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Sean Sherk Talks Frankie Edgar, Title Shots, Proving His Doubters Wrong

Former UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk may be one of the most polarizing champions in MMA history. Almost two years after his steroid suspension following a successful title defense against Hermes Franca at UFC 73, Sherk (33-3-1) continues to try and prove that he is a clean fighter.

Last October, the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy fighter briefly quieted his critics by dominating rising star Tyson Griffin for three rounds en route to a unanimous decision victory. Next, he faces Frankie Edgar (9-1), another up-and-coming lightweight, at UFC 98 on May 23.

FanHouse spoke to Sherk about his upcoming fight against Edgar and his place in the lightweight division. The full interview is below.

Ariel Helwani: Following your victory over Tyson Griffin, you had publicly stated that you wanted an immediate title shot. So, what was your initial reaction when you heard that you were booked against Frankie Edgar at UFC 98?
Sean Sherk: Well, I knew I wasn't going to be fighting for a title right away. I figured I would have to win one more fight. I was hoping to get a fight with Diego (Sanchez) or somebody of that nature, but it just wasn't able to happen. So, they offered me Frankie, which I thought was a good opponent. He's got a pretty good name. He's done real well in the UFC; I've seen him in the top 10 before. I think it's another step closer to a title shot, which is my main goal.

I think the hard part is for the UFC right now, is that their (lightweight) champion (BJ Penn) is only defending the belt once a year. I think it will be 15 months since that belt has been defended by the time he defends it (against Kenny Florian at UFC 101 in August). So, it's kind of a tough situation for them to begin with and it's a real tough situation for all of us contenders who are trying to fight our way to the top because once we get to the top there's nobody defending the belt. So, it's like, 'Ok, what do I do now?' Even if I win this fight, I will be sitting on the sidelines - if they do give me a title shot after this, assuming I win - I'll be sitting on the sidelines for another nine or ten months waiting for Penn to defend it. So, it's kind of a tough situation, like I said, for the UFC and a tough situation for me, but I'm willing to do what I got to do. I've always put the time and I'll earn my shot just like I always do.

Do most of the top lightweight fighters in the division share your sentiments on Penn?
Well, it's frustrating. Like myself, I feel like I could fight for a title again. I feel like I've earned it. But like I said, there's nobody really defending the belt. I think BJ wants to fight in two different weight classes, but he doesn't want to fight more than twice a year, so it's a real tough situation for a contender. I don't know what the UFC's thoughts are on the subject, but as a contender, it's kind of frustrating.

Since you've already defeated Florian, are you hoping that he defeats Penn in August so that may expedite your chances of receiving a title shot?
You know, I'm not looking for an easy title shot. I know Kenny's not easy but if Kenny wins, I don't want a shot just because I already beat Kenny. Give me BJ again, man. BJ beat me and for me that's motivation, especially with everything before that lead into that fight with all the drama and stuff like that. I just want the best fighter to win that night, and hopefully if I do my job on May 23, hopefully I can be next in line for a title shot.

Do you think Frankie Edgar is a step down for you competition-wise?

Well, no. I mean Frankie is really tough; I never overlook anybody. I never have in my entire career and I'm not going to start now. I know Frankie's got some great, great wrestling credentials. I've seen the guy fight before and he's real solid. He's fast; he's aggressive; he's got good cardio; he's hands look pretty good; his wrestling looks phenomenal. I don't know what his jiu-jitsu game is yet; I've never really seen it. But I think Frankie is a tough competitor, and as soon as you start overlooking guys, that's when you run into a problem and I'm not going to do that.

Have you studied his only loss to Gray Maynard last April to see what he did wrong and to try to create the same kind of problems for him?
I think, from a statistical standpoint, those two were pretty evenly matched fighters, except for Gray was bigger. You know, they both wrestled in college. They were both very successful, but Gray wrestled at a bigger weight class than Frankie did and Gray came into the fight bigger, so that does make a big difference. I think that was probably the biggest thing that I saw in that fight.

You rebounded from your loss to BJ Penn at UFC 84 with an impressive victory over Tyson Griffin at UFC 90 in Chicago. You even won fight of the night honors. Do you view that victory as the beginning of a new chapter in your career?
Well, you know, I've been working on a lot of stuff for a long time and I'm always trying to evolve and get better as a fighter, and yeah, that situation did help me evolve. I had to go through a lot of stuff leading into the Penn fight. Mentally, I had to deal with a lot of things that most people would have a real hard time dealing with, so I came into that fight with a lot of animosity and some anger. I feel like that maybe did throw me off a little bit, but when I came into the Tyson fight, it was a whole different ballgame. I had nothing hanging over my shoulder; I had no accusations on me. I felt like I was able to just start from scratch and concentrate on fighting again without all the (expletive).

Do the fans and the media ask you about the steroid suspension as much as last year?

