Opinion: The Muscle Shark and Retirement
By Jesse Heitz
Recently, news broke that Sean “The Muscle Shark” Sherk has retired from active competition. Sherk had turned pro in 1999 and quickly became a force in both the welterweight and lightweight divisions, sitting atop the heap for a decade. He had notable battles with the likes of: Karo Parisyan, Nick Diaz, BJ Penn, Georges St-Pierre, Kenny Florian, Hermes Franca, Matt Hughes, and many more.
Once upon a time, a time not too long ago, Sean Sherk was among the most dominant wrestlers in all of MMA. He was known to fans as a fighter that came in shape and ready to fight and was guaranteed to take the fight to his opponent, a trait that is by no means universal in the fight game.
His bottomless gas tank and incredible work ethic set him apart from his peers. His fights were different from many of the other wrestlers of the era. He didn’t practice the often loathed art of lay-and-pray. Instead, he exuded energy. He was relentless in his takedown attempts, and was even more vicious and active when in a dominant position.
Sherk has been a staple of the sport for over a decade, but as with many aging fighters, he has accumulated a whole host of nagging injuries. These injuries undoubtedly make competing at the highest level of MMA, and against fighters nearly two decades his junior, an exceptionally difficult task. While he hadn’t fought in three years, and many of us had thought his career was unofficially over, perhaps we weren’t aware of the significance of his poor health.
In a recent interview with MMA Fighting, Sherk discussed his injuries by stating,
“I just think it was time for the door to be closed, time for me to move on with some different things. I know the injuries aren’t going away, they’re not going anywhere and they’re not getting any better. It was just time for some closure.”
“Now that I’m retiring I can tell the truth. I know it’s always been one of the top questions. Obviously I couldn’t say anything because otherwise opponents would pinpoint that stuff, but I had MRIs done [ahead of the Penn fight] and found out that both of my hips were torn and that I was going to need surgery. The doctor basically told me at that point in time, ‘if you have surgery on this you’ll never be 100 percent again – you’ll lose your mobility, you’ll lose your quick twitch and some of the explosion, and you’ll lose some of the agility.”
“And to me it just wasn’t worth it, so I said, you know what, I’ll just deal with the pain. I said, I’ll just deal with this as long as I can. And that’s what I did. Gradually over the years my hips got worse and worse and worse. About two weeks ago I was told I needed hip replacement surgery. So that was the deciding factor right there. I went from needing surgery to fix torn labrums to needing total replacement.”
For Sean Sherk, his competitive road has sadly come to an end. Yet, there’s no shame in hanging up the gloves at age 40, after having captured UFC gold and compiling a career record of 36-4-1. It’s time to fix a body that has been battered for one and a half decades of in-cage combat, and transfer his extensive knowledge to a new generation of fighters.