Ken Shamrock is, by any standard, an MMA legend. The UFC Hall of Famer has competed in bouts for just about every major organization, including a memorable stint as “the world’s most dangerous man” in the WWE. Now, after signing on to coach the IFL’s Nevada Lions, Shamrock has finalized his team roster and begun preparations for the Lions’ first match on January 19th in Oakland, CA. He recently took some time out from training to talk about his team, his plans for the future, and his portrayal on “The Ultimate Fighter.”
What emerged was a different Ken Shamrock from the one fans are used to. With a humility and grace seldom seen from pro fighters, Shamrock opened up and let his true character as a warrior and a gentleman shine through.
Ken, I notice that your team’s first match is against your brother’s team,
the San Jose Razorclaws. Obviously, that’s no accident. I imagine that’s got
to be foremost in your mind at this point.
KS: (Laughs) Yes. Not that we’ll lose any of our matches, but if we
happen to lose all our other matches and still beat my brother’s team, it would
be a good season. That’s how much it means.
Are you two really competitive with each other?
KS: Very. We’re very competitive. It hasn’t always been that way.
When he first came into this sport I trained him and he looked to me as a teacher and a coach. Then as he got better and got into a position where he could take care of himself, that’s when the competition started.
I know you had open tryouts a couple of weeks ago to determine your roster. What were you looking for out of these guys in those few hours?
KS: It’s hard going through tryouts, because anybody can show you something for a minute or two. But when you have to go three four-minute rounds, that’s when you find out what kind of heart they’ve got. I was looking for the guys who, after they went for a few minutes and then I asked who wanted to go next, they jumped up and said, ‘Me, I want to go with that guy.’ It’s that kind of hunger, where they couldn’t get enough. I’d stop them when the time was up and they’d say, ‘But I didn’t really get to go.’ They felt like they hadn’t given me enough, and when you see that you know you’ve got something.
That’s the difference between guys who want to work and be a part of a team and guys who don’t. You can see with the guys I picked for my team that there were some guys who were more experienced or more athletic than others, but I wanted guys who were hungry and hadn’t had the opportunity to prove themselves yet and would give up everything to do it.
One of the guys you chose was Vernon White, who’s certainly been in this sport for a long time. Did you choose him for the leadership he can bring as a veteran?
KS: On a team like this you need a guy who’s been around and has seen
things. The coach can’t be the only leader. You need a guy who can lead the locker room, as they say. Vernon’s that guy. I just want to make sure that we put Vernon in a position to be a leader. I’ve seen some guys who stepped up to be a leader and it hurt them, because they were so focused on leading that they lost their own focus, and I hope that doesn’t happen with Vernon.
What made you want to coach your own team in the IFL?
KS: When I was first approached before anyone had heard about the IFL, and Kurt Otto told me the idea for it, I thought it was a great concept. But I’ve heard a lot of great ideas in my time, and few of them ever really come to fruition. I thought this was one of those things that could really work, but I didn’t know if it would happen. Then there was some controversy with the UFC so I had to step back and clear the air, but when I saw it was actually happening, that these weren’t fly-by-night-guys, I really wanted to be a part of it. This is the future. There’s no question.
Do you feel, after the way you were portrayed on “The Ultimate Fighter”, like you have something to prove as a coach?
KS: That’s a good question and I think it’s a fair question. People always come up to me now and say, ‘They portrayed you in such a bad light on that show.’ That’s always how they phrase it. They portrayed you that way. I guess that means people really know what I’m like. They wouldn’t say that if they thought that was really me. It makes me feel better to know that people feel that way, but it does hurt me that the UFC and Spike TV did that.
I’ve been in this business a long time, so it’s basically a slap in the face for them, because I was a fighter for them for so long. Not only that, but I trained three fighters that were the first three middleweight champions: Jerry Bohlander, Guy Mezger, and Frank Shamrock. And I’ve trained dozens of guys to be champs in other organizations.
In Pancrase, I had eight fighters in the top ten at one point. I was the champion and Funaki was the number one contender. The rest were all Lion’s Den fighters. My reputation doesn’t have to be spoken for or defended. The UFC and Spike TV did what they thought they needed to do for ratings, but in the end, my fans, my family and my God know exactly who I am. I’m not doing this for revenge, this is about training fighters.
What’s the biggest change that you’ve seen over the years in this sport?
KS: The caliber of the fighters is much, much higher now. The opportunities that the fighters have are also much greater, but a lot of them have been handed it on a silver platter and they don’t appreciate it. I’m not saying all the fighters now are like that, because they’re not, but some of them don’t understand what the guys who came before them did. They’re basically being thrown a carrot and gorging themselves on it without knowing how to deal with it. It’s a lot like how boxing was in the early days, how it started the same way and gained more legitimacy. I think it’s a sort of natural progression, but it’s frustrating to see at times.
Why did you leave MMA to become a pro wrestler in the WWE?
KS: In the early days I was doing MMA and it was great, but then the problems with the politicians came along. They started trying to close us down and actually shut down a few shows I was supposed to fight in. Then the pay went down and I went to the WWE to support my family. It was fun, but I missed my family a lot. My kids were growing up without me because I was gone all the time, so I left and went back to MMA, this time in Pride. I definitely missed a beat when I was gone from the sport for that time.
What do you mean by that?
KS: Well, the sport had taken off so fast and guys were developing so quickly. I won my first fight in Japan and then lost two controversial ones. I tore my ACL and then I fought anyway in my first fight with Tito Ortiz. It was a big fight, so I had to fight, but I never really recovered from that injury. A lot of it had to do with the caliber of fighters. Back in the day, because of my skill and my youth, I might have been able to get by an injury like that, but I couldn’t do that anymore.
The big thing is realizing it. You always think you can still go, you can
work around it, mostly because you’ve always been able to overcome this stuff before. And if guys didn’t think like that, they’d never be champs in the first place. You have to be the kind of guy who can break a hand in the ring and never miss a beat. That’s the kind of guy who makes it, and that’s why you see those guys who probably should have let it go a few years back keep getting in there because their mind is still strong, even if their bodies aren’t.
Is that what you think is happening with (Kazushi) Sakuraba right now?
KS: Sakuraba’s a great fighter. No one can tell him when it’s time
to quit, because the guy’s got such a warrior spirit. People criticize him for stepping down in competition sometimes, just to stay in the game, but he’s earned that right. He’s done so much to help this sport, he can decide when he wants to hang it up.
Maybe I could have kept on if I fought lesser fighters, but I don’t want to do that. I’ve always been a main event fighter. If I can’t be that anymore, then I don’t want to do it at all.
What’s the hardest part about the life of a pro fighter?
KS: I’d have to say, and I know my family will agree with this, that the hardest part is trying to lead a normal life during your training time. It’s very hard. You don’t get to spend enough quality time with your kids and your wife. Also, if anything goes wrong in the house, anything at all, it’s like the world is crashing down. You overreact, like, I’m trying to train! I need rest! Why are you bothering me with this?
That has to be the hardest part. That’s why a lot of guys go away to train. But I always stayed at home because I fought better knowing that I’m sleeping in my own bed, where I can wake up and see my kids’ faces and kiss my wife, then go out and train knowing that I get to come back home. It makes me stronger.
KS: Thank you. It’s been fun.
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