51-year-old Ken Shamrock wants to prove he still has what it takes
The “World’s Most Dangerous Man” is not done fighting just yet.
“There is some unfinished business for me to clean up,” said Ken Shamrock. “I’m going to get back in the ring and fight again.”
Shamrock, now 51, is looking to avenge his Bellator 138 loss this past June at the hands of Kimbo Slice.
“I definitely want to jump back in and have another fight,” said Shamrock. “There’s no question. I felt really good in my last fight. I felt like I was stronger than him. I dominated the fight and did everything I wanted to do–but I made a mistake.
“I let go of him because I thought he went out. I rolled over to see if his eyes were closed, and he popped up. I wasn’t really alert because I thought the fight was over. I don’t want to leave on that mistake. I want to go out on top.”
Shamrock is enjoying his association with Bellator MMA, one of the fastest growing Mixed Martial Arts organizations in the world. Despite the fact that Shamrock is known as one of the godfathers of the MMA, he explained in no uncertain terms why he is not working for Dana White’s UFC.
“Bellator offered me a job,” explained Shamrock. “UFC never offered me an opportunity to fight. There’s no question that UFC is the top. It’s a machine. A lot of people, including myself, have helped build the UFC to where it is today. But a lot of people are unhappy with UFC’s decisions and what’s going on behind closed doors, especially when it comes to money and growth. I would love to see Bellator come up and offer an opportunity for competition. Then fighters could negotiate contracts and they would not be limited to having only one opportunity, one option, where you have to take what’s given to you.”
Shamrock, whose birth name was Kenneth Kilpatrick, was born to fight. He was raised by his mother during his formative years in Macon, Georgia, but ran away by the age of ten. Shamrock struggled to live life without physicality, and he was removed from seven different group homes by the time he became a teenager. At the age of 13, he was sent to Susanville, California to live at the Shamrock Ranch, run by Bob Shamrock–who ultimately adopted him.
“That was my background,” said Shamrock. “I grew up on the street, and I found a way to vent my frustrations through fighting.”
It should come as no surprise that Shamrock is seeking one more fight. The Shamrock Ranch, which housed more than 600 boys over the course of its time, allowed disputes to be solved through boxing matches.
“People just don’t understand,” said Shamrock. “I love what I do. People hear that I’m still fighting, and they ask, ‘What? Why are you still doing that to yourself?’ This is something I have always enjoyed doing. I love competing.”
Shamrock captured his first “Toughman” competition in 1983, knocking out his first two opponents. He then flirted with the idea of a career in pro wrestling, traveling to Japan to learn the business with the Universal Wrestling Federation. When UWF disbanded, Shamrock joined Pancrase, which was an MMA startup in 1993 and became a precursor to the UFC. Shamrock became the first ever Pancrase champion, and his experience in Japan helped transform him as a fighter.
“When people ask where I learned and where a lot of my skills come from, it’s from Pancrase,” said Shamrock. “They built me into the fighter that I became. Then UFC came around, and I expanded from there, but Japan was definitely my foundation.”
Mixed Martial Arts was far more of an underground spectacle in the early 1990s, but Shamrock helped UFC right from its infancy. He appeared on the original UFC 1 card, and the golden moment of his career occurred during UFC 6 in the 1995 fight against Dan Severn to determine the UFC Superfight Championship.
“That was the very first title that UFC handed out,” said Shamrock. “The Superfight Champion included everyone -- lightweight, heavyweight, and middleweight. That was the biggest accomplishment of my career.”
Perhaps to the chagrin of Severn, Shamrock proved he was a highly intelligent fighter and operated at peak levels in pressure situations. He grew even more excited for his fight with Severn after finding a newsletter in his hotel that proclaimed Severn was going to manhandle him.
“There was more to that than just a newsletter,” said Shamrock. “We were actually in an interview, and Dan felt disrespected, so he got up and walked out. That really pissed me off, so I went after him pretty hard. That’s when MMA was bare knuckle, and there was that rawness and that excitement. You knew that, when two guys got in the ring, someone was going to win the fight.”
