Former UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk, recently stripped of his belt, was in Toronto on Saturday to sign autographs and host a special screening of UFC 79: Nemesis.
The UFC stripped Sherk of his title in early December after the California State Athletic Commission upheld a suspension for a positive steroid test.
Sherk tested positive for the steroid Nandrolone following his July 7 win in Sacramento and was originally handed a $2,500 fine and a one-year suspension. While Sherk maintained his innocence and appealed, the CSAC upheld the decision, though it reduced his suspension to six months.
Sherk discussed the decision and more in an exclusive interview with Sportsnet.ca’s James Brydon.
JB: Talk about the CSAC’s decision.
SS: I went in there thinking the thing was going to get overturned. We went in there with more evidence than anyone who ever pleaded a case in front of the commission before, but the problem is we were speaking to deaf ears. Their goal is to prosecute, they don’t care if you’re innocent or not. They’re the trial, the judge and the jury and it was a hard situation to be in. I want to take this thing further and keep going after this thing because I was suspended for six months, lost my belt. I’ve pretty much lost everything that I’ve worked for, for something I didn’t do, so someone’s got to pay for that.
JB: Why do they take that position?
SS: The CSAC has gone public several times and said that they’re going to be the toughest commission on steroids. I don’t know if it’s a personal thing or a pride thing, it is a boxing commission, it’s not an MMA commission. I don’t think they’re fans of MMA to be honest with you. James Toney went into his hearing, he tested positive for steroids twice, he goes into his hearing with no proof, no evidence and he just yells at them and says, “I didn’t do it.” And they say, “We believe you.” They suspend him for six months. I go in there with all this proof, all this evidence, lie detector test, blood work, contamination, carryover. I mean I’ve got all this stuff, and they suspend me for six months. So I get the same thing James Toney gets, and he had no evidence at all. You know, it’s a boxing commission they’re not fans of MMA. They’re in it for the money. Just like every other boxing commission that’s trying to get involved with this sport. They’re in it for the money and they don’t love this sport.
JB: You mentioned carryover. Can you explain that?
SS: Carryover means they kept several different people’s samples. Urine samples on the same exact machine. What happens is one guy tests positive for steroids, and there’s actually carryover from the previous test. Because they test everyone’s stuff with the same samples, the same machine. The three people that tested before mine had been positive for steroids. So there was carryover actually in the machine, documented that there was still stuff in the machine before they even ran my test. They shouldn’t have even used it. They should have fixed their machine before they tested my samples. We asked the commission why they did that. We asked Quest Laboratories why they did that, and they don’t have a reason why. They said, ‘Well, there’s no proof that that was Nandrolone in the machine.’ I said, ‘Well, what do you think it was, I tested positive for Nandrolone, what do you think was in the machine?’ If it was something else in the machine, I would have tested positive for that.
JB: Were there any other possible reasons for the positive test?
SS: There are so many different things that could have caused it. Naturally, you can raise Nandrolone. There’s proven things, like you can eat certain foods that would make you have higher levels. The fact is I don’t know what the cause of it was. I know we did find documented facts that there were problems with the testing facility. That could have been a reason. Urinalysis tests are very inaccurate for testing for Nandrolone. That could have been it.
JB: What’s your response to people who say if you were over the limit, it doesn’t matter why, you have no defence.
SS: If my levels were over the limit naturally then there’s something I need to figure out. Obviously I did something wrong. Maybe something’s wrong with my diet, I don’t know. But if it was an error on their part, then that’s a problem. That’s what I need to find out. If there was error on their part, then I want to pursue this thing. And I really think it was an error on their part.
JB: So what’s your next step?
SS: I’m still talking to my lawyer about my options and we’ll decide whether we’re going to take it to court.
JB: What about the way the commission handled the case with the numerous postponements?
SS: They were very unorganized with everything they did and I’m surprised that you give people like that power and they’ve got control over people’s lives and it’s not fair. Something needs to be done about it.
JB: That ties in with another issue, and especially with you currently in Toronto, you may or may not know that MMA is not sanctioned in Ontario, basically because the athletic commission doesn’t want to and the decision is unilateral.
SS: There’s a lot of that going around. To be honest with you, I think MMA needs its own sanctioning body. There’s a lot of boxing commissioners trying to sanction MMA and they don’t love the sport like we do. If you don’t love the sport you’re not going to treat it with respect. We got a commission in Minnesota that doesn’t care about MMA, they just want to line their pocket books. It’s not fair to us. I fell in love with this sport for 15 years, I’ve been fighting for eight years and I’ve got 40 fights. It’s something I’m very passionate about. The sport’s growing and it’s exploding and there’s people getting involved with this sport for the wrong reasons. I think MMA needs its own sanctioning body.
JB: How does that get achieved?
SS: I don’t know. I wish I knew. I don’t have any idea how that gets done.
JB: On the conference call prior to UFC 73, which you were on, there were a number of questions about steroids with the show coming to California. UFC president Dana White said all the fighters know you can’t take steroids. What were you thinking when you were listening to that.
