Before he was the “Big Sexy”, the UFC’s newest heavyweight, unbeaten Sean McCorkle, was “The Hater”, “The Big Angry”, “Big Hungry”, and “The Alpha Male”.
“I change it every time to keep it interesting,” he deadpans. But in all seriousness, a few years before getting the call to the UFC to debut in his hometown of Indianapolis against Mark Hunt this Saturday, McCorkle was just an ex-junior college basketball player looking for something fun to do to stay in shape after selling the business he started after leaving school.
He found jiu-jitsu, soon met UFC vets Chris Lytle and Jake O’Brien, and by October of 2005, he was fighting professionally.
“There’s just something about it,” he said. “I started just taking jiu-jitsu for fun and exercise, and I met Chris Lytle and Jake O’Brien shortly after that and was training with them for a little bit and they talked me into giving it a shot. I never dreamed I’d go any farther with it than a fight or two, but I started doing really well at it.”
You could just skip ahead, look at his spotless 9-0 pro record and say, ‘well, there you go – the local boy done good and is fighting in the big show.’
Uh-uh, not that simple, though it started out conventionally enough. The 6 foot 7 McCorkle won his first four fights, all in the first round, but 15 seconds into his fifth fight, against Jeremy Norton on New Year’s Eve 2006, he dislocated his shoulder and broke his arm.
He didn’t quit though, gutting out a three round split decision win earned with one arm. 14 months of physical therapy followed, and even though he admits that his shoulder “wasn’t anywhere near healed,” he came back in the midst of that therapy to submit James Ferguson in the second round of a bout in July of 2007.
His medical woes weren’t over yet, as he dealt with another issue following the Ferguson bout.
“Shortly after that I severely herniated a disc in my back and it got to the point where I had trouble walking for months,” he said. “Finally, I broke down and had back surgery.”
Following the surgery, he got involved in another business and also went through a divorce around a year and a half ago. “That changes everything as far as how you look at your whole life,” he said, referring to the divorce. Yet while his personal life took a hit, he found solace in the sport he had picked up simply as a hobby. And now it was about to become more than that, as he decided to make another run at being a pro MMA fighter.
“I stopped for a little while and then started missing the competition and the camaraderie between the guys and I came back to it,” said McCorkle. “I just don’t want to be one of those guys who thinks ‘what if?’ My dad never wanted me to play football growing up, and I had the size, strength, and athleticism where I have no doubt in my mind that I could have played in the NFL. I played college basketball at a high level and I was always better at football than I was basketball. I regret that now. And I felt that in another ten years I’ll be looking back and saying I wish I fought in the UFC at least once, just to say I did it.”
McCorkle returned to action in February, finishing Joe Mellotte in 29 seconds. Wins in April and May over Bobby Favors (TKO1) and Johnathan Ivey (TKO2), respectively, followed, and then the call came out of the blue to fight in the UFC.
“The whole UFC thing came about way faster than I thought it would,” he admits. “I wasn’t even thinking about trying to make it for another 6 to 12 months.”
But it’s here, and even if his journey here alone makes him a success, McCorkle isn’t satisfied yet.
“I don’t plan on being one and done. I plan on staying for a while.”
There was a big issue to take care of first, mainly his weight. Clocking in at 320 pounds before beginning his training camp 12 weeks ago, McCorkle had plenty of work to do to make the 265-pound heavyweight limit, but with a strict diet and an intense training regimen, he sits within cutting range as he approaches Friday’s weigh in day. Needless to say, the idea of fighting in the UFC has been enough motivation, but he’s also kept focused by dreaming of his post-fight meals.
“I already know what I’m eating the day after the fight – donuts for breakfast, pizza for lunch, and Mexican food for dinner,” he laughed.
Before that can happen though, he’s got a fight to take care of, and he’s got a formidable foe in front of him in former K-1 and PRIDE star Mark Hunt, who, despite his 5-6 MMA record, is no slouch.
“People are like, ‘he looks short and fat,’” said McCorkle of the 5-10 Hunt, who had some serious weight cutting of his own to do to make the heavyweight limit for his UFC debut. “Okay, well he beat Mirko Cro Cop and Wanderlei Silva, and from what I’ve seen of his pictures online, he looks in better shape now than I’ve ever seen him. So I was a little disappointed in that. A lot of guys say that they want to fight somebody at their best. I’ll be the first guy to be honest and say I was hoping he came in fat and out of shape and just looking for a payday. I’d like to win every fight in three to four seconds if I can and take my money and go home. I’m not interested in a battle or a war; if that’s what it takes, so be it, but I’d like to win as fast as possible with as little damage as possible.”
He would also like to finish it on the ground, but in this case, McCorkle’s height and reach advantage may become a disadvantage.
“Obviously his wrestling hasn’t been great over his career, and he’s been more of a standup guy, but I personally think it’s harder to take a short, heavier guy down than a tall guy,” he said. “I’d much rather try to take down a Stefan Struve than Mark because I’m gonna have to get so low to get a single or a double, and it’s not like I can shoot on a guy that short, so it will have to be in a clinch situation. And it (his height and reach) would definitely be more to my advantage if I was a standup fighter, and I’ll do what I have to do, but I don’t really plan on trying to stand there and punch it out with him on the feet; it would be stupid, even though I have the reach advantage. But if I can’t take him down, I guess we’ll stand there and see what happens.”
That’s the easy part, at least as far as McCorkle is concerned. The more difficult part is dealing with the crowd, the media, and the bright lights. If you’ve read the previous paragraphs, seen his video interviews, or laughed at his back and forth banter on mma.tv’s Underground forum, this may come as a shock, but the 34-year old says that he’s actually pretty shy.
“Inside I’m just a scared little boy,” he laughs. “But the biggest part that scares me about any kind of fight is being in front of people, not the actual fight. I don’t like being in front of people and I’ve never felt comfortable being on the stage. I’d never want to be a public speaker or anything like that.”
Now that’s a surprise. But don’t worry, the “Big Sexy” won’t be freezing up on fight night Saturday night, and that’s thanks to some sage advice from none other than UFC Hall of Famer Mark Coleman.
“He told me to just enjoy it,” said McCorkle. “Your life’s not changing that much either way. If you knock somebody out in 10 seconds or get knocked out, it really ain’t gonna change your life very much. Enjoy the ride, enjoy the experience because you never know when you’re gonna be back.”
The Unlikely Tale of Sean McCorkle
"I’d like to win every fight in three to four seconds if I can and take my money and go home. I’m not interested in a battle or a war; if that’s what it takes, so be it, but I’d like to win as fast as possible with as little damage as possible.”