My friends and I religiously watched new and past UFC’s when we were in high school. Ken Shamrock was one of our absolute favorites to watch. Ken just had this fierce look and slick moves that left an impression on us.
In my group of friends, I was the only one that did any type of fight training. I continually told them that one day I would be in the UFC and they would be watching me on TV, just like Ken Shamrock. They couldn’t accept it and insisted that I would never be good enough to fight in the octagon. The running joke among my friends was that I couldn’t be a UFC fighter. We all laughed it off, but I was dead serious about my goal.
I continued to train harder and focus on my aspirations. On April 9th, 2005 I was exactly where I said I’d be. Fighting in the UFC, became a reality. The irony of the moment was that Ken Shamrock was actually headlining the card I was on.
The fight week was so surreal to me. I did all of the same pre-fight activities that Ken did. My dream became a reality and I was about to prove all of my friends wrong.
I won my debut and then went on to fight another 14 times in the UFC, before finally retiring in July of 2015. My total number of fights in the UFC was 15, which was ironically the same total number Ken had as well. Not only had I made it to the UFC and shared a card with Ken Shamrock, when it was all said and done, we ended up having the exact same number of UFC fights.
This was not the only reason I wanted to do this interview, but it was a big part of it. It was me going full circle around the man that motivated me as a youth to pursue this career.
It was 9 a.m. in Phuket Thailand and I only had one important task this morning. Call Ken. Ken Shamrock.
How are you and are you currently training?
“Actually I am doing well and I am doing what we call maintenance training, haha. Basically, just trying to stay in shape and keep my muscles toned. Over the years I have sustained a bunch of injuries, so I want to be able to keep my muscles strong in order to support those injury spots.”
I have read online that you may want to fight and end your career with RIZIN. Is there truth in that?
“I wouldn’t say that there isn’t any truth to it. As far as any ‘talks’ going on, there’s not.
I have made it very clear that I am very disappointed in my last 2 fights. In my opinion, I believe there had been some missed opportunities by the ref on both fights that should’ve been looked at. It was what it was, but I have been very vocal on being unhappy with how the end of my career was going. I chose the right opponents so I felt like I was going to be able to put on good fights and go out the way I wanted to go out. Of course anyone who saw that last fight and the one before that, it just wasn’t the case. For whatever reason, they didn’t seem to have the professionalism that I would’ve liked to have seen, especially in those caliber of fights.”
Have there been any talks about putting a rematch together with you and Royce?
“I would’ve thought that would have been a no-brainer. Everybody makes mistakes. I have made a bunch of them in my lifetime. It happens. No big deal. I was willing to move on and put another one together and let’s get it right. Unfortunately no one wanted to step up and say that there was a mistake made.”
So you still do want to fight again?
“I would, yes. One, because I am a fighter. Two, I am a person that takes a lot of pride in the things that I do. For this [Royce Fight] to be a fight to end my career on, I look at it like a stain on my career and also on MMA. It’s not going to ever go away, because it was truly a mistake and they didn’t fix it.”
You would think they would immediately try and put that fight back together again…
“Yeah it doesn’t make sense to me, other than something we don’t know about. It has nothing to do with money. There is lots of money to be made. It was not about whether you think or they think there was a foul or not, because if you think I was hurt is irrelevant. Was it a low blow? Was it below the belt in the mid section area where it could be a foul? If those are yes’s, then you must go and say, ‘Okay, we have to redo this fight because it was stopped on an illegal blow.’ It’s not whether you think I was hurt or not. Who cares?. It’s about what was done. That’s the point.”
So you obviously want that fight back. But how many more fights do you see left in you?
“I’ve got one. I realize that I’ve slowed down, though I love what I do. It’s not like I am going out there and am in pain doing these fights, because I am not. I enjoy it and love the process of the fight. I also know that some people are disappointed and I let people down. They want me to be this young guy again, so I understand that. As much as I love to get in the ring and want to be in there, I might do more damage to the people that care about me and the fans that are following me, because I am doing something that I want and love doing. I understand that.
