedly good knee, no one seems to mention penn getting rock by an early flurry, and personally i think a full 5 rounds wouldve seen Sherks hand raised. You’re still the champ to me man, a steroid-free, ass-kicking champion.

  • Andrew

    As a public sports figure, you’ll always have haters and they’ll love to rub the steroid issue in your face. Many of these haters (in my opinion) are young and new to the sport. They’re spectators who don’t train in anything and like to run their mouth. Don’t take them seriously.

    Real fans of the sport know you are the real deal. We will continue to support you, because you are solid fighter that puts on great performances every time no matter who the opponent is.

    Ignore the haters.

  • Alex

    Hey, this is my first ever post on any website and I don’t think I could’ve chosen a better place either. I just would like to say I idolize your workout, ambition and strength as a fighter and believe you have more than what it takes to be at the top of the sport considering you have pretty much the best fight record out there I mean like fourty some wins and only three losses which were to the best fighters in the welter and light weight division. I just wish there weren’t so many narrow minded people to not see your potential and heart.

  • Brian

    Sean, ive had huge respect for you and your work ethic ever since i saw you compete in japan, i really hope to see you get the respect you deserve again, ill always be cheering you on, good luck in 108, ill be watching eagerly

  • Buggs

    Sean Sherk, huge fan dude, im more of a BJJ/Judo man myself but i utilise boxing in combination with BJJ from the top. but your wrestling is astonishing, really, love to watch you fight, hate to hear you badmouthed, dont believe the steroid rumours and even if they were true, ive seen your workouts, ive seen your styles, ive seen you fight. you dont deserve the boo, and your talent is obvious.
    Sir, you are a legend in mixed martial arts and belong in the Hall of Fame no doubt!
    keep going, i personally believe you can top the 155 and stay there.
    Much Love and Respect
    P.S. you are an inspiration to me and many many others, Determination, Perseverance, Respect for the other fighter prove you worthy and i LOVE to see you submit!

  • Camel Hound

    Sean, go back to using your wrestling and you will be champ again.

  • Lue Vang


  • morris

    i wish i could be u. at of the hole ufc warriors, ur number one to me. ur boxing and wrestling are good just mix it up. then you’ll be great.take care champ.

  • Norman Denstedt

    Sean I was a good friend of your Dad in Park Rapids, and I know how Proud he would have ben of you , I know I am .

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