Community Interview: UFC Legend Frank Shamrock on His Career and Future

One of MMA's "Kingpins," a legendary figure in the sport's history, sat down to take your questions in our biggest community interview yet. Frank…

By: Jonathan Snowden | 13 years ago
Community Interview: UFC Legend Frank Shamrock on His Career and Future
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

One of MMA’s “Kingpins,” a legendary figure in the sport’s history, sat down to take your questions in our biggest community interview yet. Frank Shamrock, simply put, is one of the greatest fighters to ever walk the planet. As always, our own Kid Nate puts it best:

It’s impossible to convey how thrilling it was to follow Frank Shamrock in his glory days. Not only did he put together one of the most impressive championship runs in UFC history, he did it by dramatically beating a string of opponents in different ways. There were thrilling upsets (Kevin Jackson, Tito Ortiz), revenge matches (John Lober), come from behind pull it out of nowhere submissions (Jeremy Horn), blink and you’ll miss it quick matches (Jackson, Igor Zinoviev) and an epic beatdown (John Lober). 

Rooting for Frank Shamrock during that period was the most thrilling sports fan experience of my life, matched only by watching the 1976 Oakland Raiders championship season as a seven year old following his first football season. Thanks for the memories Frank, maybe someday the UFC will realize that honoring your accomplishments adds to their glory as well.

We had a chance to talk with Frank about all of that and more in a wide ranging interview. The UFC legend talked about Pancrase, the Bas Rutten face, a street fight with the Tank Abbott crew, and what’s next for him in the martial arts. And, thanks to you, we have the most comprehensive coverage of Frank Shamrock’s braces that you’ll find anywhere online.

Jonathan Snowden: What was it like that first day, when you were essentially dropped off at the Lion’s Den? Did you have any idea what Ken and the guys were doing there?

Frank Shamrock: I knew nothing about MMA. I knew nothing about wrestling. (Laughs). I didn’t know you could tap. I didn’t know there was such a thing. It was a tremendous, eye opening experience. It was the beginning of my life.

Jonathan Snowden: It was interesting to think about what it must have been like for you. I remember talking to this old school Lion’s Den guy Scott Bessac and brought up your name. It really set him off and it got me thinking: Frank came into this really hostile environment with guys like Scott, essentially a bar brawler. The culture shock of culture shocks.

Frank Shamrock: It was nuts. And I didn’t really have a comparison except for being in jail. They were similar type activities. I had never played sports so I didn’t really get the whole machismo thing. I didn’t understand any of it. (Laughs). And clearly I didn’t know how to fight.

Jonathan Snowden: You came in with your long hair and hackey sack and these guys just beat the piss out of you?

Frank Shamrock: That was it. That was it. And it was like that for months. Because I didn’t really know anything. Everybody was a tough guy and I was a young kid. It was tough. It was wild. I’m surprised I made it, because it wasn’t a welcoming atmosphere where they wanted you to be successful (Laughs). It was certainly not that.

Jonathan Snowden: By today’s standards it was pretty primitive. Shin to shin contact, no headgear, just full on, bareknuckle sparring. I remember Maurice Smith saying he came in and wondered “What the fuck are these guys doing?”

Frank Shamrock: Yeah. Ken was the king of the cavemen and we were all underneath him. We learned that way. That’s one of the reasons my back hurts so much I think.

Jonathan Snowden: Add in the schedule too. People talk a lot about Pancrase working matches – what interests me and some of the readers is the schedule.

Blackout612: At one point, you fought nine times in one year. For another period, you seldom fought at all. In hindsight, do you feel that it is most beneficial for a fighter to maximize their prime and fight a great deal in a short window, or to preserve themselves and fight 2-3 times per year over the course of their competitive years? Would you have done anything differently in this respect knowing what you know now?

Frank Shamrock: Hmm. That’s kind of a double edged sword. One of the reasons we were fighting so much, or I was, was because I didn’t know anything about fighting. I was learning fighting by fighting. So, for me, it was important to grow and come up that way. Because I had to learn to fight. I didn’t know anything about fighting. I was no amateur, no nothing. I turned pro in eight months and started fighting professionally in Pancrase.

