Professional mixed martial arts didn't start in the United States until 1993, and the sport resembled very little of what you see today. It wasn't until Frank Shamrock came onto the scene during the latter part of the 20th century that the sport really began to evolve.
It was around the time of Shamrock's emergence when MMA fighters began showing well-rounded skills of being able to fight both standing up and on the ground. Shamrock was one of the sport's true dual threats with his catch wrestling style and tremendous kickboxing skills.
Shamrock would emerge as a five-time UFC middleweight champion before going into a state of inactivity at the turn of the century. He turned to other business interests, and while he continued to train actively, he has fought just three times since 1999. But Shamrock will fight for the first time since last March in the main event of Showtime's and EliteXC's first-ever card on Feb. 10 in Southaven, Miss., against Renzo Gracie.
According to Shamrock, Saturday's match will mark his full-time return to the sport he helped redefine in the late '90s.
Q: You've fought just three times since 1999. With this match for EliteXC against Renzo Gracie, will you fight more frequently?
FS: Oh yeah, most definitely. My goal is to get back in full time and make a run of it like I did in the late '90s.
Q: Ideally, how many times would you like to fight this year?
FS: This year I'm looking to fight three times.
|Frank Shamrock works on his kicks prior to fighting Renzo Gracie. (Tom Casino/EliteXC)|
FS: Well, the competition level has definitely gone up, but you know I haven't missed a day of training since the day I started and I have 100 percent confidence that I can come back in and dominate the sport.
Q: You haven't lost since 1997, and you've fought some top-level guys like Tito Ortiz, Bas Rutten, and Jeremy Horn. Of all the fighters you've faced in your career, who do you feel has been the toughest?
FS: The toughest physically was Tito Ortiz. He had 20 pounds on me, and he had a style that didn't mesh well with mine. Then my toughest fight ever was with a gentleman named Enson Inoue in Japan. He had about 20 pounds on me, and he about finished me off before I knocked him out.
Q: This will be the debut card for EliteXC and Showtime. What's it been like working with them so far?
FS: It's been great. They're a real company with a real vision for mixed martial arts. Them having Showtime and them having key management and quality people involved made my decision to go with them easy. They've been ultra-supportive of everything. I'm an old guy in the sport that's set in my ways in certain areas, but they've been so supportive that I can't say enough. I'm glad to see more companies making a serious run at MMA.
Q: Do you have a multifight deal signed with EliteXC?
FS: I do. Yes. I have six fights total with them. That's basically two fights a year. I'm also interested in doing some boxing and maybe even some pro kickboxing again.
Q: Renzo is known for his prowess on the ground. But in addition to being a respected striker, you're also strong on the ground as well. Can you talk about the differences between Renzo's Brazilian Jiu Jitsu style and your catch wrestling style?
FS: Renzo is a traditional Brazilian Jiu Jitsu stylist, which is they prefer the top dominant position but they do good work from their back. They're your basic passive martial arts system turned combative. And then submission wrestling, or "catch as catch can" wrestling, which is where I did the majority of my studies, and all of my beginning studies, it's basically the opposite. No position really matters. The development is on gross motor skill (and) explosive movement. And the theory behind submission wrestling is that you wrestle as fast as you can, do as many positions as you can so you have as many opportunities as you can to win the match.
Q: During the media conference call you said you respected Renzo more than certain members of your own family. You then went on to say you respected Renzo for the level of competition he's faced while certain members in his family have taken some easy fights in an attempt to protect their family name. Were you referring to any Gracies in particular?
FS: No. It is what it is. They were the first name to brand themselves in this sport and to take advantage of that brand. But I've always wanted to fight the Gracies because I've always felt that they were the name. When you talk about the world of fighting, Renzo is the only one that's stepped up and fought real fighters, the rest of them just hang out.
Q: Have you changed anything in your training routine specifically for Renzo?
FS: I did. I did a lot of boxing and I did a lot of what I like to call "slow boxing," looking for the hole, punching between the punches, pulling people into the boxing game. And that's been one of the biggest developments in my style in recent years is that I've just really been focused on the art of punching and in particular the art of punching as a fighter in MMA.
Q: EliteXC plans on using a 15-second clock in order to prevent inactivity on the ground. If the fight should go to the ground do you see the clock even coming into play between you and Renzo?
FS: I don't think so, unless Renzo wants to rest. I fight a very fast, a very explosive, dynamic style. My biggest goal in fighting is to fight at such a speed and such an intensity that my opponent either fatigues or has to take a step backward. It's in that step backward or in that moment of fatigue where I usually put the crack down on 'em.
Q: Has your Strikeforce bout against Phil Baroni been postponed?
FS: It has. With all the activity going on with Showtime, it got a little close to the date. We'll be doing that show, it looks like it's going to be sometime in June, here in San Jose.
Q: Will that be on pay-per-view?
FS: That will be on pay-per-view. Most definitely.
Q: There's a lot of heat between you and Baroni, how did the rift between the two of you originate?
FS: It's funny, when Cesar Gracie, who's the last Gracie I fought, he was out on the Internet bad mouthing and challenging me and trying to make a name for himself. During that process Phil kind of attached himself to that idea and he used the Internet as a vehicle to create heat and create a story between us. Basically, he called me out and said all the really goofy stuff that he says. And just like I did with Cesar, I called him up and said if you're serious, I'll make it happen, because one thing I'm good at is putting fights together and kicking people's butts. He said he was into it. It's been a couple of years now, but I finally got him to sign, and now he's mine.
Q: Another guy you have some heat with is Dana White. I guess it's safe to say the two of you aren't the best of friends. Can you talk about specifically what happened between the two of you?
