"I consider it as much of a part of my job to entertain people as it is to fight. I’ve seen a lot of guys that don’t have any personality who are really good fighters that the UFC cuts after a boring fight or two and no one cares and no one even knows they fought."
It’s a fact that can’t be confirmed, but it’s probably safe to say that every fighter has done it, practicing what he would say if interviewed by the worldwide media, dreaming of how he would win his debut on the sport’s biggest stage. Most never get that chance, and many who do freeze under the bright lights.
Sean McCorkle got his chance earlier this year, chosen to make his UFC debut in his hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana against Mark Hunt. It was the classic ‘be careful what you wish for’ scenario, and watching McCorkle in the weeks leading up to the biggest fight of his career was almost like observing a teenage science experiment you almost expected to start sprouting flames and smoke.
McCorkle, 34 years old and with a gaudy 9-0 record against a nondescript crew of opponents, was the hometown favorite, but also unproven. In fact, in the lead-up to the bout, the “Big Sexy” got more attention for his pre-fight interviews than for his previous exploits in the ring. It was a recipe for disaster, because it just seemed impossible that he would be able to hold it together during fight week and then in the fight itself.
But then a funny thing happened. McCorkle made it to fight week, stole the show with the media, and then as he walked into the Octagon to face the PRIDE and K-1 vet, he didn’t have a deer in the headlights look, but one of confidence, one that said ‘I belong here and I’m about to show you why.’
Then he did, submitting Hunt in just 67 seconds.
“This is gonna sound completely crazy, but I never had a doubt in my mind that I was gonna beat Mark Hunt and do it convincingly,” said McCorkle. “I don’t know why, and even walking out there, I’m thinking ‘it’s gonna be so awesome if I go out here and submit him fast.’ I just knew. It’s just a feeling that I have that I feel like I’m finally doing what I was meant to do in my life. Not to get all hokey, but I just feel at home. I thought I would be so nervous, but as I walked around, I was like ‘this is pretty awesome to be able to do this.’”
Even back in the locker room after the UFC 119 bout, McCorkle walked around like he was in a dream, prompting a wake-up call from a training partner and longtime fight game vet.
“Tom Erikson told me when I came back after the Hunt fight backstage, ‘you know this is real now, you’re not dreaming,’” said McCorkle. “He saw that glassy look in my eyes. I said ‘I hope I’m not knocked out lying in the Octagon right now and I just dreamed that I won.’ That whole night will be tough to top in anything I do because it was in front of my hometown, nobody expected me to win the fight, and I was a 4 to 1 betting underdog.”
He wasn’t just an underdog in the Octagon, but an underdog in life heading into the Conseco Fieldhouse, having bounced back in 2010 from a crippling divorce and a three year layoff to run off three straight wins before getting the call to the UFC.
“I went through hell for 20 months and it was the worst period of my life,” he said. “I would never say that I was suicidal, but I was on the brink of being down that low to where everything I had ever worked for was taken from me in the matter of three months. And not just money wise, but I had a real bitter, nasty divorce, not from my end, but from her end, and this was someone that I was boyfriend/girlfriend with since third grade. You’re talking a long history there, and the way she did it was just horrendous. I got as low as you could possibly get, so now I appreciate everything that much more, and to have anything go my way is great now. And I just keep hoping that it doesn’t end soon, and maybe that’s why I work so hard at it.”
Dropping from over 300 pounds to the 265 pound heavyweight limit, McCorkle showed his commitment for the Hunt bout, but in this game, it’s what have you done for me lately, so just days after his first UFC victory, he got the call to face fellow prospect Stefan Struve at UFC 124 this Saturday in Montreal. On paper, it’s a great style matchup, and with McCorkle at 6 foot 7 and Struve at 6 foot 11, it’s a clash of giants fans will love. But McCorkle wanted more – he didn’t just want a good matchup, he wanted his fight with Struve to be on the main card. So he took his case to the internet, where he has been opening fire on the soft-spoken “Skyscraper” on Twitter.
“I had a whole lot of pent-up trash talking from the whole Mark Hunt fight because a guy like him who has accomplished as much as he has and who I was always a fan of, I didn’t feel comfortable saying anything about him and it absolutely killed me because I had great ideas,” laughs McCorkle, who had some reservations at first about engaging in a smack talk war with his 22-year old foe.
“I really wanted to be on the main card and I was looking to initiate something with him, but he’s a quiet kid and he seems nice,” he explained. “I kinda hate to do that if he’s not gonna respond, and then he comes out on Twitter and starts saying stuff about me first – and I was like, perfect. Now the chains are off. It’s kinda got out of control, but we got on the main card.”
Not just the main card, but McCorkle and Struve will be the last fight before the UFC 124 championship bout between Georges St-Pierre and Josh Koscheck. It shows the power of ‘getting it’ and knowing how to promote a fight. McCorkle gets it, knowing that while this is a sport, people are also paying a lot of money to be entertained.
“The UFC is a sport, but it’s also entertainment the way the NFL is entertainment,” said McCorkle. “I always tell people if they want purity of sports, go watch chess or the Olympics or something. (Laughs) This is entertainment and it’s why people come to watch it and pay to watch it – it’s to be entertained. And I look at guys like Struve – no one I know even knew who he was before I was gonna fight him, and he’s fought six times in the UFC. And that comes from just giving the standard answers like ‘I’m really training hard,’ and ‘I’m looking forward to this.’ I consider it as much of a part of my job to entertain people as it is to fight. I’ve seen a lot of guys that don’t have any personality who are really good fighters that the UFC cuts after a boring fight or two and no one cares and no one even knows they fought. If I’m gonna go in there and lose, I’m gonna lose big. People ask me, aren’t you worried about motivating him? No, because number one, Struve’s not the guy to beat me, I can promise you that. Number two, as long as people want to watch the fight, it doesn’t matter to me. If I get knocked out on national TV, you’re gonna look stupid either way. It doesn’t matter if you’re the nicest guy ever or talked a bunch of trash before. I don’t know what else I’m supposed to say before a fight. I’ve got to be me if I’m gonna do it.”
Yet despite all the verbal back and forth, McCorkle does have respect for his foe, as evidenced by his following comments on him.
“I think his biggest asset, more than anything, is how ballsy he is,” said McCorkle of Struve. “That beating he got from Christian Morecraft (in August), a lot of guys wouldn’t have come out for the second round, and a lot of them wouldn’t have made it out of the first. So he’s got a lot of heart, and being as tall as he is, I think he’s used that to his advantage over a lot of guys, but that’s not really gonna work against me. But he’s not gonna tap, and he even looked upset when they stopped the Junior dos Santos fight, and I don’t think a lot of guys would be upset after getting blasted by him. He looked like he was ready to go right after that and it didn’t look put on like a lot of guys do. He looked genuinely upset that they stopped the fight. It makes for a good opponent, and if you make him submit or knock him out, it means something.”
Fighting in the UFC alone means something to Sean McCorkle, but that’s not enough for him anymore. Now he’s got loftier ambitions, but that doesn’t mean he’s comfortable just yet.
“I had a terrible two years before the whole UFC thing,” he said, “and now things seem to be swinging my way, so it’s actually making me nervous right now. (Laughs) Things are going too good.”
Free Prelims on UFC.com/Live
For the first time ever, two preliminary bouts will be aired live and free online at http://www.ufc.com/live.
The Dustin Hazelett vs Mark Bocek and Dan Miller vs Joe Doerksen fights
will be available to everyone worldwide at no charge starting at 9pm
ET/ 6pm PT/ 2am GMT.