Over the last 13 years in the UFC, only a handful of fighters have been able to stand the test of time and keep competing as the sport continues to evolve.
One of those fighters is former UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk, but when staring at his record, it's hard not to notice that he's only had two fights over the span of the last four years. Add to that, Sherk's last trip to the Octagon was all the way back at UFC 119 in September 2010 and people start to wonder if he will ever be back in the UFC.
Since fans last witnessed Sherk inside the cage, he's been keeping busy teaching seminars, working with the team at Training Mask, and of course working inside the gym himself. What he's mostly been doing, however, is healing up his body, battered from the last 13 years of active competition.
“I've just been injured. I've got some injuries that need surgery, and I really don't want to have surgery. I've had surgery several times in the past, and the whole recovery process, I don't like it. I don't like the down time, the three to four months of getting back to 100-percent; I don't like that. I'm trying to get myself healthy without having any kind of surgery,” Sherk said in a recent interview with MMAWeekly Radio.
“I mean I feel pretty good. I'd say I'm probably 85-percent, which is pretty good, considering.”
Having a body at 85-percent health is probably normal for any fighter going into a fight in the UFC. No one goes into a bout without a few nagging injuries suffered during training camp, but Sherk isn't worried about going into the fight at less than perfect.
The key according to Sherk is to enter camp as close to 100-percent as possible. The rigors of the three-month training camp he runs will inevitably knock him down, but he no longer wants to start working towards a fight at less than optimal health.
So Sherk continues his daily workouts, allowing his body to heal naturally, and working towards a return to fighting. He stays in constant contact with UFC officials, who have left the door wide open to his return whenever he's ready.
“I talk to Dana (White) from time to time and I talk to Joe Silva from time to time, and it's just ‘let me know when you're ready, when you're healthy and feel like you want to get back in the cage, let me know.' I've got two fights left under my contract with the UFC still, and I wouldn't fight anywhere else anyways. UFC's my home,” said Sherk.
Some of Sherk's fellow fighters that started around the same time as him are now starting to walk away from the sport, while he's battling to get back. Just recently, former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes intimated that he's all but retired from active competition, after an almost parallel career to that of Sherk.
But Sherk is walking his own path, and he's not ready to be done with fighting, anymore than fighting is ready to be done with him.
“I'm a fighter, that's what I do. I don't want to be the guy sitting on the outside of the Octagon. I don't want to be the guy that's coaching other people to get into the cage and fight. I like being a fighter. I like having the coaches and the trainers coach me. I like the whole process leading into a fight, the mental aspect. I like how if feels walking into that Octagon, and I like hearing that crowd just go crazy when you get into those big scrambles and those big long combinations. The whole process is just so fun for me,” Sherk stated.
“At this point in time, I'm not ready to walk away and become a coach and retire yet.”
Another key factor playing into Sherk's decision to continue competing is watching the other fighters out there in the lightweight division. Sherk knows deep down inside that he can still go toe-to-toe with the best of the best at 155 pounds, and that's a powerful motivator when working towards getting back in the cage.
“I still think I'm a top lightweight even though I haven't fought in two years. I think you can throw me in there against the No. 1 guy, and I'm going to give that dude hell, if not beat him. I don't think anyone in the weight class is going to walk through me or look at me as being an easy fight. I've been beaten four times in 11 years, and I think that speaks for itself,” said Sherk.
He also feels the love from the MMA community as a whole that still wants him to come back to fighting. Every few days when fights are announced, fans still ask about Sherk and when he's going to be the one announced as competing in the UFC again.
Between the passion the fans still show for him and his own desire to fight again, Sean Sherk isn't going anywhere for now.
Of course in the long run, Sherk knows that at 39 years of age he can't fight forever, but he's not ready to look at retirement as an option yet. One day maybe, but that day is not today.
“It's nice to know I've made that mark and people still want to see me fight. A lot of guys take some time off and they get forgotten about real quick. Fortunately, I've been able to keep my name out there enough, and I've made my mark in this industry where people want to see me fight and that's a huge compliment,” Sherk said.
“I don't think I'll ever have that mentality (about retirement). Eventually, I'm going to have to come to terms. Eventually, I'm going to have to walk away from the sport, but hopefully that's not for a little while yet. When that time comes, I guess that's a decision I'll have to come to terms with.”
Tune into Monday's edition of MMAWeekly Radio to hear the full interview with Sean Sherk.