Now, there is a lot more information and you can break it down and get on a schedule. The training is so damaging that you have to break it up by at least a couple of months.  Or you’re just not going to make it.

Jonathan Snowden: Speaking of Pancrase, I thought this was a funny question…

Flesh Into Gear: Do you ever see Bas Rutten around and get the urge to start making the “King of Pancrase” faces at him again?

Frank Shamrock: (Laughs). One of my less successful strategies. No, but I see Bas everywhere. You know what I do? After one of the fights we went to the Imperial Palace. We had a couple of Heinekens and the next thing you know we were climbing the wall. There were all these crows and the crows were going ‘Baw, Bas, Bas” (Editor’s Note: Frank is mimicking a bird call) and I said ‘Bas, they’re calling your name.’ And he got all excited, climbing up the wall. Then security came and I ran. 

Jonathan Snowden: (Laughs)

Frank Shamrock: So, I’ll be commentating the show and he’ll be over working for HDNet and I’ll just look at him and go ‘Bas, Bas.’ And he’ll start dying over there.

Jonathan Snowden: Why do all the stories about Bas start with him drinking and end with security coming?

Frank Shamrock: (Laughs). He’s just a wild man. The whole Dutch culture is live free and party wild.

Much more with Frank Shamrock after the jump.

Jonathan Snowden: Your first two mentors and coaches were Ken and Pancrase’s Masakatsu Funaki. Then Maurice Smith came into your life. What did you learn from Maurice about being a professional fighter and about the standup game?

Frank Shamrock: Maurice was huge in my career. No just the stand up, but the psychology behind fighting. And then how to use your body in support of that psychology. He really had vascular conditioning. And no one else had ever told me about vascular conditioning. He told me ‘make your heart really strong and you’ll never get tired. You don’t know this? That’s insane!’

But he also had a psychology about fighting because he had been in so many fights and he’d done so many styles. He was willing to let me teach him MMA, so he could be an MMA champion, a UFC champion. He was always learning and always had his mind open. And he was always competing against me. Which drove me nuts and made me want to train really, really hard. At that point in my career I was just young, hungry, and angry and anyone who would compete with me was the perfect person to push me. Him and I pushed each other and just did crazy things for a long time. We developed a real brotherhood.

Jonathan Snowden: A lot of people don’t know the history of Pancrase but everyone should know what you accomplished in the UFC. I say should because it seems like the promotion makes a concerted effort to keep people in the dark.

MMABookworm: How does it feel to be erased from UFC history?

Frank Shamrock: I just feel like we’ll get to be a sport at some point. When we stop rewriting our histories for the dollar. That’s not sport. But I think it will all work itself out. How do I feel about it? I don’t. It is what it is. I think it’s silly. I think the fans are losing out and that sucks.

Well Read Idiot: Do you think that your recent retirement will help sway the UFC into recognizing your accomplishments with their organization?

Jonathan Snowden: Or do you think they just aren’t wired that way. That you were the competition and you’ll be their enemy forever?

Frank Shamrock: I think the latter. I’m the competition and that’s their way of doing business. Seek and destroy and conquer all. I think things can be done differently. Differently and successfully.


PlantingaFan: With your cross-fertilization of approaches, you helped MMA take a big leap forward. What do you think the next advance in MMA will be?

Frank Shamrock: Wow. I dont’ know. I don’t know. It looks like the next level is going to be celebrity MMA. That seems to be popular and a trend that’s growing.

Jonathan Snowden: With you guys at the forefront. Strikeforce is kind of leading the way there. What do you think about that? Or are you even allowed to tell me what you think about that?

Frank Shamrock: I just think we’re the entertainment business. And our entertainment is sport. And until we make it a real sport and everything is on the table, we’re in the business of sports entertainment. So, whatever is bringing in ratings and putting butts in the seats and keeping MMA going – we need to be doing it. Because the other brand is interested in the UFC and nothing else and squashing everything else.

MMABookworm: Any reason you didn’t fight in Pride?

Jonathan Snowden: Recently someone at Sherdog was talking about what would have happened in a fight between you and Kazushi Sakuraba. What does it say that the fans are still talking about that fight ten years after it failed to come to fruition?

