Hard target

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

A few days before he was to fight Kenny Florian for the vacant UFC lightweight championship, Sean Sherk could barely use his right arm to butter his toast, let alone to pick up a man and slam him to the mat.

But as badly as his shoulder ached, Sherk knew he had to keep his mouth shut.

He'd been in mixed martial arts for 13 years, and knew he might not get another shot at the belt for a long time if he withdrew from the Oct. 14 fight at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

And so the man known as the "Muscle Shark" essentially went out and won with one arm.

Beating Florian would have been an achievement had he been in the greatest shape of his life. But as a wrestler, doing it with a shoulder so painful it made him wince every time it was touched, might have been the most significant accomplishment of Sherk's career.

"It hurt like hell and I couldn't use my right arm,” Sherk said of a tear in his shoulder which required surgery and months of rehabilitation. "But I'd been waiting for a chance to win the title my whole career and there was no way I was going to back out just because my shoulder was torn. I just had it suck it up and fight."

Sherk will defend his title July 7 at UFC 73 against submission specialist Hermes Franca in Sacramento, Calif.

Florian would like a rematch with Sherk and there are a slew of other 155-pounders who want to get their hands on him.

Sherk, though, has them coming from all sides. He was called out on Monday by boxer Kermit Cintron, a former junior college wrestler who holds the IBF welterweight title.

Cintron has a July 14 title defense against Walter Matthysse and said he'd like Sherk after that.

Sherk, who attended Saturday's boxing pay-per-view blockbuster at the MGM Grand Garden between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Oscar De La Hoya with the intention of seeking a bout against Mayweather, conceded he got a kick out of the attention.

UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta and president Dana White brought Sherk to the bout after Mayweather had made derogatory comments about MMA and its fighters. White said he planned to offer Mayweather a contract to fight Sherk that would be "worth his while," but Mayweather said after beating De La Hoya that he was only kidding and had respect for MMA.

The MMA world has been clawing for respect, particularly in relation to boxing, and it says something about the sport's growth that Sherk isn't all that enthused about meeting Cintron.

"Honestly, I've never heard of Kermit Cintron," Sherk said. "One of the MMA websites called me and said he wanted to fight me and that was the first time I heard his name.

"The Mayweather fight was one thing, but I'm not sure a fight with Cintron makes sense. Mayweather is a household name and a fight between me and him would have done millions of buys and would have gotten a ton of attention. It might have been the biggest selling show ever.

"But someone like Kermit Cintron? I have nothing against the guy, but I don't know if he'd sell any tickets. I don't think the UFC would see any value in it. I'll fight whoever they tell me to fight, but without the guy having a recognized name, I'm not sure it is a smart fight to make."

It wouldn't be smart for any boxer to take on an accomplished MMA star like Sherk, who is 35-2-1 and whose only losses came to Matt Hughes and Georges St. Pierre, two of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport and men who fight at 170 pounds, a class above him.

Had Mayweather trained for MMA from the start, he would have been as good at it as he is in boxing, where he is clearly the best active boxer and among the finest in history.

But anyone who believes Mayweather would have a chance to defeat Sherk or any other world-class mixed martial artist doesn't understand the differences between the sports.

Boxing fans who watch MMA for the first time frequently view it as bad boxing. What they don't understand is that the stance MMA fighters take in their stand-up game is different because of all they have to defend.

Sherk said he'd salivate if he saw a fighter in front of him in a boxing stance.

"In traditional boxing, all you have to worry about is punches," Sherk said. "Given that, a boxer’s footwork is different, his stance is different, his shoulder direction is different and he squares up differently.

"In MMA, you have to worry about punches, kicks, knees, takedowns and a lot of things a boxer doesn’t think about. If I saw someone in a boxing stance, right away, I'd know it was a good thing for me, because his foot placement is so wrong.

"It allows me to kick and there’s no way to cover it with that stance. He would have no possible sprawl for my takedowns and he couldn't shoot. He would be too limited and, I guess you could say, really defenseless."

There was a time mixed martial arts needed something that would grab headlines like a bout against a high-profile boxer.

That time, though, has long passed. MMA is doing just fine, as evidenced by the gate receipts, television ratings and pay-per-view sales its fights do.

Champ Bailey might be the NFL's best cover corner, but no one expects him to be able to clamp down on Dwyane Wade on a basketball court the way he might on a Terrell Owens on the football field.

That's because football and basketball are different sports with differing sets of skills required to succeed.

So, too, are boxing and MMA. It's time for both sides to move on.