Sean Sherk is no longer the UFC lightweight champion and BJ Penn will challenge Joe Stevenson at UFC 80: "Rapid Fire" on January 19 in Newcastle, England, for the now vacant 155-pound title, according to UFC.com.
In addition, Sherk is guaranteed to fight the winner of the bout, getting the opportunity win back his strap sometime in early 2008.
Here's a snip from UFC President Dana White:
"I have nothing but respect for Sean Sherk and I believe he's been honest throughout this whole process. But BJ Penn and Joe Stevenson will be fighting for the lightweight title at UFC 80 on January 19th and Sean Sherk will fight the winner for the title."
"The Prodigy" and "Daddy" were originally booked to compete for the "interim" lightweight championship. The winner was to fight Sherk to declare an undisputed 155-pound champion after the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) announced a final ruling on Sherk's steroid appeal.
It was a short-term solution to get the belt out of legal limbo -- it had been tied up since Sherk tested positive for banned substances (Nandrolone) after his unanimous decision win over Hermes Franca at UFC 73: "Stacked" in July. The CSAC announced on December 4 that the finding would be upheld; however, Sherk had his suspension reduced from 12 months to just six.
That means Sherk will be cleared to fight as soon as January 2008 (his time has already been "served" during the appeal process).
This is a good decision under some difficult (and controversial) conditions. It preserves the integrity of the organization, sets a positive example for other fighters and ensures that the decisions and findings of the athletic commissions are respected.
All in all it's the best possible solution to a real bad situation.
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