When people think of pioneers in the sport of MMA, Frank Shamrock’s name is not usually mentioned. The names Royce Gracie, Randy Couture, Ken Shamrock (Frank’s brother via adoption), and Chuck Liddell—just to name a few—are much more prominent.
Plus, if it was up to the UFC, Shamrock’s name would be forgotten entirely, and as a result, a big part of the sport’s history would go unnoticed.
For the two year time period from Dec 97 to Sep 99, Shamrock was the most dominant fighter in the promotion. In his very first fight with the UFC, Shamrock submitted Kevin Jackson in just 14 seconds to win the light heavyweight title (then named the middleweight championship).
Following the Jackson win, Shamrock defeated Igor Zinoviev, Jeremy Horn, and John Lober in successive fights. After a one-fight sabbatical in Japan (a draw with Kiyoshi Tamura for the Rings promotion), Shamrock returned to the UFC for what his most memorable fight.
In a twenty-minute war, Shamrock outlasted Tito Ortiz to keep hold of the title. Ortiz finally gave in as he tapped out due to strikes at the end of the fourth round.
The epic fight with Ortiz would be the last time Shamrock would ever fight in the UFC.
“I was in the era of the beginning of free agency,” Shamrock said, when asked why he never fought again in the UFC. “That really went against the whole beginning of the company. It went against their model—the whole corporate control it all thing.”
When the UFC rolled out their list of the top 100 fights in the history of the company, Shamrock vs. Ortiz was suspiciously left off. Or maybe it was not too surprising. UFC President Dana White is definitely not Shamrock’s biggest fan.
White has often referred to Shamrock as both a “moron” and a “jackass”.
“I thought it was small-minded and silly,” Shamrock said about his exclusion from the top 100 list. “It is what it is.”
Rather than sit back and allow the UFC remove him from the sport’s history, Shamrock has done the one thing that he probably still does better than anyone else in the sport —talk.
“It’s been a blessing,” Shamrock said about not being with Zuffa. “I get more media, more press and more opportunity because of it.”
Since departing from the UFC, Shamrock has become one of the top stars for two different promotions. First, he was the face of the ill-fated EliteXC, and now, he is a top draw for Scott Coker’s Strikeforce.
Recently though, Shamrock has not had a great deal of success inside the cage. He has lost three of his last four fights (Nick Diaz, Cung Le, and Renzo Gracie), and the only win was an exciting victory against an overmatched Phil Baroni.
Nevertheless, Shamrock is not ready to call it a career just yet.
“I was looking at a March time,” Shamrock said about a possible return. “We’re still trying to see if we have a reserved March date for Showtime. Or May if we don’t get March together.”
As far as a possible opponent, Shamrock is not sure who he will be facing in the early part of 2010, but he did drop a famous name for a future opponent.
“I’d love to fight Dan Henderson,” Shamrock said. “We did a submission wrestling match a few years ago, and I got him real quick. We’ve sparred together and kind of circled each other for years.”
Shamrock believes his next fight will be on cable television instead of the larger platform offered by CBS.
“I don’t know if I have what CBS is looking for right now,” Shamrock said. “There are other guys fighting for titles. I don’t know if I can mess with the (Ronaldo) Jacare’s of the world.”
What CBS does want to televise is the man generally regarded as the sport’s top heavyweight, Fedor Emelianenko.
Even though Strikeforce is building its own core of stars with fighters like Robbie Lawler, Jake Shields, and Gilbert Melendez, Emelianenko is clearly the guy everyone wants to see above all others.
EliteXC was not able to have a successful show on CBS without the drawing power of Kimbo Slice. Could Strikeforce be falling into the same problem with Emelianenko as EliteXC did with Slice?
Shamrock was non-committal when asked if CBS could broadcast a card without the prized Russian.
“I think so,” Shamrock said, “ but I don’t think it would have the same excitement.”
Emelianenko made his successful debut for the company last Nov on CBS. Another man set to start with Strikeforce at the end of the month is former NFL running back Herschel Walker.
“The question has always been—‘what would happen if you take a super athlete and plug him into MMA?’” Shamrock said about Walker’s debut. “I guess now we’ll know.”
Shamrock is excited by the prospects of Walker starting with Strikeforce even if it at the age of 47.
“I think it’s awesome, crazy and amazing,” Shamrock said. “He knows Taw Kwon Do and striking. He knows little about fighting, but he’s really knuckled down.”
Seeing Walker train mixed martial arts seriously has convinced Shamrock that Walker’s debut will not be a freak show. Unfortunately, athletes like Jose Canseco and Johnnie Morton tried making the transition in the past with disastrous results.
Shamrock believes people now have a better understanding of the severity of the sport.
“The thing that scared me from the beginning was the reality of men fighting,” Shamrock said. “It’s just so dangerous. I like that it is really a sport now, and I’m happy with the rules and regulations of the game.”
On the other hand, Shamrock is very clear with what he does not like about MMA, and it comes straight back to the UFC.
“I don’t like that it’s not always promoted as a sport and some promotions gloss over it for brand positioning,” Shamrock said.
Still, as mixed martial arts makes its way into the new decade, Shamrock will be one of the guys who will play a big role in continuing to build the mainstream acceptance. Whether it is through announcing, the media, or inside the cage, Shamrock will be on the frontline for Strikeforce.
With all the changes that have come with developing the sport, Shamrock is very happy to have been around through the whole evolution. He believes he should be mentioned in the same breath as Gracie, Couture, Liddell, and his brother.
“I consider myself one of the true pioneers. For certain.”