Evan Dunham suffered the first loss of his career on Saturday night, dropping a split-decision to former UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk on the main card of UFC 119. Fighters Only staff writer Dallas Winston caught up with him today to get his thoughts on the controversial loss.
FO: So now that you’ve had some time to reflect, what are your thoughts on the Sherk fight?
I feel alright about it; I’m still disappointed. The main thing is I don’t think I fought to my full potential in the 1st round. I kind of bought into the mystique of Sherk and his wrestling, and could’ve done better. I’ll be going over the video and working to improve my mistakes.
FO: So Sherk’s lofty status as a former champ and someone who’s only lost to champions was on your mind going into the fight?
Not so much going into the fight, but in the 1st round when he took me down, the first thing that came to mind was, “Oh man, here we go!” I’ve been a big fan of Sean, so I think I bought into it a little bit. I went into it thinking he couldn’t hold me down even if he took me down.
Another thing that really hurt me in this fight was submission attempts. It was my intent not to go for many submissions, and the guillotine attempts allowed him to take me down instead of going with under-hooks.
FO: It says in the rules that threatening with submissions counts for effective grappling, but usually the fighter who scores the takedown and avoids danger wins the round. Do you feel you were exhibiting “effective grappling” by threatening with those sub attempts?
I think so, in the 2nd and 3rd. He knew it would be harder to take me down so he was more into playing “smash me in to the wall” and make it look like he’s controlling me against the fence. It’s all in the eyes of the beholder -- the individual fan or judge -- on what’s more productive: trying to finish someone or keep the pace going where you’re at. I don’t know, it’s a tough one. I think it’s better to finish the fight than to try to stall it out.
FO: Since you did go for the chokes and tried to finish the fight, but Sean escaped and ended up getting the nod, do you feel you might fight safer in the future?
No, I like to finish fights. This is a perfect example of why you should fight to finish. The fact that I lost, it is what it is. What it all breaks down to is I didn’t finish him. When you don’t finish and you leave it to the judges, anything can happen.
I won’t change; I like to finish, the fans want the finish. It’s not as easy as it sounds at this level though. The fighters have great skills and great chins, but I always try to finish because that’s how I fight.
FO: Do you feel you won the fight?
After the fight I believed that I did enough to win the decision. I was more of the aggressor, especially in the 3rd. I know I won the 3rd, he won the 1st, but the 2nd is up in the air. I think I won, but that’s my opinion. But I watched the fight again and I can see how they gave it Sherk.
It makes you wonder, though: When you get a takedown, how is it scored? What is control? Is it a takedown or sticking and moving?
FO: It’s interesting you ask that question, because I have some strong feelings about the weight of a takedown in the unified rules counting for effective grappling (the same as threatening with submissions and using an active guard) and also for control. It seems that escaping back to your feet or pulling guard should be weighed the same since they are all forcing your opponent to a different location of the fight.
I think that’s right. If you take somebody down for 10 seconds or 5 seconds and they get back up, I think the person that was taken down was able to implement their game the same way the wrestler was to bring the fight to where they have the advantage.
However, if they take you down and keep you there for any amount of time, that’s a different story. It’s kind of like Jiu Jitsu -- if you take somebody down and they get back up, it’s equal.
FO: I was surprised that both B.J. Penn and Frankie Edgar said they weren’t sure how control was scored when I asked them how it played out in the first fight. Do you feel you’re clear on how the control category is scored by the judges, both standing and on the ground?
Yeah I do, I feel I understand it enough. The way I think it works is that if you’re dictating the pace and bringing the fight where you want to or putting them on their heels, that’s my definition of control. If it’s any different, then I guess I don’t understand it.
FO: Since Dana White said he thought you won, does it soften the blow of the loss or validate your performance at all?
Yeah, it does, but it doesn’t. Like I said, a loss is a loss and I’m pissed off about it. I just want to fight Sherk again. But when your boss said you won, it definitely makes you feel better about your performance.
Another thing that made me feel better is his idea of how to dictate a fight and determine who wins. It was nice to know that he thought I won and that I thought the same things. That’s the great thing about the sport -- everyone has a different aspect of what’s important: whether it’s striking, wrestling or Jiu Jitsu.
FO: Did you have a conversation with Dana about the outcome?
We didn’t have a conversation. I talk to Dana very little, only during weigh-ins. He just said he thought I won and I thought that was cool.
FO: Is there anyone in particular you’d like a crack at next?
I’d love to fight Sherk again, and I think it was exciting for the fans and I think I could finish him. However I’m not one of those guys who wants to go on a “revenge tour”. I just want to keep fighting tough guys. So I don’t really care who I fight next, I just want to fight tough guys.
FO: So you’re not fixated on a rematch, but if the choice was yours, you’d prefer Sherk as an opponent?
Yeah, another fight with Sean. I can finish him. I would jump all over the opportunity for a rematch. I have all the respect in the world for Sean. He’s a hell of a nice guy , but after this fight I think I can beat him.
