Sean Sherk isn’t what most would call a fan favorite. Sure, he has his hardcore contingent of supporters, but even when he reigned as the UFC lightweight champ he faced criticism from detractors who found his style of fighting less than enthralling to watch. That criticism reached a fever pitch after a positive steroid test following his title defense against Hermes Franca last summer, which resulted in Sherk being stripped of the title.
“The Muscle Shark” has repeatedly professed his innocence on the steroid charge, filing an appeal with the CSAC and taking repeated polygraph tests to try and clear his name. Now the former UFC lightweight champion talks with Cage Potato about the steroid accusations, his attempts to prove his innocence, and the war of words with current title-holder B.J. Penn, as they prepare to meet in the Octagon at UFC 84.
CagePotato.com: So how’s training going? As we near the fight, are you backing off the really hard training?
Sean Sherk: No, I’m still training hard up until two days before the fight. Still doing everything I normally do, all the cardio, all the hard workouts. That’s the way I’ve always done it for over thirty fights. That’s the way we did it in wrestling and so that’s the way I’m used to doing it.
I imagine by this point you’re pretty sick of being asked about the positive steroid test.
No, I’m used to it. I kind of expect it now.
In that case, let’s get right into it. You’ve maintained your innocence throughout this whole thing. If you didn’t take steroids, what do you think caused the positive test?
I can’t say exactly why it came up positive, but I know that there were definitely some problems with the testing procedures at Quest Laboratories. The way they did their testing, there was some carryover in the machine from previous tests before they tested my sample.
That seems like a pretty big problem to me right there. If there’s carryover in the machine, should you use that machine to do that test? I wouldn’t think so. Their chain of custody was completely shot. They had no chain of custody. Those were the two main issues.
I tested all the supplements I was taking and I did find contamination in one of them, a testosterone booster. I don’t know if that caused it or not, but I was surprised to find contamination in a supplement like that.
Has that made you paranoid about taking supplements in general?
Oh yeah, for sure. I cut the amount of supplements I was taking in half. I was taking about 25 different supplements and I cut that in half. I still feel the same, so I didn’t really need to be taking all those supplements to begin with. I’m just hoping that by cutting my supplements I can decrease the risk of this happening again.
I didn’t know you could go into a store like a GNC and buy something that would have illegal stuff in it, but I guess you can. I was stunned. I didn’t know that. I’ve also started doing my own pre-testing, which I’ll do before every fight now just to be sure.
Even as you maintain your innocence, the court of public opinion in MMA seems to be largely against you. What do you think you could do to clear your name that would satisfy your detractors?
You know, I don’t know. I took the polygraph test three times to try and prove that I was telling the truth. I know they say polygraphs aren’t 100% reliable, but after three tests you’d think that if I was lying it would have shown up in at least one of them. I’ve got nothing to hide. I’ve always said that and tried to prove that. I have absolutely nothing to hide.
I’ve done everything I can do to clear my name. It’s up to each individual to look at the facts and decide for themselves whether they believe me or not. The problem is that a lot of people don’t bother to look at the facts first. They just hear positive test and they look at me and what I’ve done and think, ‘Oh, he’s got to be on something.’
I’m not. People have to decide that for themselves, but the people who know me and the people who look at the facts will see for themselves that I’m telling the truth. Other than that, I can’t worry about what people who don’t know me and don’t even look at the facts before making up their minds think. That’s out of my hands.
The rivalry between you and B.J. Penn seems pretty intense. You’ve said that you think there’s some quit in him, he’s said that you’ve been broken before and can be broken again. It seems like in this back and forth, both of you are counting on a long, grueling fight where it will come down to who can outlast the other guy. Do you think that’s accurate?
[B.J.] probably thinks so. He probably thinks he wants this to go to the later rounds, but he doesn’t. He’s never had good cardio before. That’s not something you just wake up with one morning. He’s never trained hard for a fight. He doesn’t know what it’s like. He’s not going to just decide at this point in his career to start training hard.
I’ve seen quit in his eyes. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen him where he just decides, ‘Fuck it, I can’t do any more.’ In the Hughes fight when he just came out in the third round and just laid there getting beat on, that’s pathetic. That’s the quit in him right there.
He says I’ve been broken, I’ve never been broken. I’ve never tapped out in a fight. I’ve never quit in a fight. I’ve had one fight stopped on a TKO and that was against Georges St. Pierre, who’s the welterweight champ right now. B.J. has no room to say that I’ve been broken. He’s the one who’s been broken.
You talk about B.J.’s cardio, which has been an issue for him in the past. But then he looked in shape in his last fight against Joe Stevenson. You don’t think he could have turned a corner there as far as his training and work ethic? You think it’s indicative of his character?
Definitely, I think that’s a character thing. That’s not something you can change. It’s not just about training hard and getting good cardio in the gym. It’s what you can do in the fight, if you’ll quit when it gets tough. That’s not just cardio. You’re either the kind of person who’s never going to quit or you’re not. You have to have that inside of you and I don’t think B.J. does.
If you beat B.J. Penn and reclaim the UFC lightweight title, do you think that will silence some of your critics, or do you think that some people will always be skeptical of you?
There’s both sides on the spectrum. It will silence some people. Some people will still be skeptical. Some will support me no matter what and some will support B.J. no matter what.
It’s out of my hands, really. I still feel like that belt is mine. I don’t think it should have ever been taken from me in the first place. I’m looking forward to the chance to get it back and I think that this is the fight where afterwards you’ll finally be able to say who’s the real lightweight champion. I can only focus on doing what I can do. The rest, what people say or what they think, that’s all out of my hands.
A lot of people seem to dislike you because they don’t care for your fighting style, which relies on wrestling and ground-and-pound. They call you a lay-and-pray fighter, they say you’re boring. What do you say to that? Do you hear that criticism, and does it affect you?
Basically, I think there are fans for everyone, for every fighting style. That’s what’s great about MMA. There are people who love my style, the wrestler style with the great cardio, the never-quit mentality. Some people don’t. Some people think it’s boring. You can never please everybody. That’s something I had to learn.
When I first started I used to read everything people said about me on the internet. I’d read the good stuff and then I’d read the bad stuff and it would get to me. Finally I just had to stop reading it at all because if I didn’t I felt like I was eventually going to hate this sport. Now I don’t read any of it. I stay away from it and focus on what I have to do. It’s much better this way, and I think that’s how you have to look at it to be a fighter at this level. You can’t let that stuff bother you.
Thanks for talking with us, Sean. Anything you’d like to add?
I just want to thank everyone who stood by me, all my family and friends and my teammates and my sponsors. The people who always believed in me and were always there. I appreciate it.