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Routine matters

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

WATCH VIDEO: Dana White, Joe Rogan and UFC 73 fighters preview the event. (UFC.com)
Sean Sherk was talking on the telephone about his training routine. He was going on about his diet, about the extraordinary number of repetitions he did, about the sheer volume of time he spent conditioning his body.

Just listening was enough to make you feel sorry for Hermes Franca.

Franca will face Sherk for Sherk's Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight title at UFC 73 on Saturday at ARCO Arena in Sacramento, Calif.

But Dana White, the UFC's president, encouraged patience.

"Wait until you see the show we did on him," White said of the All Access show on Spike TV on Monday that featured Sherk. "It's the most incredible thing you've ever seen."

Now, White is the master of hyperbole, but this might have been one of the few times in his UFC life that he was understated.

Calling Sherk's workout regimen incredible is like calling Dennis Rodman odd. It doesn't begin to describe what he does.

From eating 22 supplements three times a day to eating sweet potato baby food to putting himself through workouts so grueling it is almost unfathomable a human body could withstand it, Sherk's dedication to conditioning puts him on par with workout legends in other sports such as Jerry Rice and the late Walter Payton.

"The one thing I can control is the kind of physical condition I'm in," Sherk said in a rare quiet moment in his day. "I don't want to lose any fight, but if I'm going to lose, I want it to be because my opponent is just better than I am and not because of something I didn't do that I could have done."

But unless they start making days 36 hours and the body begins to require only 15 minutes of sleep, there's not much more Sherk can do to prepare.

He has good reason, though, to train so zealously. Sherk is 31-2-1 and his only losses were at welterweight to former champions Matt Hughes and Georges St. Pierre. But Franca (18-5) poses plenty of unique problems.

A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, Franca not only possesses knockout punching power, but he has an odd style that defies convention.

"Hermes is so tricky and he looks so relaxed in there, you think he's going to fall asleep," said Jorge Gurgel, Franca's close friend and another lightweight contender. "I'll give the edge in conditioning to Sean, because he works very hard. But I know Hermes is working very hard and I know he's in good condition.

"But he knows he might be on the bottom. He's a great guy from the bottom and he's prepared for it. That's what is going to make this a great fight. He's got a very unorthodox style, one I've never seen in my life."

Franca frequently gets into one bad position after another and seems on the verge of defeat, only to somehow quickly end a fight.

He's patient and willing to take punishment, if he has to, in order to put himself into position to go for the win.

"The important thing is you can never panic," Franca said. "You just have to keep trying and looking for an opportunity."

For years, all Sherk wanted was an opportunity. But he wasn't getting one for a while despite the fact that White knew he was one of the best fighters in the world.

White got into a financial dispute with Sherk's management and felt he was being held up.

Sherk's contract expired the day before the fight with Hughes, and Sherk's manager asked for significantly more money in order to go through with the bout.

"That's something you don't do to me," White said. "We had a deal and to come in and try to hold me up like that was (wrong). That's the kind of thing I won't forget."

After Sherk's loss to Hughes, White wanted nothing to do with him, so Sherk was out of the UFC for more than 2 ½ years and had to get a job to pay the bills.

He was devastated because he had devoted so much of his life to mixed martial arts and toward becoming a UFC champion. He told his wife, Heather, not to put anything on the mantel above the fireplace in the home they had purchased in 1999 because he was reserving it to hold a UFC title belt.

With White freezing him out – and the UFC gaining rapidly in popularity during his 31 months on the sidelines – Sherk was all but heartbroken.

When White finally relented and offered him an opportunity to return, Sherk made a vow. "I just wanted to be the best and to be remembered for a long time and I was going to do whatever I had to do to do that," Sherk said.

He took the first step on that path toward greatness by defeating Kenny Florian by unanimous decision last year in a bout for the vacant lightweight title.

He knows Franca is a significant obstacle – "You have to respect anyone who has the kind of power that Hermes has," Sherk said – but he said that's why he endures the torture he does in the gym.

"I don't know anyone who trains harder than Sean," said his coach, Greg Nelson, of the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy. "And I don't know anyone who wants to be great any more than he does. He's absolutely devoted to being the best and is willing to do anything to get there."

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