Sean Sherk routinely, repeatedly, refers to Evan Dunham in his interviews as "the kid." The former Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight champion said when he was offered a bout against the unbeaten Dunham at UFC 119, he accepted, even though he said he did not who Dunham was.
It's a none-too-subtle reminder of where Sherk has been, of the mountains he has climbed and of the wide gulf that exists on the résumés of the 37-year-old Minnesota muscle man and his unbeaten 28-year-old opponent.
"To be honest, when they offered me the fight with Dunham, I didn't know who he was and I just said 'OK, sounds good,' " Sherk told the Canadian Press. "I didn't even look into it. I just wanted to fight and I accepted the fight not knowing who he was."
Sherk has been off for 16 months because of injuries that scuttled three fights. But he's 32-4-1 in a career that doesn't gain enough respect. His only losses have been to UFC welterweight champion George St. Pierre, UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, former welterweight champion Matt Hughes and former welterweight and lightweight champion B.J. Penn.
It's an exclusive list. Other than those four, Sherk has beaten just about anyone who has been anyone in his weight classes in the last decade, with victories over the likes of Kenny Florian, Tyson Griffin, Nick Diaz and Karo Parisyan.
So perhaps Sherk has reason to not be aware of Dunham, who only a couple of years ago was working for a company called DenTech International, installing computers and software in dentists' offices.
But bet on the fact that Sherk will know Dunham quite well by the time their scheduled three-round lightweight fight on Saturday at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis has ended.
Dunham is 11-0 and one of the UFC's quickly rising stars, yet he understands the significance of the task ahead of him.
"I have nothing but respect for Sean Sherk and everything he has accomplished in his career," Dunham said. "Who wouldn't want to have a career like he's had? He's a former world champion. He's done a lot, beaten a lot of good guys. There aren't a lot of guys who have the kind of record he has.
"It's a great thing to get the opportunity to fight him. He's a great guy, a great champion, a real good athlete. I don't know him personally, but from everything I can tell, he's got a really great work ethic and, obviously, he's very talented."
Don't, however, mistake Dunham's admiration for Sherk's record for intimidation. Dunham is convinced he'll be able to handle whatever Sherk throws at him and win.
He's hardly lacking in the confidence department and believes that if his previous UFC victories over Per Eklund, Marcus Aurelio, Efrain Escudero and Griffin haven't been evidence of his talent, a victory over Sherk certainly will.
A victory would raise Dunham's record to 12-0 and be his fifth consecutive in the UFC. Very long winning streaks are rare in mixed martial arts, particularly at the highest level, because there are so many variables that could decide a fight.
Of the men in the top 10 of the current Yahoo! Sports MMA rankings, only No. 2 Anderson Silva (13) and No. 9 Jake Shields (14) have won more consecutive bouts than Dunham's 11.
He's extremely adaptable and has the ability to win on his feet or off his back. That's a good thing, given that Sherk for years was renowned for taking opponents down and working them over on the ground. Recently, his boxing skills have improved greatly, though he could do little with either Penn or Edgar while standing.
Dunham isn't concerned about which approach Sherk takes.
"Sherk's either going to try to box me, the way he's done in his last couple of fights, or he'll revert to what has worked so well for so long for him and he'll try to take me down and grind it out with his wrestling," Dunham said. "I've honestly prepared for both. I have a game plan for both. It really doesn't matter what he tries to do, because I'm ready for whatever.
"I'm a three-dimensional fighter and wherever the fight goes, I'll be ready."
Sherk, though, didn't become one of the world's elite fighters by not doing his homework. And though he concedes he hadn't heard of Dunham when UFC matchmaker Joe Silva suggested him as an opponent, Sherk has spent plenty of time over the past three months familiarizing himself with Dunham.
Given the who's who list that he's faced, Sherk isn't easy to impress, but he has come away from watching video of Dunham knowing he has his hands full Saturday.
"After I started watching some video [of Dunham], I'm like 'All right, OK, this is going to be a tough fight,' " Sherk told the Canadian Press. "So I better get my [butt] going and train like I always do. If I do that, then there's nothing to worry about. I know I can hang with the best in the world. I can beat the best in the world."
On that point, they agree. Sherk has proven that repeatedly. On Saturday, Dunham will have his chance to prove that not only can he hang with the best in the world, he can beat the best, as well.
- Sean Sherk
- Evan Dunham