Evan Dunham file photo: Sherdog.com
You're an unbeaten prospect in the biggest fight of your career, against a former champion, no less. The first round ends, and you know that you've been cut wide open with an elbow. When you get back to your stool, your cutman takes one look at the gash and exclaims: “Oh, sh-t.”
Such was the predicament of Evan Dunham in his 155-pound contest with Sean Sherk at UFC 119. The gruesome cut was of the sort that generally signals the beginning of the end for a fighter. Instead, Dunham's finest work was yet to come.
Long streaks of blood painted down his chest, Dunham emerged for the second round unperturbed by the gore. The rangy lightweight began stuffing long-distance double-leg attempts from Sherk, and went on to apply a pair of deep -- though ultimately unsuccessful -- guillotine chokes. After being taken down, Dunham worked to his feet with relative ease, in stark contrast to his passive more guard-play from round one. Dunham continued to wield his considerable reach advantage in the latter part of the period, sticking his man with jabs, jump knees and teep kicks to the face.
Dunham permanently turned the tide of the fight seven seconds into the last round, when a right high kick found its way to the back of Sherk’s head and sent him crumpling to the mat. Sherk maintained consciousness, but spent the better part of the next two minutes doubled over, pressing Dunham’s back into the cage while hiding his neck from another guillotine. Dunham’s earlier submission attempts loomed so large that Sherk chose to forgo his wrestling entirely and box for the final 90 seconds of the match -- a decision he may have regretted as Dunham poured kicks, combinations and knees on his visibly weary opponent until the final bell.
Though the 28-year-old had convinced the Indianapolis crowd, and virtually the whole of the MMA media and fanbase that he’d won the fight, judges Cecil Peoples and Glenn Trowbridge disagreed and officially handed Dunham the first loss of his professional career. All three judges -- Peoples, Trowbridge and Kevin Caldwell -- gave the opening round to Sherk and final round to Dunham. In spite of Dunham seizing control of the round, only Caldwell scored the second stanza for Dunham.
“First round went to [Sherk], for sure. Second round was close, and third round, I thought I won that,” Dunham said after the bout. “You know, that's the thing is if you don't finish the fight and you leave it to the judges, anything can happen.”
“And does,” added UFC boss Dana White, who said he also felt that Dunham had won.
Dunham’s intrepid performance netted him an extra $70,000 in “Fight of the Night” bonus pay, but the fighter says a moral victory still has nothing on the real thing.
“It's definitely bittersweet -- more bitter than sweet, for sure, 'cause a loss is a loss.”
While his record -- not to mention his eyebrow -- now bears the mark of a loss, Dunham undoubtedly proved his mettle on Saturday night and furthered his reputation as a future contender in the lightweight division.