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Shamrock's legacy stretches beyond the cage; more MMA notes

During the final weekend of summer 2008, Frank Shamrock enjoyed a beautiful Los Angeles evening with a drink in his hand on an outdoor patio of one of the city's many boutique hotels. Recovering from a broken arm suffered in a fight against Cung Le seven months earlier, Shamrock, a pioneering mixed martial artist, looked more like someone taking time away from the stresses of his job than a man intent on fighting 10 more years.

But that's exactly what he said meant to do. He'd dreamt it. And in Shamrock's experience, dreams often equated to reality. Yet this past Saturday in San Jose, where Shamrock has lived for the past 13 years, one of the first great MMA champions announced his battle-worn body could no longer hold up to the rigors of active competition.

"My spine, my ribs, my neck -- nothing was really holding up," said the 37-year-old former UFC champion. "I'm doing more therapy than training; that tells me it's time to go home."

Born Frank Alisio Juarez III, Shamrock found his path to fighting stardom and a life in martial arts at the last group home he'd ever live in: Bob Shamrock's Boy's Ranch in Susanville, Calif. He was 12 when the elder Shamrock, who passed away in January at the age of 68 due to complications from diabetes, brought him into his haven for troubled youth. It wasn't long before Frank took his place alongside the group home's star, Kenneth Wayne Kilpatrick, better known to the world as Ken Shamrock, as Bob's favorites, so much so that he eventually adopted both.

Not surprisingly, they embarked on similar career paths. Ken, the star. Frank, the kid who learned by taking a beating, sometimes at Bob's behest.

"I wish the sport was much more evolved when I got into it," Frank said. "I took a lot of physical punishment learning the art of fighting."

As time passed, egos and bruises swelled. Unable to co-exist with his adoptive father and brother, Frank, always headstrong, went his own way, which is how he came to live in San Jose and help form the American Kickboxing Academy -- one of the top MMA factories in the world today. It was there, with the help of Javier Mendez and others like Maurice Smith and Tsuyoshi Kohsaka that he strived to diversify his game, becoming one of the first MMA fighters to embrace a balanced approach to his skills.

You wouldn't know it based on the current UFC regime's whitewashing of history, but Shamrock's two-year stretch from the end of 1997 through his epic fight against Tito Ortiz on Sept. 24, 1999, remains among the organization's most impressive. Politics, money and what Shamrock believes was a failure on the UFC's part -- then run by Bob Meyrowitz and SEG -- to embrace the martial arts aspect of the sport, caused him, "at the height of my game," to relinquish the belt and "retire" when MMA was at its weakest in the U.S.

Shamrock, now a color commentator for Showtime and CBS, was nowhere near as swashbuckling a fighter in the 2000s as he was in the mid-to-late '90s. Brittle with injury, he managed just a 4-3 record over nine years -- the collective ledger of the men he defeated: 33-30-2. More important, perhaps, than his legacy in the cage might be Shamrock's ability to recognize and defend his value as an individual athlete in the face of powerful promoters and fight organizations.

"I stopped being a fighter in 1999 and I became a fight executive the moment I retired and took control of my brand," he said. "I know where we were going, and I've always believed it."

As for that dream of fighting another 10 years, Shamrock says it lives on, though not in the way he originally imagined.

"I failed to do it with my fists and knees," he said. "I thought I'd be in the cage doing it. I though I'd be out there swinging. It's going to be elsewhere. I think my fight is the sport. I think my fight is making sure we get what we're supposed to have. That these guys are taken care of the way they're supposed to be taken care of. And that this thing is supposed to be promoted the way it's supposed to be promoted. I have a platform to tell the truth. The truth is more powerful than anything, and I've been there since the beginning watching it happen."

Prior to meeting Fedor Emelianenko on Saturday, Fabricio Werdum signed a three-fight extension with Strikeforce, the fighter's manager Richard Wilner confirmed to SI.com. Where he goes from here is yet to be determined. There are two schools of thought on the Brazilian's next fight: 1) a rematch with Emelianenko (something Werdum said he would accept, ideally in Russia "like Rocky Balboa") or 2) versus Alistair Overeem, the Strikeforce heavyweight champion whom Werdum submitted in 2006.

Emelianenko, meanwhile, is said to be in good spirits and eager to fight after losing for the first time since Dec. 22, 2000. His promoters, M-1 Global? Well, it depends on whom you ask. The notion of retirement, which circulated in media reports as a possibility for Emelianenko in the near term, is a non-issue at this point, according to sources in the Russian's camp who said he hopes to return to competition as soon as possible.

Among the important news lost in the madness of Emelianenko tapping: Strikeforce women's 145-pound champions Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos' demolition of Jan Finney.

Through nearly eight minutes of fighting, Santos out-struck Finney 141 to 23. It was a brutal contest that prompted many fans in the HP Pavilion to yell for referee Kim Winslow to intervene during the latter half of round one. Finney, however, survived into the middle of the second despite taking a knee a minute into the fight that she thought broke her sternum.

"Jan actually loved the referee," said her manager, Wade Hamper. "She was actually upset the fight was stopped."

Despite the one-sided beating, Finney returned to her hotel room by 1 a.m. on fight night free of serious injuries or even stitches. The California State Athletic Commission, however, issued three medical suspensions to Finney in the wake of the brutal contest: 180 days for a broken eye socket (which doctors could not find, according to Hamper), 60 days for the damage to her face and 45 days because of the technical knockout result.

"She was a good opponent," Santos (10-1) said of Finney. "She fought. She's tough. I certainly enjoyed the war."

Finney (8-8) is expected to drop down in weight to 135 pounds, where a fight with Miesha Tate (9-2) has been discussed.

As for Cyborg, the world's most dominant woman fighter gets Erin Toughill next, according to Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker. Toughill (10-2-1) has enjoyed a nice MMA career, but is perhaps best known for losing in boxing via third-round stoppage to Laila Ali in 2005.

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