Frank Shamrock: The Sakuraba thing, we were two stars who just missed each other. Pride, at that time, was just rolling. But their contracts were the silliest things you’ve ever seen. They wanted me to fight anybody, within two weeks notice, within 35 pounds, for X amount of dollars. I was like ‘Guys!’ I’m a super athlete, but I can’t just walk in and say ‘let’s fight this guy.’ Two weeks? I fly for a week and then I’m there. This is unfair. And they said ‘Well, it’s the way we do business.’ Well you’re not a real league then, I can’t be doing that stuff.

Jonathan Snowden: The thing is, they did that to lots of guys. They would bring them in and change their opponent at the last minute, sometimes tell them a different opponent than they would end up facing. That’s not bullshit. Some fans will listen to this and think you’re full of crap.

Frank Shamrock: For some guys it was a week’s notice. The contracts were insane, but the business was nuts. It wasn’t real sport in my opinion. I felt like I had done all this work to build my brand, all this work with the UFC to help position MMA (as a sport) and these guys were like ‘Yeah, Yeah. That’s nice. Come on over and we’ll give you “X” like an entry guy.’ It didn’t make any sense to me. It didn’t seem like I was in a sporting contest or a martial art. It felt like a weird business and a freaky situation. So I didn’t do it. I’ll go and teach martial arts and train and continue to be successful on the business end.

Jonathan Snowden: Speaking of fights that never happened, is it true that SEG offered you a fight with Tank Abbott and Bob (Shamrock) and Ken (Shamrock) turned it down?

Frank Shamrock: I don’t remember. It could be.

Jonathan Snowden: Were you a part of that big rivalry between the Lion’s Den and Tank’s guys?

Frank Shamrock: Mostly that was between Tank and Ken. They were two ego guys that didn’t mix well. And we were all under Ken so we were organically connected to all of that. I was always trying to remove myself from all those things but I did get into a fistfight with “Big Al” that giant guy that used to shadow Tank around. He attacked me in Mobile, Alabama. Someone threw a hamburger and I had to beat him down.

Jonathan Snowden: You fought that guy? That guy was enormous.

Frank Shamrock: He was like 6-8. (Laughs) I creamed him. We pull up at the hotel at the same time, at 4 AM in Mobile, Alabama.  I get out of a cab and he gets out of his cab and he looks at me. The night before we had all been hanging out and having fun, but he looks at me all drunk and says ‘You’re the one who threw a hamburger at me’ and comes after me. I look at his guys that I know are egging him on and say ‘The guy is drunk and you’d better get rid of him.’ Finally he grabs me by my shirt and yanks it over my head. I give him a hockey punch and then I gave him ten of them. From 6-8 he got really, really short after that and I kicked him in the face a few times. He was done. I said ‘Take your guy and I’m going to bed.’ He was really messed up. The next day he comes up, his face was all butterfly stitched together and said ‘Frank, I’m really sorry. I was drunk.’  I was like, ‘It’s cool, but your friends were the guys that egged you on. You should be mad at them.’

It was a really weird situation but not as weird as the one in Buffalo, New York. I was there with my then girlfriend Tiffany. Now as then she was very hot. Tank was hanging out at the bar there and wraps his arm around my shoulder. He said ‘Hey cowboy, if she doesn’t get down tonight, I’ll take you home and suck your dick.’

Jonathan Snowden: (Laughs)

Frank Shamrock: At this point him and I get in a little bit of a wrestling match and then security comes in and the whole thing gets broken up. Those were my two experiences with Tank and his guys. Neither of them were very fun.

Jonathan Snowden: That was the TMZ portion of the interview. (Laughs) Now a lot of the fans have their favorites and aren’t very happy about some of the things you’ve said about Jake Shields.

Blackout612: What is your major hangup with Jake Shields? It seems that you’ve isolated him as a fighter whose style you don’t care for, yet Strikeforce contains other fighters with similarly low-impact styles. Do you feel that he should compromise his fighting style for the sake of consumer satisfaction and would you say that you’ve personally done this with your approach over your career?