Yeah, all the time. I mean, to be honest with you, I've said it since day one and I'll say it again: I've got nothing to hide. If somebody wants to ask me a question about, go right ahead. I know that I was not in the wrong. I have done everything I could do to prove my innocence and I was speaking to deaf ears. You know, the California State Athletic Commission, they just didn't give me a shot to defend myself properly and that was just a really bad situation. So, I wasn't in the wrong there and I'm always willing to explain to people what went down with that whole situation.

Do you still hold any ill feelings towards Penn for everything he said about you leading up to that fight at UFC 84 last May?
It was all about building up a fight. There was a lot of stuff going into that situation. We've hung out and stuff and filmed a TV show together. There's no beef outside of fighting, but I guarantee you if we do end up fighting again, there will be a lot of heat just like there was last time. We're both competitors and we both want to be the best. We are both going to strive to knock each other out.

Do you think that situation will follow you for the rest of your career?

It's probably going to follow me for quite a while because it's already been two years and I do get asked that question all the time. So, it's something that is going to follow me around for a long time. To be honest with you, with (former executive director) Armando Garcia's exit from the California Commission, they have a new commissioner now (Bill Douglas) and it sounds like he's really trying to make change there by adopting the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) guidelines for drug testing, which are very, very strict guidelines for testing. They are making a step in the right direction. At some point, I would like to take this case back to the commission to get a fair opportunity to defend myself because I wasn't given that the first time around.

Really? You really want to keeping fighting your suspension?
Oh, for sure. They put me through a lot for no reason. The big thing was that I wasn't given a chance to defend myself properly. They were playing a lot of games with me throughout the whole process and there was a lot of mistakes that they made in their process and their testing. Literally like two or three days before my final hearing, I got an e-mail saying that the hearing was no longer going to be a formal hearing, meaning that we can't have witnesses, testimonies, examinations or cross-examinations. Now we are going to do an informal hearing, which means that nobody gets to talk except for the lawyers who get to stand up and make a speech. My lawyer makes a speech, their lawyer makes a speech and the commission makes a decision based on those speeches. So, none of the true stuff was able to come out. We weren't able to explain the whole situation and point out all the facts and all the errors. They just made a decision based on a 20-minute speech. So, I wasn't given a fair opportunity to defend myself, which is pretty sick because that's my career. You know, this is my career on the line. You're trying to cut your day short so you can go home early and in the meanwhile you just (expletive) me. So yeah, that doesn't sit well with me at all. At some point, I would like to bring this thing back to the commission and ask for a fair trial. Just hear me out.

You've repeatedly said that you will never fight in the state of California again, however, now that there is a new regime, would you reconsider?
There are so many great places to fight now with the UFC in Chicago, Minnesota, Ohio, Vegas, Florida and they are going to New York and Boston, still I really have no interest in fighting in California. I'll probably steer clear of California for quite a while.

Speaking of controversies, what's your take on greasing in MMA? Is this a bigger problem than most think it is?
I think that some guys do use oil and grease and things of that nature. I know I've fought a couple of guys that have, but my theory was that I never said anything during the fight to the referee, so I'm not going to complain about it after the fight. I know people have brought it up in the past about other fighters, but they've got to find some way to monitor it, I guess. I don't really know how to go about it. I think some guys, from what I hear, have different ways of going about it, so it actually comes out in your sweat.

Are you willing to share the names of the fighters who you think greased?
Nah, I'm not going to say anything. Like I said, I'm not going to bring it up because it makes it sound like an excuse if I bring it up now and I didn't say anything to the referee when I was fighting, so I'm not going to say anything after the fight.

A few amateur wrestlers turned MMA fighters have talked recently about the pressure to put on a great show for the fans even if that means not sticking to your strengths in the Octagon. Do you feel the same kind of pressure?

I felt a lot of pressure up until probably two years ago. I feel like I've really, really evolved as a fighter and I feel like my game is just as good on the feet as it is on the ground. I'm just as good on my back as I am on top of somebody. I've really focused on evolving my game. I've spent a lot of time and a lot of hours focusing on technique and training and practicing and bringing guys in all the time to train with me. I'm always grabbing onto the best of the best and I'm always picking guys' minds. I spend a lot of time on the mats rolling and working technique, footwork, bag work, speed bag, double-end bag. I got a boxing coach, a jiu-jitsu coach, a wrestling coach and a strength coach. So, I get after it. I have been fighting pro, it will be ten years this summer and I feel like I've really evolved as a fighter. I don't feel that pressure anymore because I feel like I can go out there and I can be exciting in pretty much every position that I'm in now. I don't need to rely on my wrestling as much as I used to.

How do you envision your fight against Edgar finishing?

Like I said, I feel pretty comfortable in every situation I'm in. I'm real comfortable on the feet, top, bottom...wherever. I feel confident that wherever the fight ends up, I've got the ability to finish the fight. So, I'll get out there and train as hard as I can, try not to make any mistakes and try to finish that fight however I can.