At UFC 73, which took place on July 7, 2007, Anderson Silva made the first of his UFC-record 10 official title defenses, blasting former King of Pancrase Nate Marquardt with ground-and-pound after a failed takedown attempt by the American. However, the other title fight that night in Sacramento was arguably just as intriguing and historically notable—but for all the wrong reasons.
When Sean Sherk had won the Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight title in a fairly one-sided decision over Kenny Florian the previous October at UFC 64, it was a sign of new life for a once-imperiled division. With the win, “The Muscle Shark” had put an end to a three-and-a-half year span in which there had been no lightweight champion, including a year and a half during which there were no lightweight fights in the UFC at all. During that lengthy limbo period, not only had most fans speculated that the UFC might shut down the division permanently, quite a few seemed in favor of it.
Sherk had resurrected the division and, as he went into his first title defense against Hermes Franca at UFC 73, things seemed to be looking up. The UFC was experiencing a major influx of 155-pound talent due to Season 5 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” which had just concluded, in addition to numerous welterweights who could now drop back down to their weight class of preference. Sherk looked to be holding things down ably in anticipation of the return of B.J. Penn, his presumptive next title challenger, and Sherk held up his end of the deal by beating Franca in a lopsided five-round decision.
Or so it seemed until days later, when Sherk and Franca both tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. While the result remained a unanimous decision victory for Sherk rather than being vacated to a no-contest, he was stripped of the belt. After nearly four years in the wilderness, the UFC lightweight title was vacant once again. While Sherk would in fact meet Penn in the Octagon the next year, it would be the Hawaiian who entered as champion.