On September 25, the UFC again proves the depth of its roster. UFC 119: Mir vs. Cro Cop brings the thousands of Indianapolis, Indiana fans a card packed with interesting match-ups between elite competitors with no title or number one contendership bouts on the card, proving that the UFC has more than just the top three or four fighters in every division. In addition to the marquee fight between former heavyweight kingpin Frank Mir (13-5) and 2006 Pride Open Weight Grand Prix champion “Cro Cop” Mirko Filipovic (27-8-2), UFC 119 brings us intriguing match-ups between “Little Nog” Antonio Rogerio Nogueria (18-3) and “Darth” Ryan Bader (11-0), “The Terror” Matt Serra (10-6) and “Lights Out” Chris Lytle (29-17-5), and a lightweight tilt between undefeated Evan Dunham (10-0) and the former lightweight champ “The Muscle Shark” Sean Sherk (33-4-1). Sherk brings a wealth of experience and powerful wrestling into the cage after a sixteen month lay-off following his defeat at the hands of current champion “The Answer” Frankie Edgar (13-1). Dunham continues his escalation in competition by pitting the submission skills and crisp striking against Sherk’s experienced top control. While this bout has no title, or even contention implications, it is as solid a match up as anyone could ask for as Sherk struggles regain relevance in the UFC and Dunham looks to prove that he deserves his spot as a top ten ranked lightweight.
At First Glance: Out of the gates one would have a tendency to lean towards Dunham in this bout. The easiest parallel to draw between the two men is their recent bouts with Tyson Griffin (14-4). Both Dunham and Sherk carried the fight to the cards against Griffin, both got the judges nod. Sherk, despite winning a unanimous decision where Dunham won a split decision, had a much less dominant performance against Tyson. Sherk has also suffered multiple injuries that have forced him to stay out of the cage for over a year. A cocktail of ring rust, injuries, and recent lackluster performances don’t paint an encouraging picture for “The Muscle Shark.”
Inside and Out: Both of these fighters bring questions to the table. Sherk has had several recent injuries and an apparent head injury at some point in 2008 (maybe that knee “The Prodigy” BJ Penn (15-7-1) drilled him with) that caused him to believe he was a stand-up fighter. Dunham hasn’t been unstoppable but has been slowed down by ground specialists, particularly wrestlers. The real question in this bout is which Sean Sherk will show up. If Sherk follows his roots and wrestles Dunham in is typical wet blanket fashion, he will more than likely get to the cards on top. If he uses his third rate boxing like he did against Penn, Griffin, and Edgar, Dunham will put him to sleep.
The Wild Card: Dunham’s ace in the hole is his BJJ. Sherk has never had a problem foiling submission fighters. However, like any wrestler, he does this by fighting safe and turning into a lead blanket. The problem with Dunham is his vastly superior striking makes him very dangerous anytime the fight gets stood back up for inactivity. Sherk will either have to stay active, opening holes in his defense for sweeps and submissions, or he will risk going to sleep every time the fight goes back to the feet.
The Verdict: The question marks around this fight make it a difficult one to call. Sherk has the intangible asset of experience which can always make a big difference. Dunham has been more active and is undefeated, a fact that gives him a level of confidence in his fighting that is unmatched by any fighter who has seen his opponent’s hand raised. With all of the outside influences on this fight, there is no telling how it might play out. The smart money, however, is on Dunham. Sherk hasn’t been the same since Penn left him crumpled against the cage, trying to reinvent himself in every fight with little success. Evan on the other hand has been running through opponents and has shown an uncanny ability to constantly hunt for a way to finish his opponent, even when he’s in trouble. Look for Sherk to learn early he’s lost on his feet and to start doing what he does best, wrestling. Then start the countdown to when Dunham’s constant submission, sweep, and escape attempts shake Sean’s confidence and cost him the match. Dunham by TKO in the Second.