Frank Shamrock: All of my comments about Jake Shields were honest and from my heart because his style is boring. People don’t like a boring fighting style even if it’s winning. If it were exciting he would get ratings. (Laughs) Our ratings tanked when Jake Shields fought. That means people were turning it on and saying ‘I don’t get it. Why doesn’t he do something?’ That’s all. I, as a commentator, and I, as person who is into sports entertainment, I’ve got to call it like I see it. Should he compromise his style and risk not winning? I don’t care what he does. But if he’s going to be successful he’s got to be exciting.

Jonathan Snowden: That’s the real challenge isn’t it? It’s a sport, so you have to put winning first, but at the same time, you guys need people to show up at the arena and watch on television.

Frank Shamrock: It’s sports entertainment. If you’re not an exciting tennis player, you don’t get the big endorsements. If you don’t hit home runs, you don’t get the big media. He’s not hitting home runs. He’s bunting. (Laughs).

Jonathan Snowden: (Laughs). That’s a good one.

Frank Shamrock: Who wants to see him bunting everytime? It’s not sexy. There’s no danger in it. People appreciate Gilbert Melendez because it’s dangerous. It’s exciting. He’s always trying to win. Like Cyborg. You know what is coming. She’s going to win at all costs. Or she’s going down. That’s what people like to see in sports entertainment. That’s what I go to see. That’s how I roll, and that’s why I made lots of money and people followed me. I love the martial arts more than life itself. If you do that in your gym, and you’re getting respect for it, that’s a different thing. But if you’re going to fight on TV, you’ve got to be entertaining.

Jonathan Snowden: You’re a guy who isn’t just talking it. You walked it. You’re a guy who said ‘I’m going to fight Phil Baroni and forget that he can’t defend a submission. I’m going to punch with this guy.

Frank Shamrock: And it may not be the smartest thing. Cung Le broke my arm because I thought standing up with him would be awful exciting.

Beer Monster: Seriously Frank, what’s up with the braces?

Frank Shamrock: (Laughs). I have had braces on since I was about 16 years old. Which has been about 20 years now. I have no idea. My teeth are the strongest teeth on the planet apparently and they move like molasses. I’m on the last wires, I’m on the rubber bands. Apparently it takes three or four months for a normal person to get their jaw in position. That is as of last Thursday.

Jonathan Snowden: So we are at the end of a very long road (Laughs).

Frank Shamrock: Dude, it has been years and years and years.

Jonathan Snowden: That says something about Frank Shamrock. Even his teeth are tough.

Frank Shamrock: They will not move. They are being cranked on so hard some of them are discolored. The left incisor is a light blue because there is so much pressure on it. And it won’t move. It’s just like ‘Whatever.’

Jonathan Snowden: We’re going to finish up with a question about Ken Shamrock, because you can’t have a Frank Shamrock interview without talking about Ken.

Riney: Would you give up your fame and MMA career to have a meaningful relationship with your brother again? How big of a role did MMA play in the downfall of that relationship?

Frank Shamrock: I never had a relationship with Ken that wasn’t about fighting. I’ve never had a serious conversation with him that didn’t involve drugs or money or fighting. He trained me for a couple of years and was my mentor and will always be my mentor. I owe him my life in martial arts. But past that? I’ve never received a Christmas card, a Thank You card for anything I’ve done for him, or congratulations for anything I’ve ever done. We just don’t have a relationship. I know my neighbor better than I know Ken Shamrock.

Jonathan Snowden: That’s weird.

Frank Shamrock: But we’re okay with it. We see each other at events and say ‘Hey bro, what’s up?’ And that’s it. And I won’t see him for six months. And it is a weird thing. But I realized he’s got a different path and he’s on it.

Jonathan Snowden: Well, you’re retired but your not dead. What comes next?

Frank Shamrock: I have a feeling you’ll see me popping up all over. Right now I’m concentrating on my martial arts school. I want to get that culture right and maybe I can do it for Strikeforce. I think it would be cool to have Strikeforce gyms and a Strikeforce brand of MMA. Because right now there’s only like 39 techniques in the whole sport.

Jonathan Snowden: (Laughs)

Frank Shamrock: And it’s becoming athletes and personalities and stars. I’m seeing a new vision for martial arts and I’m all jazzed about it.

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Jonathan Snowden
Jonathan Snowden

Combat Sports Historian. The Ringer. "Shamrock: The World's Most Dangerous Man" is available worldwide.

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