SS: It didn’t really concern me because it wasn’t something I was involved in. I wasn’t concerned about that at all. I’ve never been worried about failing a drug test before. I’ve taken lots of drug tests in my career and never really thought twice about it. Now, I’ll probably be nervous every single time because I know that anything can happen with all the contamination. There’s problems that happen at the testing facility, there’s carryover issues. There’s a lot of things that are wrong that I didn’t know anything about before. So when they were talking about that on the conference call, I wasn’t listening to it really, because it didn’t concern me.
JB: Dana has supported you from the start. What has that meant to you?
SS: It’s meant a lot. Dana’s had my back. I’m an honest guy. I say it how it is and I was straightforward with Dana and told him I didn’t do this stuff and he believed me and he supported me so that meant a real lot. Having the UFC back me up meant a lot for me. They’ve been loyal towards me and I just want to show my loyalty towards them. I’m going to be fighting whoever wins out of Joe (Stevenson) or B.J. Penn for the title again and I want to get that belt back around my waist where I feel it belongs.
JB: Do you think it was fair that you were stripped of the belt?
SS: From a business point, yeah. Dana’s got a job to do and he wants to be consistent with what he’s done in the past. He’s got to respect the California commission ruling, as lame as it was, he’s got to respect that ruling. He’s making a business decision, it’s something he has to do. And I talked to him about it, and he was cool about it. We both understood where we both were coming from and it’s just a business. He’s going to give me another title shot right away so I’ll get that belt back. I’m pretty confident about that.
JB: I thought there was an opening for him to not strip you, considering the ambiguity of the CSAC’s final ruling. They reduced your sentence, which doesn’t really make sense. If you did it, they should uphold your original sentence, and if you didn’t they shouldn’t suspend you at all.
SS: I don’t know how the commission thinks, I really don’t. Their rulings are so up and down and you can’t really get a feeling for what they’re going to do. I don’t think they know what they’re doing to be honest with you. That’s my opinion. They’re just playing by ear. Throughout my entire appeal, they said several times that they can do whatever they want.
JB: B.J. Penn has said your belt was fake and he would only want to face a clean Sean Sherk. Your reaction?
SS: B.J. Penn likes to talk a lot of smack, and I don’t have respect for the guy. I’d love to fight him, shut his mouth up, but he needs to worry about Joe Stevenson first. B.J. Penn likes to talk all this crap about me testing positive for steroids. I think somebody should test his during his offseason and see what they come up with.
JB: He also said you don’t finish fights.
SS: I think he’s finished one guy since 2004.
JB: Will you be rooting for one or the other in January?
SS: You know, B.J.’s a bigger fight for me. More money. We don’t like each other. I think it would be great if Joe Stevenson beat him. He spends all this time talking about me and then he gets beat by Joe. That would be kinda funny. But it doesn’t matter to me who wins, I just want to fight.
JB: What is with the UFC’s obsession with the interim tag? That fight in January was originally going to be for the interim title. We got Saturday’s fight between St. Pierre and Hughes, and now Nogueira vs. Sylvia for the interim title in February while Couture is out.
SS: I don’t know. That’s Dana’s thing, I don’t know if they have to have a certain amount of title fights a year. Maybe fans want to see title fights. Maybe the fans want to see title belts. I don’t know. That’s a business decision that Dana feels like some fights really need to be title fights. It is what it is.
JB: As a fighter, do you like it, or does it just complicate things?
SS: As a fighter, I don’t really care for it. If I’m the guy that they’re fighting for my interim belt, I don’t want them to do that, but on the other hand, if someone says, ‘Hey, you’re going to fight for an interim title’, that’s fine too. So, I don’t know, I guess I prefer not to have interim belts. It just complicates things a little more.
JB: You lost to St. Pierre and Hughes – your only two losses. Who’s the better fighter?
SS: Hughes has been around for so long. He’s tough as nails. But St. Pierre, every time you see him fight, he gets better. He’s a phenomenal athlete.
JB: Which division do you think is the most stacked right now?
SS: I would say either 155 or 170.
JB: What do you see happening in the UFC in 2008?
SS: Last year, 2007, it was the fastest growing sport. The popularity has just exploded. It’s been getting bigger all over, so ’08 isn’t going to be any different. It’s going to keep getting bigger and more popular and keep going.
JB: Does that make it more difficult for you being stripped of the belt, because of the publicity and especially considering the steroid issue in all sports?
SS: Yeah, it makes it harder for a number of reasons. Obviously, you know, you say more publicity, so there’s more people that follow it and know what’s going on with it. But also as far as the popularity and sponsorships, fight paydays and money and exposure. I’ve lost a ton of stuff because of this.
JB: On a lighter note, how do like Toronto?
SS: I like it, I haven’t been to Canada since 2001 when I fought Claudionor Fontinelle in TKO and had a good time. I like Canada.
JB: Lastly, it’s all but confirmed that the UFC is coming to Montreal in April. Are you going to be there?
SS: Well I’m supposed to be fighting in April. They told me I’m fighting in April, so hopefully I’ll be on that card.
JB: If that’s the case, I hope you enjoy coming back to Montreal.
SS: Alright, I’m sure I will.