For some mixed martial artists, fighting in the UFC in their hometown, with family and friends right around the corner offering support, sounds like a dream come true. However, heavyweight Sean McCorkle (9-0), who will make his Octagon debut at UFC 119 on Sept. 25 in Indianapolis against Mark Hunt, knows that he’ll have more distractions heading into the biggest fight of his career.
“To be honest with you, I wasn’t excited with fighting in my hometown for my UFC debut. I actually don’t really like being the center of attention despite my Internet persona,” McCorkle said with a laugh, referring to his message board account on The Underground, where he regularly interacts with fans.
Fighting near home for the largest MMA organization, McCorkle has been offered plenty of help and advice. Too much, in fact. While sitting down to a meal at a local restaurant, even McCorkle’s waitress shared her opinion on his fight strategy.
“I’ve got guys I haven’t seen since ninth grade asking me if I need an extra corner man,” he said.
But rest assured, McCorkle knows where to go and who to work with to prepare for his UFC debut. First and foremost, McCorkle, who stands 6’7” and has tipped the scales at more than 300 lbs. in his previous fights, had to get ready to make the 265-pound weight limit.
Further complicating matters, Sean isn’t exactly chubby. In fact, his muscular frame resembles that of an NFL defensive end, not a King of the Cage super-heavyweight who needs to fight with his shirt on to avoid embarrassment.
Nevertheless, McCorkle said he always felt confident he could make weight if the right monetary offer came along. While cornering former UFC champion Tim Sylvia this past May for his bout against strong man Mariusz Pudzianowski, McCorkle found out from MMA agent Monte Cox that the UFC was interested.
“Three weeks later, [Monte] called me in the middle of the night and asked me if I could make 265 in three months,” McCorkle said. “I said, ‘Yeah, as long as the money is worth it.’”
Finding the offer plenty worthwhile, McCorkle embarked on his mission to slim down to the UFC heavyweight limit. He monitored his diet carefully and increased his cardio, and over a six-week period, McCorkle noticed he was getting leaner. However, the pounds weren’t coming off for some odd reason.
McCorkle then turned to professional trainer Joe Mobarecki. Mobarecki gave McCorkle a regimen that he assured him would lower his weight 30 pounds with the right diet and more functional strength training.
“I’m about 279 right now, down from about 315 or 317,” he said.
Despite his stature, McCorkle also has plenty of physically-imposing sparring partners to help him prepare, he just has to travel a bit more often. Besides his teammate and The Ultimate Fighter season 10 participant Matt Mitrione, who will face Joey Beltran at UFC 119, McCorkle occasionally hits the road to work with Tom Erickson, Dave Herman, and Tim Sylvia.
Fighting a legend
With the weight cut going smoothly, McCorkle can put all of his focus on his opponent. And for those familiar with K-1 kickboxing and Pride FC, the legendary Mark Hunt (5-6) needs no introduction.
McCorkle has enjoyed watching Hunt’s career as much as anyone, and admitted that fighting the New Zealand native would be surreal. “When I saw the bout agreement and it said ‘Mark Hunt,’ I asked Monte, ‘Is that THE Mark Hunt?!’”
Hunt is known for his heavy hands and granite chin, so engaging in a stand-up war with a striker of his caliber doesn’t sound like the best idea. McCorkle, though, is preparing for anywhere the fight ends up.
“I do have a considerable amount of reach,” McCorkle said, with Hunt giving up about ten inches in height. “But I’m not going to try and force it one way or the other.”
One thing is for sure: McCorkle has plenty of respect for Hunt. While some fighters play the role of the heel quite well, Hunt seems more like the kind of guy that would beat you up in the ring but then take you out for a beer afterwards.
“It’ll be the strangest feeling in the world,” McCorkle said of fighting Hunt in his UFC debut. “I was kind of hoping it would be a guy I don’t like.”
McCorkle even joked that he called Hunt’s manager to see if he could encourage Hunt to engage in a little bit of trash talk, but to no avail.
Everything to lose
In Hunt, McCorkle faces a veteran on a five-fight losing streak that’s desperate for a win.
Although Hunt didn’t make the transition from K-1 to MMA until 2004, he established himself as a fringe top-ten heavyweight in the eyes of some after just a few fights. Following a PRIDE debut loss to Hidehiko Yoshida, Hunt won his next five fights, including wins over Dan Bobish, Wanderlei Silva, and Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic. But Hunt’s next five opponents stopped him in the first round.
McCorkle, on the other hand, accumulated a substantial amount of wealth as a young businessman, running a recycling, trucking, and exporting company.
“I sold my company in 2005, and I had enough money to where I didn’t have to work again if my ex-wife wasn’t so expensive,” he said.
So on one hand we have a 36-year-old Hunt, a longtime fighter in need of a win to remain relevant, and on the other we have a 34-year-old McCorkle, an independently wealthy fighter who seems to have a lot less at stake.
But before making that assumption, you need to consider McCorkle’s drive to succeed. Lazy, passive individuals don’t survive running a business in the cutthroat U.S. economy. And Sean didn’t break into MMA content on finishing in second place.
“I’ve heard some people saying this is Mark Hunt’s last chance and he has more to lose,” McCorkle said. “But I hate losing more than I hate anything in the world; the first time I lose a fight, I won’t be normal for two or three months.”
He added, “I’ll get upset over a game of monopoly when I’m playing with my friends.”
That determination explains why McCorkle still came out victorious in his only fight that went the distance, a split decision win over Jeremy Norton in December 2006. Right at the beginning of the fight, McCorkle suffered a Hill-Sachs fracture and dislocation to his shoulder, forcing him to fight one-handed most of the match.
“I didn’t have it in me to quit,” he said.
The instinct to keep going through the pain … that’s what attracted McCorkle to MMA. He played basketball at the junior college level and even came to a verbal agreement to play at the University of Wisconsin. But having become “burned out” following that path, McCorkle went off to start his own business.
“When I started my own business at 20, everyone told me I was crazy,” he said.
Some guys want to strap on pads and play football, surrounded by 10 other teammates on the field. “It takes a different kind of guy to fight,” McCorkle said, willing to go out and test themselves without the safety net of the group to help them. “That’s the only reason I’m interested in making more of a career out of it.”