Shamrock dominated the fight, winning, with a chokehold, in two minutes and fourteen seconds.
“Because of my submission moves, I knew there was no way he could beat me,” said Shamrock. “There was no way he could out-fight me. He couldn’t punch. The only thing he could do was try to out-wrestle me, but I was too good on the ground for that. The thing I was most surprised about, though, because he was a big time wrestler, was that he could not take me down. He shot two or three times, but I blocked every one of his shots. I knew I was going to win.”
Shamrock then debuted for Vince McMahon’s WWE in 1997. He served as the guest referee for the legendary double-turn match between Bret “Hitman” Hart and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin at WrestleMania 13, and brought an air of legitimacy to the squared circle.
“Pro wrestling allowed me to do things nobody else could do, and nobody else had ever seen before,” said Shamrock. “I changed the face of pro wrestling. There used to be a couple different holds, and now there are a million of them and they’re all submissions. If you look at before I was with WWE and after I was with WWE, there are so many submission holds that it’s unbelievable. That’s a compliment to the things I was able to do while I was there, and I’m very proud that it’s stood the test of time.”
Shamrock admits he learned the art of showmanship during his time with the WWE.
“I was very happy to be a part of pro wrestling,” he said. “I learned how to use the mic and listen to the crowd, and I learned how to add my personality into a confrontation. The biggest thing for me in pro wrestling was being able to perform in front of those big crowds, being able to address the media, and just working at that elite, top level. Pro wrestling really helped educate me how to market a fight.”
WWE employs a grueling schedule for its wrestlers. The seemingly never-ending time on the road provided plenty of opportunities for the roster to try the 6-foot, 200-pound Shamrock, including one failed attempt from current WWE broadcaster John “JBL” Bradshaw Layfield.
“I had a couple guys try me,” said Shamrock. “Steve Blackman wanted to try me a couple different times, and one time, when I was in the ring with Blackman, Bradshaw challenged me. This was during the day before the show, and we were all by the ring. I said to him, ‘Grab whatever hold you want, start off however you want, and I’ll submit you within thirty seconds.’ Bradshaw grabbed a hold, and within ten seconds, I had him tapping him.”
Paul Wight, better known as the seven-foot behemoth the “Big Show,” also requested a closer look at Shamrock’s ability as a fighter.
“Big Show and I were in a conference room with Vince McMahon,” said Shamrock. “Paul Wight came up from behind me and grabbed me in a bear hug. ‘What would you do,’ he asked, ‘if someone did this to you?’ I immediately slipped out of his bear hug, pulled down into a knee bar, and tapped him out while he was standing.”
Shamrock left the WWE to return to Mixed Martial Arts, but he is forever grateful for his time in professional wrestling.
“Vince McMahon is a very unique individual, and very shrewd,” said Shamrock. “But if you look at everything he’s done at the past, he’s fair. I have nothing but the utmost respect for him. He gave me a great opportunity to be out in the mainstream, so I’m very appreciative.”
Shamrock then returned to UFC, helping the company grow to uncharted heights. Despite a torn ACL, he defeated Tito Ortiz at UFC 40 in a major moment for the sport.
“I missed the process,” said Shamrock, who admitted he smiles just thinking about a fight. “For me, when you start out and set a goal, the preparation begins. You go out and get a grappling coach that will put a strategy together with you for a particular fight, then you break down the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent and put that strategy together. Then the training starts and you get your training partners, and they’re all in to get you to improve without ever getting you hurt. So now you’ve built this team of 12-15 people, where everyone is looking at the same goal.
“When that time comes, everyone has already put their blood and sweat and tears into it. You get to that day, and the plan actually goes into work. Everyone involved and invested in that process gets to see it unfold, including the guy that’s fighting. When you go in there and accomplish that goal and get your hand raised, the celebration that goes on with the people that all helped you accomplish that goal, it’s incredible. There is no more of a rush than being able to plan something that far in advance, with that many people, and be able to accomplish that goal on that night with millions of people watching and screaming and yelling. It’s an adrenaline rush and something that every athlete misses when they retire.”
