Sunday, May 25, 2008


The big question entering last night's Ultimate Fighting Championship 84 lightweight title fight in Las Vegas was whether Sean Sherk could win clean -- and win after being out of the ring for 10 months. Sherk was stripped of his 155-pound lightweight belt (and suspended for six months) after testing positive for steroids following his title-defense win over Hermes Franca last July 7.

His suspension now complete, Sherk, a 34-year-old Minnesota native with 40 fights over the past nine years, stepped back into the Octagon against current lightweight champion B.J. Penn -- and got a rude answer.

Penn, 29, a jiujitsu expert from Hawaii, unleashed a savage knee to the right side of Sherk's head as the third round of the scheduled five-rounder came to a close. Sherk crumbled, received nine blows to the head from Penn as the bell sounded, and then watched from the canvas as the referee stopped the fight. Officially, it ended as a TKO for Penn, who improved to 8-3-1 in UFC fights, 14-4-1 overall.

Except for the opening seconds of the fight, when Sherk briefly took down Penn, the bout was fought on the feet. And a boxing match was not to Sherk's advantage.

With both his right and left eyes bloodied from punches through the first two rounds, Sherk might not even have seen the left-right combination that Penn landed late in the third. Sherk was left reeling, and Penn then leaped into the air, landing the knee that signaled Sherk's demise.

"I finished with the lead punch, and I was thinking, it's got to be finished. I know the time is done [in the round] but I don't want to keep [beating him like] that," Penn said. "Sean Sherk is a great competitor."

With a three-inch height advantage (5 feet 9 to 5-6) and a longer reach (70 inches to 67), Penn came into the fight as the better boxer and striker, Sherk the better wrestler. But Sherk (5-3 UFC, 36-3-1 overall) only made one attempt at a takedown in 15 minutes of fight time.

"B.J. is really hard to take down," Sherk said. "I wanted to establish a striking game before I took the fight to the ground. I thought I was pretty competitive on the feet so I kept the fight on the feet."

Penn is one of only two men in UFC history to hold a belt in two weight classes (welterweight and light heavyweight). Randy Couture won UFC championships in the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions.

Penn has suggested that he may move up to the welterweight division (170 pounds) so that he can get a title shot against champion Georges St. Pierre.

Two light heavyweight (205 pounds) bouts featuring fighters seeking a title shot against Quinton Jackson highlighted the undercard. Brazilian Wanderlei Silva (32-8) defeated Keith Jardine (13-4-1) by first-round knockout, and Lyoto Machida (13-0), seen as the future of the light heavyweight division, defeated Tito Ortiz in a three-round decision. Ortiz, a five-time light heavyweight champion, dropped to 15-6-1 and said following the bout that he would likely leave UFC, though not retire from mixed martial arts. Ortiz nearly had Machida in a submission in the final seconds (by securing a leg triangle around Machida's head), but Machida escaped.

By Dave Yanovitz
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, May 25, 2008; Page D08
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