UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk (Pictures) doesn't plan on letting Hermes Franca (Pictures) leave Sacramento with the belt around his waist. That might not sound like breaking news for a fighter on the eve of his first title defense and it doesn't make for a flowery lede, but that's precisely the Minnesotan's motivation for his bout in the octagon Saturday night at UFC 73.
Toiling on the sport's lower levels to the point of contemplating retirement, Sherk (31-2-1), who captured the strap by out-pointing Kenny Florian (Pictures) last October, said he intends on bringing the fight to his challenger after preparing for literally anything Franca could unleash his way.
Franca, one of the sport's good guys, has rattled off eight consecutive wins following an abysmal 2005. As he stands on the cusp of realizing his dream of holding UFC gold, the Brazilian hasn't been shy in saying that Sherk will be his ninth victim in a row.
"Well, I guess we're going to find out," Sherk scoffed. "He's not going to take me down and he's definitely not going to sweep me. I don't think I've ever been swept in 40 fights, so I don't think he's going to be the first guy to sweep me."
Positioning on the canvas appears to be an important element of Franca's strategy. The challenger has repeatedly suggested that Sherk, if forced to fight from his back, would be at a distinct disadvantage on the floor.
Sherk disagreed: "I do have a guard, and if I wind up my back I'll do just fine."
Provided the champion can fend off awkward attacks and dodge the loopy bombs thrown his way, the "Muscle Shark" is more than confident he'll have an answer for the affable Brazilian.
"I'm going to stop him," Sherk predicted. "He doesn't have any cardio and I don't think his work ethic's any good. So the longer the fight goes, the more tired he gets and I'm going to stop him. Either way would be great. It doesn't matter: a knockout on the feet would be great or a knockout on the ground, too. I've got no problem standing with him. He doesn't throw combos; he just throws haymakers. He tries to knock you out. He'll throw two punches at the most and then he'll stop and stare at you. As far as boxing goes, my boxing's 10 times better."
In reality, Sherk's boxing game is more advanced and better suited for MMA. While the challenger tends to throw telegraphed power punches, Sherk stays in the pocket and peppers foes with crisp, accurate combos, often punctuated by straight shots right down the pike. Yet unlike Franca, 32, who has shown an ability to hurt people with his hands, Sherk hasn't shown crippling knockout power.
One aspect of the fight in which most assume Franca (18-5-0) has the edge is on the ground. However, the 33-year-old Sherk remains defiant when it comes to conceding that his challenger holds any sort of edge in the submission-grappling arena.
"He says his jiu-jitsu is so good and that he's going to sweep me so easily, so I'd love to get him on the ground and pound on him," Sherk continued angrily. "He says his jiu-jitsu is so good, but it's not as good as mine. I've been doing it longer than he has and plus I've been wrestling. He's going to have an eye-opening experience Saturday night."
Despite believing he's got an answer in every department to Franca's challenge, Sherk is quick to recognize his foe's right to fight for a UFC belt.
"Right now he probably is the No. 1 contender," said Sherk. "He's on an eight-fight winning streak and I think he's won his last three or four in the UFC. That puts him at the top of the heap. There are a lot of really good fighters in this weight class, but I think (Hermes) deserves it."
It's somewhat difficult, it should be assumed, to truly hype a title fight between two world-class fighters when a sizeable chunk of the audience at home may not know much about the combatants. Sherk is included amongst that group after admitting to not knowing much about Franca outside of his skills in the cage.
"As a fighter he's been around for a long time. I know he's got some punching power, he's unorthodox, he's got good submissions and he's aggressive," Sherk said. "But as a person outside of the ring, I don't know him at all."
That's a scenario that is not entirely unfamiliar to Sherk, who said respect from fans and media has been slow to come despite an impressive résumé.
"None of that bothers me," he said. "I've never gotten any sort of respect since I started fighting so I don't worry about any of that. Right now, for me, I need to make a living and this is what I chose to do. The money is more important because respect or praise doesn't pay the bills. Getting paid does."
All Sherk needs to do is make good on his motivations Saturday night, and a win in his first title defense should take care of the rest.