by Jeff Cain – MMAWeekly.com
‘The Muscle Shark’ Sean Sherk defended his UFC lightweight title for the first time at UFC 73 with a unanimous decision win over Hermes Franca. The UFC lightweight champion spoke with MMAWeekly Radio about his first title defense, his conditioning and the impending match with ‘The Prodigy’ BJ Penn.

In the opening seconds of the fight round Hermes threw a knee as Sherk attempted a takedown and applied a guillotine choke on the champ that appeared on camera to be in deep, but according to Sherk, he was never in danger.

“The guillotine was tight, but all you can say about guillotines is it’s the easiest move to put on someone, and it’s also the easiest move to get out of. I’m pretty good at countering guillotines. I’ve been doing it for a long, long time, so I had everything in place that I needed to. I had my arm in. I was posting up on my head. He didn’t have the right leverage on it, and I’ve also got a thick neck, and I’m real hard to choke. I was far from being choked out.”

Franca landed a devastating knee in the beginning moments of round two that had Sherk momentarily stunned, but was unable to capitalize on it. Asked about Franca’s knees, Sherk responded, “It didn’t affect me. That first knee came through pretty good, but the rest of them didn’t really land that solid. I actually think they did land solid, but I guess I was maybe a little more ready for it, so I was able to shoot right through it.”

Despite the few knees and guillotine choke attempts, Franca wasn’t able to mount much more of an offense, in fact, he found himself mounted on several occasions. Sherk was able to pass Hermes’ guard at will and move from dominant position to more dominant position seemingly without effort. Sherk was even surprised at how easily he was able to handle the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt on the ground.

“I was surprised especially in his Jiu-Jitsu to be off the wall. I train with some phenomenal Jiu-Jitsu guys, and that’s what I was expecting, to not be able to pass the guard. When I passed the guard right way in the fight I was a little surprised. I wasn’t real sure. I thought maybe he might have been sandbagging a little bit. All and all it was good. I got to show a little versatility there. I got to show people that I’m a Jiu-Jitsu guy and a wrestler.”

Following the fight Sherk was criticized by some for not finishing. Kenny Florian made reference to it in his in octagon post-fight interview with Joe Rogan. Stephan Bonnar commented about it on MMAWeekly Radio.

Addressing the critics, Sherk commented, “You can’t make everybody happy. Ultimately I thought it was a good, technical battle, and I went out there to prove a point to all the 155 pounders in the world, and I think I did that. I think I proved a point that I’m going to be hard to beat. With work ethic and technique, I’m going to be hard to beat. Hermes is not an easy guy to finish. He’s got twenty four fights under his belt, and I think he’s been finished once, and he’s fought the best of the best at 155. Finishing Hermes is not an easy task by any means.”

Sherk continued, “I think I did get a little bit conservative in that fifth round. That last round I knew the fight was locked. The fight was mine to lose. If I do something stupid at this point and time, you know, you win four solid rounds, and now you’re going to the fifth round and something bad happens. I didn’t want that to happen, so I might have had a few opportunities in that last round if I were to open up a little bit more to finish the fight. All and all I thought it was a good performance.”

Sherk’s conditioning is second to none as was obvious to anyone who watched the Spike TV “All Access” leading up to the fight. No one in mixed martial arts uses conditioning as a weapon more effectively than Sean Sherk.

“I’ve always had crazy, crazy cardio conditioning stuff that I’ve always done. I’ve always done bleachers, sprints, and distance, swimming on top of the other extra training that I do. I got a new conditioning coach here about eight weeks ago. About two months before the fight we started doing out conditioning stuff. He just got me doing a whole bunch of new stuff, threw some new stuff in the works and it worked out real well.”

Conditioning will most likely always be a factor in a Sean Sherk fight, and it definitely was against Hermes Franca. Sherk said, “I felt him fade somewhere between half way in round two I kind of started feeling him fade. Going into that last round I felt great. I mean I felt like I could have still went another four or five rounds. That’s the whole point. I don’t want to be right in the middle of a fight and think, oh s**t, I’ve got two more rounds to go. I’m screwed. I want to be able to fight just as hard in the fifth round as I do in the first. That’s why I train as hard as I do, for that reason.”

He added, “I think anyone is going to have a hard time going five rounds with me to be honest with you. I mean, cardio and conditioning, you can’t fake that. Either you have it or you don’t, and there’s only one way to get great cardio, you’ve got to work for it. It takes a long time to get great cardio. You’ve got to make a lot of sacrifices in your personal life, and you’ve got to make a lot of sacrifices in the gym. If you’re not willing to make those sacrifices than there’s not faking your cardio. You’re going to get tired. I’m willing to make those sacrifices.”

After winning the UFC lightweight belt by defeating Kenny Florian at UFC 64, the newly crowned champ was sidelined to repair a nagging shoulder injury that put him out of action for eight months.

Questioned about the shoulder, Sherk answered, “It felt good. I’m only eight months post-op. It feels good. It’s a little behind. I wouldn’t say it’s at 100%. I feel about 95%, but I’ve been fighting the last seven or eight years with a bad shoulder, so even if it’s 95%, I’ve been fighting on an 80% shoulder for the last seven, eight years. It’s better than it’s ever been before.”

Former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes once said, “You’re not really a champion until you defend your belt,” or something along those lines. The pressure to retain the title, especially the first time, can be enormous.

Sherk told MMAWeekly, “It felt good. There was a lot of pressure to defend that belt. I didn’t want to be one of those champions that win the belt and lose it right away. I want to be a guy who wins the belt and hangs on to it so people will recognize me for a long period of time as the UFC champion. If you win the belt and lose it right away, people forget about you. I think the first title defense was important, and I got that title defense out of the way, and now I can move on and start thinking about whom my next opponent is.”

UFC president Dana White announced at the UFC 73 post-fight press conference that the next opponent will most likely be BJ Penn. “That’s what Dana White said. He said that BJ was next in line. I’m fine with that. It doesn’t really matter. I’ll fight whoever they put in front of me. That’s what a champion is supposed to do, so I’ll fight whoever they put in front of me. I think BJ is a tough guy, so it should be a great fight.”