On paper this was one of the most intriguing bouts on the UFC 119 fight card with former champion Sean Sherk looking to prove he still had what it takes to be a force at 155lbs, while Dunham was looking to seal his reputation as one of the best lightweights of the next generation.
One of the interesting questions leading up to the fight was whether Sherk would continue his recent stand-up obsession.
An early takedown showed that Sherk was looking to get back to his wrestling roots. Dunham countered with a guillotine choke in what would become a familiar pattern during the fight.
Midway through the round Dunham appeared to have locked in an extremely tight choke that looked to be a fight finisher, with even Mike Goldberg shouting out his familiar ‘It’s all over’ catchprase but somehow Sherk escaped.
He then got payback when he landed a sharp elbow that immediately opened up a deep cut at the side of Dunham’s right eye to end the round on a high.
The first half of the second round played out in similar fashion with Sherk looking for takedown’s while Dunham continued to threaten with the choke.
Things changed later in the round when the two fighters began to exchange on the feet. Dunham then began to gain the upperhand with a definitive reach advantage while punches and knees landed with increasing frequency to finish the round strongly.
Dunham started strongly in the third, wobbling Sherk with a head kick which forced the former champion to retreat back to his wrestling. Dunham eventually broke free though and then poured it on in the striking realm.
This was impressive stuff as Dunham began to light Sherk up with punching combinations, kicks and brutal knees for much of the remainder of the fight, though credit to Sherk for showing remarkable durability to stay standing and take it to the judges scorecards.
Personally I had Dunham winning, but two of the judges saw it differently, resulting in a split decision for Sherk with scores of 29-28, 28-29, 29-28.
The win gets Sherk back to winning ways but indicates once again that his striking and in particular his reach disadvantage can still get him in trouble, but his wrestling, toughness and submission defense continue to make him a challenging adversary at the age of 37.
As for Dunham, there was no disgrace in losing here, and with the exciting stand-up display he produced he may have actually done his career more good than harm here.
Perhaps a rematch at some point would be a good idea? I’d certainly like to see it.