But, with that being said, I don’t expect a rematch with him. Maybe one day. He wants to keep moving up and I respect that. He did everything he needed to do in the fight, but I would definitely like to fight him again.
FO: The mutual respect you two had for each other was evident. How did it feel when he told you right after the fight that you could be the lightweight champion one day?
A lot was going through my head, but that was really cool of him to say and it was an honor to hear that.
FO: You really turned things around after the first frame. Why do you think you were more successful in the later rounds?
He’s a smart fighter. He played it well. I noticed in the 1st round he was coming forward, but if you watch, in the 1st round he was playing back and using my forward pressure along with his to come in twice as quick. I definitely thought by the 3rd round I had that range figured out real well.
All the damage he did was on the ground, he didn’t land much on the feet.
FO: Getting a feel for the range and how he was closing distance was a big reason for the turn-around then?
I think it was mental. I had a conversation in my head saying, “What in the hell are you doing here on the ground and playing his fight?” That made the difference where I was able to stay on the feet and play my game. I really think that I didn’t fully do what I needed to in that first round, and once I figured out I was fighting his fight and not mine -- once I realized that -- I was able to turn it around.
FO: The term “new breed of MMA fighter” gets thrown around a lot to describe the younger generation that come up training everything instead of starting from one base. Your game seems bulletproof all around with no weaknesses. Would you consider yourself a member of this “new breed”?
I grew up wrestling and right after high school I got into Jiu Jitsu, and then I was able to work my hands. I’m a firm believer that you can’t have any weak links in your chain, so I wanted to be good all around. So that’s what I try to do: fill any hole in your game.
I love to train and I love to learn stuff, so if something sucks I learn to get better at it. I love being a new dog learning new tricks. The days of being one dimensional are gone, so I try to be three-dimensional.
FO: Is that how the nickname “3D” came about?
I don’t know. The guys at MMA Junkie came up with that. I’ve never been a big believer in nick names, but if my fans want to call me that I’m okay with it. I had one guy on Twitter say “3 dimensional”, and that works for me. I didn’t understand that at first, but if that‘s what it means, I’ll take it.
FO: Did you wrestle in college?
I was a wrestler in high school and middle school, and when I graduated, I got into Jiu Jitsu at the University of Oregon because I was sitting around pissed off that I didn’t have practice. They actually have Jiu Jitsu at the University of Oregon as an elective. I had a friend I tried it out with.
FO: Is there a certain fighter you admired that you somewhat modelled your game after?
I don’t have any individual fighters that I try to mimic or anything. I’m just a big fan of guys who like to go out there and be good at what you do and try to improve. I’m a fan of any all fighters in the sport: I’m a big fan of Sherk, BJ, GSP, all those guys. I really enjoy watching them.
I’m a big fan of Florian too. I look at the guys who are shaped like me; I’m skinny as a rail. Florian’s got good striking and great ground, so I’m a fan of his. Obviously, I‘m a big fan of Randy and Chael. I like all the guys in MMA. They should be looked up to. They’re good people.
FO: This was your first career loss, which can be devastating, but also a valuable learning experience. How do you think it will affect you?
Honestly, I think it will make me a much better fighter. I’ve lost as an amateur, and it just made me pissed off and better. I want to heal and relax -- then I’m ready to get back in the gym and get working. It’s just going to make me work harder and get better. I truly believe you learn more from a loss than a win, and I plan on learning a lot from this fight.
FO: Are you pretty banged up? How’s the cut?
I’m perfectly fine except for a few stitches. I feel great. If it wasn’t for the stitches I would be back in the gym today.
FO: How many stitches?
8 stitches on one side (eye), 6 on the other eye.
FO: Can you confirm where you’re training? I’ve heard both Xtreme Couture and Throwdown?
This is my schedule: mornings I go to Throwdown to work with my striking coach (Shawn Yarborough; he’s made a huge difference for me), or conditioning with my coach Norm Turner. I started working with them before the Tyson [Griffin] fight, and I love the way they were able to push me. Yarborough is a fantastic striking coach and Norm put a lot of strength on me.
If I’m not there I work with Legion Jiu Jitsu with Cameron Diffley. At nights I train at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas. Those are my three gyms, but Xtreme Couture is my main gym.
FO: What does the future hold for you?
I want to fight name-brand guys and just keeping moving up … but I would like to fight Sherk again. (laughs) You know how it is; that’s just me being competitive. I don’t like losing. I got years and years left in the sport, so hopefully I‘ll get a chance someday.
FO: Do you have any closing comments?
Yeah, a few things:
Thanks to all the fans. They’ve really been supportive. I wish I could’ve pulled off the win, but I promise I’m going to come back harder, better, and stronger than ever, and be a better fighter.
Also, Rudy the cut-man! He closed my cut up and allowed me to keep going. He did a great job and I didn’t get a chance to thank him before.
Obviously , all my training partners at Xtreme Couture, along with Norm Turner, Cameron Diffley, and Shawn Yarborough. I just want to say thanks again to all my fans for supporting me. I’ll come back stronger and better.
Evan Dunham spoke with Dallas Winston