FS: Nothing really happened in particular. When they bought the UFC, I worked for the old UFC, I worked for them when they bought the UFC. When they first purchased it, they flew me out there and consulted me. They showed me respect and asked me what I thought needed to be done. I consulted them for free and gave them good advice, told them how to guide the sport and of course they did the exact opposite and lost $10 million in a year and started out rough. They've since rebounded, but the biggest thing I realized is was I brokered the first meeting between K-1 and the UFC. I tried to bring some unity to the sport and look at growing our sport internationally. After that meeting with the owners I asked them if there were any tickets that we could purchase. Both Dana White and Lorenzo (Fertitta), told me "No, it's sold out, we're sorry there are no tickets available." And we walked right outside and bought six $300 front row tickets. They refuse to acknowledge any past champions -- you'll never see my name on the website, you'll never see Maurice Smith on the website. They're rewriting history for their own pocket book instead of supporting martial arts and mixed martial arts for the future of the sport. That to me is bad business, and I don't do business with them.
Q: Has the UFC made any overtures in the past couple of years to get you back?
FS: Oh yeah. When I sold the 18,000 seats here (at a Strikeforce show last March in San Jose, Calif.) and set a North American live attendance record knocking out the last Gracie, I got calls starting at 6 a.m. the next morning from Dana.
Q: Would you rule out a return to the UFC?
FS: Not unless I own it.
Q: You train a lot of fighters at your gym, and you have team in the IFL, and you work with a lot of young guys. If any of these guys receive offers from the UFC and they come to you for advice, what would you tell them?
FS: We have guys who compete in there (the UFC) and we have guys who have been on the reality show and whatever. My job is to advise them for their future and to give them the best chance possible of being successful. And if that's their heart desire and I think it's the best move for them at this point in their career, I'll let them go do it but I arm them with the truth, and I think a lot of people go in there not knowing what the truth is. I'm here to help support the growth of MMA. I'm here to help these guys live their dream, and if that's their ultimate dream, then my personal opinions and business and understanding and whatever shouldn't stand in the way of it.
Q: A recent report in the Wrestling Observer indicated you had tried to arrange an MMA match with Kurt Angle at one point. Is that true?
FS: That is a true report. Kurt came out of WWE and was interested in doing MMA. He and I met years ago at a submission wrestling show called The Contender when he was scouting his possible entrance into pro wrestling or MMA. I reached out there and I thought it would be good marketing, good media and a good fight, but he had other plans in mind and took a different route.
Q: Kurt said last week in a radio interview that he's still looking to get into MMA and mentioned that he's working with a company that's affiliated with Showtime. He didn't mention EliteXC by name, but it seemed like that's what he was hinting at. Is a match against Angle something that's still possible?
FS: You know, I don't know, no one's talked to me about it. I've been so focused on this fight that the world doesn't exist very much for me. But hey, if it happens, it happens, and it'd be great. I admire Kurt as a champion, but in this sport this is my world.
Q: The relationship between you and your adoptive brother, Ken, has been described as "estranged" by some. Do you feel that's a correct characterization?
FS: Yeah, that'd be good (laughs).
Q: How did things go south between you and Ken?
FS: There came a time when I really felt like what we were doing and what we were training in was not the best way. It was an old idea, you know, it was old business. I voiced my concern about that and basically I was told to do what I was told. I was very vocal, and I've always been very vocal about what I believed in and I kept on it and said "Look, we've got to change, there's a better way to do business." And eventually we came down to Ken telling me, "You don't have what it takes, you're not going to be a world champion and I want you to run my gyms for the rest of your life." So that to me was, especially since he was my mentor, it was devastating to me. And I realized at that point that Ken either didn't believe in me or didn't want me to be who I thought I could be, and I had to leave. When I left, basically him and my father said "That's it, you're no longer part of the family we're never going to talk to you again, you can never train with the guys, and you no longer exist in our family." So I had to make a choice, and I chose to follow what I believed was right at the expense of that family, and it's been weird ever since.
Q: Are things so strained between the two of you that if a promoter put enough money out there, would you fight him?
FS: Oh yeah. Are you kidding me?
Q: Has anyone ever tried to put that together?
FS: Well, I'm still working on it.
Q: Have you talked to Ken about it? How does he feel?
FS: I have not talked to Ken about it, but I've talked to some of his representatives and we got two thumbs up so I'm going to keep working on it.
Q: Is there a specific promotion that you're trying to put this together for?
FS: Well, I'm trying to do it independently. Don't think of me as a fighter, it will cloud your judgment. I do a lot of things.
Q: You've been pretty heavily involved in other businesses outside of MMA since '99, what businesses have you been involved with?
FS: I started a franchise of schools, which we're just finishing now and getting ready to go national. Of course, I have my web site FrankShamrock.com, which is the official web site and its own business. I also have Frank Shamrock, Inc., which is my own personal asset management company. I have also started an entertainment company called "MMA Entertainment" of which we're at the tail end of a giant financing round. And a law enforcement training business, and I own a merchandising company.
Q: You've kept pretty busy.
FS: (Laughs). Basically I get to see my wife for a half hour in the morning and a half hour in the evening and we spend every Sunday together. Other than that, I'm a very busy man.
Sam Caplan is a Philadelphia-based sports talk show host and freelance sportswriter. He's also an amateur mixed martial artist (and we do mean amateur) who trains out of the Mixed Martial Arts Academy of Philadelphia. Sam can be reached via e-mail at SCaplan8@comcast.net or you can check out his blog at: caplanmma.blogspot.com