ROSEMONT, Ill. – Few would have blamed Sean Sherk if he had asked for an easy foe after his last fight.
The former UFC lightweight champion put in a forgettable performance in the main event of May's UFC 84, taking a three-round drubbing at the hands of B.J. Penn.
Some opponents would have taken a "safe" foe as a rebound fight, but the veteran from Minnesota had other thoughts.
"I called [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva and I asked for Tyson Griffin," Sherk said. "He's a great young fighter and I wanted to step right back in there and push myself."
Silva obliged, and the duo delivered. Sherk and Griffin dazzled the Allstate Arena crowd with a standup slugfest that ended in a unanimous decision victory for Sherk. Official scores were 30-27, 30-27, 29-28 for Sherk; Yahoo! Sports had it 29-28 Sherk.
"That was a great fight," said Sherk. "Tyson and I went at it and gave the people a show. He's a young kid and he's going to rebound from that."
In the loss to Penn, Sherk was on the wrong end of the standup game from start to finish and was never able to unleash his trademark takedowns. The degree of the beating led Sherk to go back to the drawing board when he was ready to get back to the gym.
"I was never able to get into range against B.J," said Sherk. "I felt like all my punches were coming up an inch short. I went back and I really focused on the speed bag, my timing, my footwork. I think you saw the results out there tonight."
Both Sherk (33-3-1) and Griffin (12-2) come from wrestling backgrounds, but it rarely came into play. Sherk scored early takedowns in each of the first round, but each time, the action quickly gave way to sharp standup exchanges. Griffin held his own by working an efficient jab, but Sherk was more aggressive over the first two rounds and landed several crisp combos.
Trailing on most scorecards, Griffin, nine years younger than the 35-year-old Sherk, came out fired up for the third round. But Sherk managed to avoid taking real damage and landed enough effective counters to seal the fight.
The match was named Fight of the Night by the UFC, with both combatants earning $65,000 bonuses.
With current lightweight champ Penn stepping up a class to challenge Georges St. Pierre for the welterweight title Jan. 31, Sherk is content to let things play themselves out before he presses for a title rematch.
"The division is stacked right now," he said. "I'm just going to have to wait and see where it goes."
'Pit Bull' claws way to top
Thiago "Pit Bull" Alves confirmed his status as the next in line for a welterweight title shot with a convincing victory over a game Josh Koscheck.
It was the second straight victory over a former NCAA champion wrestler for the American Top Team standout, who scored his seventh consecutive win. Similar to his June win over two-time former champion Matt Hughes, Alves was able to stuff Koscheck's attempted takedowns and dominate the standup with his Muay Thai game, which may be the second-best in the UFC behind Anderson Silva.
"I think I've earned a shot at the title," said Alves (16-3). "I've worked my way up and beaten everyone the UFC has asked me to fight. Josh is a good fighter and gave me a good match tonight."
For Koscheck, the match was the sort in which the loser gained in stature through his performance. Koscheck took the match on just two week's notice when Alves' original foe, Diego Sanchez, pulled out with an injury. Despite his inability to take the fight to the ground, Koscheck withstood a tremendous amount of punishment and kept fighting, scoring several moments in which he had his opponent on the run.
"He's a strong dude," said Koscheck (11-3). "You saw what he was able to do out there. I tried to take him down but it just wasn't happening. I've got no excuses, the better fighter won tonight."
White said Alves has earned a title shot, while acknowledging it would take some time for Alves to get the shot, given St. Pierre is fighting Penn at the end of January. Alves, for his part, said he would be open to taking another match in the interim.
Odds and ends
The most intriguing non-televised match was Hermes Franca's unanimous decision win over Marcus Aurelio. The two lightweights were former American Top Team teammates before Franca left the camp, and engaged in spirited trash talk before the fight. Franca deliberately threw an elbow at Aurelio before the match, as he ran a lap inside the octagon. In the fight's closing seconds, Franca, who peppered Aurelio throughout the fight with low kicks, taunted his opponent, dropping his hands and sticking out his chin. Immediately after the match, Franca attempted to shake hands with Aurelio, but the latter turned his back. The two shook hands later. … Attendance was 15,389, just short of a sellout, for an arena gate record $2.85 million.
- Sean Sherk