At the same time, I DO NOT want to walk away with what I was left with from that last fight.”
So that would be your motivation to fight this last fight, to fix that?
“Absolutely! To go out the way I want to go out, and the way the fans deserve to see me go out. That’s what I want. It’s one fight. That’s what I am looking for. One fight. To be able to go out there and have fun. I enjoy what I do and always have enjoyed it. I have a passion for it and I deserve this.”
With all the things you have already accomplished: UFC Hall Of Famer, UFC Superfight Champion, King Of Pancrase, the wrestling… What motivated you to even take those last 2 fights?
“For me, it was to test myself. To go in there and be able to compete as long as I could at a professional level and at a decent level. I wanted to do things that nobody else could do. I wanted to fight until I was 65 years old. To be able to keep myself in shape and have people saying ‘Man, he is still fighting at that age?’ I like challenging myself and I have done it my whole life.”
What would you say is the biggest accomplishment of your career?
“I think for me, on a personal note, my greatest achievement was being able to make something of my life. I have an older brother who is doing life in prison. Another one that’s had a bunch of strokes and can’t talk, because of the abuse of drugs. So my childhood was very rough and to be able to pull myself from that environment, from group homes, and then being able to run group homes and becoming a professional athlete, and being able to do Ministry work, which I am doing now for other at-risk kids who are going through similar situations and be able to speak life into their lives. To be able to say, ‘Hey I was where you were at and I get it.’ So I feel my biggest accomplishment was being able to make something of my life after going through all that I did.”
How about your biggest mistake or regret in your career?
“The way I have structured my life is that I don’t look back on a lot of things and say, ‘Man, I wish I hadn’t done this or that.’ I try to structure my life to not put myself back in those situations again and then I try and speak encouragement into other people’s lives. Lead them on a different path.
To really look back on it, there are just a million things I wish didn’t happen. Unfortunately, that is part of who I am and what makes me who I am today. If I tell you I want to change one thing, I would have to change another and another. Unfortunately they happened, but fortunately they are what gave me my strength.”
There was always a lot of tension with you and Frank Shamrock (5x UFC Champion, Ken’s adopted brother). I saw his Spike show, Bound by Blood, where you two had a sit down together and were trying to work it out. How did it go after the show and how are you guys now?
“I think we are ok. There is a lot that happened and I think there’s a lot that Frank has to deal with. We’re fine. Not like buddy-buddy and calling each other or anything like that, but we put that behind us and it’s the past.”
Going back to your career… Do you think that UFC 40 was a big turning point in the sport of MMA? You and Tito had what Bruce Buffer said was one of the best fights he had ever seen. You and Tito were featured on The Best Damn Sports Show Period. Big John McCarthy even stated that when he was standing between you two and feeling the energy of the arena, he knew then that this sport was going to make it.
“Yeah it really was a turning point, because before that, things were really taking a dive. Tito was their champion, but he didn’t really have anybody to fight. He needed someone across from him that would get interest for the fight. I believe that was just a huge turning point for the whole world of MMA and I believe that fight is what started turning heads at some of the mainstream networks.”
Speaking of mainstream, at that or any point, did you ever expect the sport to get as big and mainstream as it is now? Also, what do you think about its current status?”
“I didn’t see the world of MMA at that time, or anytime, getting to be as big as the NFL or Boxing. I just saw it as an event and an opportunity for me to make a name and a living for my family. But to see where it has gone and to what it is now has been a tremendous journey.
It’s like watching a baby being born and then to watch it call you ‘Daddy’. Then to crawl, walk, and run. That’s what it’s been like watching NHB and MMA get to where it is today. People say that’s so nice and precious, but really it’s not if you have raised kids. You have kids that do embarrassing things and kids that make you angry. They do all these things, but the journey is precious and awesome and you are attached to it. That’s what MMA is for me and where it is today… is like me being a proud father of a full grown man.”
So are you proud of where the sport has gotten?
