The sky is not falling, and this blog is not about how the MMA is full of prima donas, but in reading the latest interview with "The Muscle Shark" Sean Sherk, you have to wonder if MMA is starting to breed some of the me-first types pervasive in other sports.
Sherk has flatly stated he has no desire to fight "Big Daddy" Stevenson, and Stevenson is likely not on his level in MMA, but to borrow from Parcells and the revolving cliche-wheel, "that's why we play the game." The message boards are full of vitriol for Sherk's latest decision, and rightfully so. We are all free to do what we like in this world and Sherk can refuse anything he doesnt' believe in, but for those who have followed MMA for more than the past 2 years this is a slap in the face. Gone are the days of single-elimination same-day slugfests resulting in a single champion, and that's probably a good thing from an injury perspective. But instead of the pendelum stopping at the center and fighter's taking on all comers over time, it has swung to the opposite side where fighters can now state whether they fight someone or not. The last I heard this approach was in boxing, and we all know how that is working out with the three titles and declining interest from the fans.
The more disturbing part about this is two-fold.
One, up-and-comers (who Sherk won't fight) are what keeps MMA fresh. The list of champions and #1 contenders are full of up-and-comers and those who are only recently famous because they performed well as up-and-comers. Say what you want about our new Heavyweight champ, but he was a bushy-tailed newcomer until he won the biggest fight of his life. Whether he should of or deserved it is for another message board, but he played the game and won. Had Couture chosen not to fight him, we would not be blessed with this turnover at the top, which creates interest in the sport and prevents stagnation.
Two, who is to say Sean Sherk deserves to be at the top and only fight those at the top. Yes, he won the championship and defended it at UFC 73. But last I checked the title was stripped from him for performance-enhancing drug usage (whether you defend him or not, he was suspended - fact), and in his first return fight was defeated by BJ Penn. He beat Tyson Griffin in his latest fight, but if you look at Sherk's fight records he has not had a submission since 2005 to end a fight. His last 6 fights have been 4 wins by decision and 2 losses by TKO. Debating the merits of his opponents and his change in weight class can be done elsewhere, but he has yet to finish anyone before the bell and some of that may be due to age or other factors.
Sherk is not alone, however, in his decision to refuse fights for various reasons. Silva has stated he will not fight training partner and friend Filho, and Jon Koppenhaver was supposedly cut for a decision to refuse a fight. Unfortunately, due to the money and the fame now a part of MMA, we may be seeing a change of approach where fighters plan for the long haul and dont take fights they may lose. Koscheck may very well regret his recent decision to fight because it ended in a loss, but the point is he went out there to see who is best and that is all that matters in the end. Refusals to fight certain fighters can only spell trouble for an organization that prides itself on the last man standing approach, but fighters are clearly trying to ensure their names remain bright and the endorsement and fight money increases.
Dana White is clearly not one to lay down on issues where fighters stand in the way of what he wants to do, regardless of who they are (Couture, Fitch) and always is willing to lend a sound bite, so I wonder how long he will allow this charade to continue. Silva's decisions have yet to be tested, and really so have Sherk's. Silva is obviously a much more important cog in the UFC, and therefore you have to wonder if situations will be handled differently. Sherk, however, is a man trying to get back on top where he once was, but does not realize that the division he was king of has now become much more competitive. Prove yourself against Stevenson - lay him out like you have in the past against other fighters and demolish him in every way (striking, ground, defense) and then you can rightfully position yourself to take the title back from whoever's hands it is in. Until then, don't be too good for yourself and tarnish your reputation by looking like you are too good to fight someone who is not at your level.