Shamrock is not quite ready to retire, but he does regret some of the directions the sport has made as it moved away from bare-knuckle to gloves.
“It just seems like we’re taking away what MMA was all about it,” said Shamrock. “It was about the skills. When you put gloves on a guy, you’re taking away the submissions and you’re taking away the chokes. Now you’re giving a person who doesn’t have the skill with submissions the ability to grab a glove. The glove is too big to fit into the Achilles to lock anything in, so it really takes away from the purity of submissions.
“The purity and the toughness that was displayed in the early days is gone. I understand the dangers, so it’s really frustrating to hear people talk about bare-knuckle and how dangerous it is when, in reality, it’s the opposite. When you pad somebody’s hand, I can punch someone as hard as I want and not hurt my hand. If I take that glove off, I can’t punch someone like that–if I do, I get one shot, then my hand is broke. I’ve done both and I understand both. Now, when you get hit solid one time, people step in and want to stop the fight. It’s not what it used to be. It’s being softened up because of the rules. It doesn’t allow guys, when they’re taking an ass-kicking, to come back and win a fight. They’re taking away a lot of that excitement from the fans. Back then, the referee was not going to stop the fight. I understand they need to protect the sport and they don’t want anyone getting killed, but I really like the old school way where you allow the two guys in the ring to decide the fight.”
Shamrock still feels the sport–often viewed as brutish and vioent–is simply misunderstood.
“Violence is something that occurs when someone gets robbed or someone beats someone up at a bar,” said Shamrock. “MMA is getting into something you want to do. Being able to push yourself, to be able to become very, very good, now that is a major difference from violence. I pushed myself and trained myself so I could go the distance and explode when I needed to, and that isn’t violence.”
There is a new breed of extremely talented fighters, including UFC’s Conor McGregor, as well as Bellator’s Will Brooks and Liam McGeary. Shamrock admitted the skill level of today’s fighters is so far advanced.
“People always, ‘Who are the best fighters in the world?’” said Shamrock. “I’ll tell you–it’s whoever is in the ring competing for the title. For people to carry a belt today, you’ve got to be really good. It’s not like in my day, when there were only one or two guys that could challenge. Now you have 20 guys in your weight class that could hook somebody and finish them, and you have seven-to-eight guys just as good as the champion. So for a guy to be a champion at his weight class, that means he’s a very good fighter. It’s really hard to say who the best fighter is in the world because there are so many good ones.”
While Shamrock is not scheduled for the card, Bellator 144 takes place live on Friday, October 23 at 9pm on Spike TV.
“No one I watch reminds me of myself,” explained Shamrock. “But I was allowed to be very aggressive, and guys today aren’t allowed to be themselves. I’d like to see that happen more often, instead of putting guys down for getting angry. I like [Bellator MMA heavyweight champion] Vitaly Minakov is one guy who looks to be someone who is really going to start moving up the ladder. Even though he’s a champion now, you’re going to continue to see him advance.”
There is a steep learning curve fighters are forced to master in order to succeed in Mixed Martial Arts, and Shamrock–in his role as the “Godfather of MMA” – understands those challenges.
“There’s a learning process,” said Shamrock. “There is a growth process in any professional sport, and it’s the same thing in fighting. You don’t jump right into the main event. When you talk about fighting, you need your timing down, need to learn your strengths and weaknesses, and the biggest thing is being able to handle the time restraints. There is a lot that goes into climbing up that ladder that also will distract you mentally. So there is a lot of stuff you need to be educated on when you’re going through that growth process.
“There’s not one specific time where you say, ‘That’s when I really emerged.’ It’s really more about steps along the way that allow you to keep growing. The ones who don’t are the ones we see fall out before they ever get to a title shot. The ones who continue to keep learning, keep growing, keep expanding themselves, those are the ones you see at the top level.”