Evan Dunham file photo: Sherdog.com
Evan Dunham has some strong opinions on MMA judges, but you won’t hear him criticize anyone anytime soon.
The 28-year-old lightweight standout dropped a controversial split decision to Sean Sherk at UFC 119. It was the first loss of Dunham's career, and most believe he should still be undefeated. Cecil Peoples and Glenn Trowbridge were not among the majority on fight night; they gave Sherk the bout on 29-28 cards while Kevin Caldwell turned in a 28-29 tally for Dunham in line with public opinion.
Dunham has handled the rendering with grace. He blames himself for not finishing Sherk, but that doesn’t mean he thinks the bout was judged properly. He just doesn’t think now is the time for him to call out the judges who put an L on his record.
“I probably should stand up and be more forthright about making my opinions known, but it’s one of those situations where I just try to stay humble in everything I do,” Dunham said during a recent episode of “The Jordan Breen Show” on the Sherdog Radio Network. “Me sitting back and throwing insults or making huge statements isn’t going to change the fact that I lost that fight.”
In his diplomacy Dunham echoed the slogan that you can’t leave the fight in the hands of the judges. Yet he also acknowledged that there is something to be said for fighters standing up and criticizing officials who repeatedly deliver poor decisions.
“I’m still relatively new to a lot of the UFC fans. I think a lot of people are still wondering, ‘Who is Evan Dunham?’ … I think if I was more well known and more established in the sport, I’d be more effective in (speaking out),” Dunham said. “Where I’m at right now, I think it’s better for me to just bite my lip and just keep fighting and just keep being entertaining and let my voice be spoken inside the ring.”
His fighting ability said a lot against Sherk. Dunham threatened the former UFC lightweight champion with several submissions, and after suffering a nasty cut in the opening round, he thundered back in the second and third with dominant striking. It was a breakout performance, even in defeat. It wasn’t a perfect performance by any stretch, though. Dunham didn’t stick to the game plan.
“My game plan was to not go for submissions, to fight for underhooks and keep the fight standing the entire time,” Dunham said. “Whereas the first round, as soon as he shot in, yeah, he left his neck out, so I went for the guillotine. And while I was doing so, I was thinking, ‘What are you doing, man? This isn’t your game plan. You work your underhooks and you’ll be able to better defend the takedown.’”
This inner dialogue played out through the first round and into the second. Dunham kept grabbing for guillotine chokes and asking himself what he was doing, telling himself to let go, get an underhook and force a fight on the feet.
“I didn’t listen to myself,” Dunham said. “It was just one of those situations where I thought it was there, so I was going to go for it. Sherk, he’s a tough dude. He’s got a neck that’s pure muscle and he hides that thing. (One choke) was tight, I thought, but it wasn’t tight enough.”
Eventually Dunham began following his plan. He started focusing on stopping takedowns, which allowed him to pick apart Sherk on the feet. If he had won his mental struggle earlier, though, he believes he could have finished the fight with strikes and left the judges out of the equation.
“That’s my fault,” he said. “I’ve got nobody else to blame for that.”
Plenty of fans are certain he won anyway, but Dunham says a loss is a loss. That’s one reason he refuses to treat himself to a new car or an exotic vacation with his $70,000 Fight of the Night bonus. Instead, he’ll invest the money in training, in making sure the judges never have to do their job again.
Check out Jordan Breen’s full interview with Evan Dunham, who discusses the scoring of the second round, his prior split decisions in the UFC and whether something about his style confounds judges.