Like a lot of people who watched their lightweight battle at UFC 119, Evan Dunham believes he beat Sean Sherk.
Taking home Fight of the Night honors and a win in the eyes of the public did little to numb the pain of coming away on the wrong side of the scorecards. Instead of standing with a dozen consecutive victories, Dunham was dealt the first loss of his career, and it rattled him.
The UFC continued to push the talented lightweight as one of the top emerging talents in the deep 155-pound division, booking him as one half of the headlining act for the second Fight for the Troops event. Originally scheduled to meet Kenny Florian, a knee injury put the former title contender on the sidelines, and put Dunham in the path of the surging Melvin Guillard.
In less than three minutes, Guillard blitzed Dunham, leaving him crumpled against the cage with a second consecutive loss on his record. In the span of four months, he’d gone from unbeaten up-and-comer poised to make a push for a title shot to another member of the large collection of fighters huddled just outside of contention.
“I think in the long run it will be good for me,” Dunham said of the experience. “The two losses were tough, but that’s just part of the game. I’ve just got to learn from it. Not every lesson is learned in the gym; sometimes they’re learned in the ring or after the fact, dealing with it mentally. I think in the long term it will be good for me because I was able to adjust some things mentally and physically, and I’ll be a better fighter for it.
“I had a pretty good streak there — 11 wins without a loss — and then I lost that fight to Sherk that I truly believe I didn’t lose, so it was tough to swallow. Mentally it was straining and strenuous on me. One way I was able to get over it was to focus on what I believe happened in that fight – that I won that fight. I’m over it at this point; it is what it is, and that’s what helped me prepare for that (Shamar) Bailey fight, and put on a good performance.”
After almost nine full months on the sidelines spent streamlining his training routine, dealing with lingering injuries, and starting to work with Ray Sefo, Dunham returned to the cage in September with a dominant decision victory over TUF 13 alum Shamar Bailey.
The 30-year-old Oregon native controlled the action from the outside, peppering Bailey with punches from start to finish. Earlier in his career Dunham would have come away from the fight focusing on what he wasn’t able to do in the bout, but not now. Now he’s only concerned with building on the positive elements of his performance, continuing to develop, and returning to contender status in the UFC’s deepest division.
“I was happy with it. My first thoughts were that I was disappointed that I couldn’t put him away, but that goes back to critiquing myself when maybe I don’t need to be so hard on myself. I was really happy with it. He’s a tough kid that can take a shot, and I was able to put my hands together nicely. I think it was a good step to work my way back up there. I was happy with the performance and we’ll build off that.
“After watching the film and going over the fight with Ray, I think there were reasons why I wasn’t able to put him away — little things with my technique, how I was throwing some of my punches, and that sort of stuff. There’s reasoning behind it; we’ve made those adjustments, and I plan on being able to correct that here in the future.”
Dunham gets the opportunity to put the adjustments he’s made to the test this weekend in Chicago, returning to the cage in a bout that many critics see as a high risk, low reward encounter.
Originally scheduled to face unbeaten British submission specialist Paul Sass, the 23-year-old Scouser was forced out of the intriguing matchup with an injury, with Nik Lentz stepping up to fill the void. Despite his recent two-fight winless streak, Dunham sees his new opponent as a tougher test, but one he’s well prepared for heading into Saturday night.
“I honestly believe from watching both Sass and Lentz fight, I think Lentz is a tougher fight; he’s more experienced. It’s two different styles of fights — you went from Sass who would do anything in a fight to end up on his back to a guy who will do anything to put me on my back and keep me there. Sass is a tough guy, but I think Lentz is more experienced, and he’s a grinder, and you’ve always got to be careful with guys like that.
“With Lentz, there isn’t really any mystery behind him; you know what he’s going to do. He’s going to come in, he’ll probably stand with me for a little bit, but as soon as he gets caught with any kind of punch, he’s going to be coming in hard for that takedown.”
Regardless of who he’s facing and the opinions of the experts, Dunham intends to make a statement about where he stands in the division with this fight, and he knows just how he’ll do it, right down to how he’ll get his hand raised.
“I plan on going out there and putting a great performance on, making people realize that I’m here, I’m not going anywhere, and I deserve to be considered at that level. I think this a great opportunity (to do that).
“I think we’ll come out in the first round, exchange some punches, and he’ll eventually shoot. I’ll stuff his shot, put him on his back, beat him up a bit, and then I’m going to come out in the second round and knock him out.”
Evan Dunham - Back on Track
"I plan on going out there and putting a great performance on, making people realize that I’m here, I’m not going anywhere, and I deserve to be considered at that level." Evan Dunham