“Yeah, I am proud of where it’s at. Do I agree with all the thing’s going on with it? No. Nevertheless, I am still proud of it.”
What was it like at UFC 1? What was in your head and what was it like for some of the other guys backstage?
“I think there were a lot of guys who didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. I don’t think it really sunk in to a lot of guys that signed up for this thing. Especially, like Art Jimmerson. I don’t think he even knew what he was doing. He really didn’t understand what was going on and I think there were a lot of guys who didn’t understand what was going to happen. I mean, there were sanctioning sports authorities that would not allow something like this to happen, but the UFC got a special license for this event, to allow it that one time.
So when the first fight happened and Gerard kicked the Sumo guy in the face and knocked his teeth out, it set the tone for everybody to understand that this really was no holds barred. I remember hearing guys in the locker room saying, ‘Hey this isn’t what I signed up for!’ and I was like, ‘Uh, yeah it is.’ *Laughs* They just didn’t realize that it meant what it said.
For me, I was excited. I came from group homes, juvenile halls, and fighting on the street; Getting jumped and all that stuff. So I’m thinking, ‘This is awesome. I did this my whole life and now I am only going to have to worry about one guy and no weapons?’ So, for me it was cool. I was gonna get paid to fight and not get arrested for it.”
So Gerard’s kick was the first big impact that shook the locker room?
“It set the tone! If it was Royce Gracie and me in the very first fight of the night, people would’ve probably gotten up and walked out. Even after that fight when Royce choked Art out and I put Patrick in a heel hook, people were spitting and throwing stuff at us, because they thought it was fake. So, if it was me and Royce that were first on that card, people just wouldn’t understand what we were doing.”
What was your pay for that show? For UFC 1?
“I think I got $5,500 because I made it to the second round. I am not sure, it was a long time ago. If you went in, you got paid $1,500 and if you won, it was another amount. It was a tier system. I couldn’t tell you for sure what the pay was, but I know it was $1,500 to show.”
Do you still follow the sport and keep up with everything going on?
“Like I said, I still love it and am proud of it, but I travel so much now that I don’t get as involved with it. Of course I have kids and grandkids and if they watch it, I will watch it. For me, it’s like if I watch it, I need ample time to calm down and be able to sleep after. I was an emotional and intense fighter, so when I watch those fights I get that same emotion.”
What about Pro Wrestling? Do you ever watch or think about that anymore?
“Yeah I do, but it’s changed. Just like MMA has. I would do it again if I had a chance. Just in hopes to maybe bring back that old ‘attitude era’ that we use to have.”
You are starring in a new movie now, called “Grace Is Gone”. Is this a new path for you? Is acting something that you want to pursue more now?
“Yeah. You know… I have done a few things here and there. The hardest thing, when you get out of this celebrity status or being this popular person that can go anywhere they want and have that kind of pull, is when it diminishes after time. It just kind of moves on. That’s a hard thing to deal with. For me to be able to deal with that type of change of pace, was to fill my time up. I have a ministry where I work with youth and I go out and talk with kids. I did a lot of that and I often started entertaining the idea of acting, because I did a little of that before.
At this point I have done some B rated movies, getting my feet wet. I feel that if I can get a couple more of these movies under my belt, then I can maybe step into a bigger role.”
What is your ideal end-game? After fighting is completely over and done with, what is it that you see yourself doing and enjoying?
“My goal is to work with children and youth that are at-risk. I am doing that now through Lion’s Den Ministries, where our main focus is working with at-risk kids. I really believe that everything I have done up until this point has been God giving me a platform to be able to reach out and help other kids.”
…and that was it. After the last question, we small talked for several minutes and laughed about my full circle career around him. He said he loved hearing things like that and told me a few more stories of similar situations he has been through.
Thank you Ken for the interview and the years of your fights that we have all enjoyed, even though it seems you are not quite done yet. I will be watching your last one. Possibly with some of my old friends from high school.
Speaking of which…
To all my old high school friends who doubted me and my loft goals:
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