A Dave Meltzer penned “LA Times” piece.
[quote]It’s showtime for Frank Shamrock
He’s perhaps the most polarizing figure on the U.S. mixed-martial arts scene and he has his biggest match in more than seven years Saturday night against Renzo Gracie.
By Dave Meltzer, Special to The Times
February 9, 2007
Frank Shamrock never practiced any martial arts growing up. He never did any wrestling, boxing or kickboxing. In and out of trouble, at the age of 21, he was working at a drug store and living in the small town of Lockeford, Calif., not far from Stockton, when his life changed.
Today, at 34, he’s perhaps the most polarizing figure on the U.S. mixed-martial arts scene. He has his biggest match in more than seven years Saturday night when the sport takes its latest major step, debuting on Showtime at 10 p.m., as he faces Renzo Gracie in the main event from the DeSoto Coliseum in Southaven, Miss.
It’s not a fight that will shift around the top ten rankings in the 185-pound weight class. But it could be among the most important, and intriguing, matches of the year.
Shamrock signed for his most serious challenge in more than seven years for the debut show of EliteXC, a new promotion headed by boxing promoter Gary Shaw and partially owned by the Showtime network. Shamrock is being promoted on the station as the face of the new brand. If everything goes as hoped for, at least by the promoters, this should lead to a joint pay-per-view show with the San Jose-based Strikeforce promotion, where he faces Pride star Phil Baroni. The date for the match will be announced next week.
Of course, what makes the match so intriguing is it will answer what has been an age-old question. Just how good is Frank Shamrock?
There is little argument that in 1998 and 1999, he was among the best fighters in the world, many would argue pound-for-pound the best. But he has gone a long time without being tested, and the quality of fighters has improved. In 1999, he was one of the few legitimate triple threats. He was good at kickboxing, he could wrestle, although that was clearly his weakness, and he was among the best at submissions. His skill level at submissions in 1999 would still be ahead of the most of today’s fighters. As a kick boxer, he’s untested. He can kick hard, as he once broke a man’s arm with a kick in his only pro kick boxing match. But can he hang standing up with the top modern fighters who have trained in the sport and fought harder competition during the years he was largely inactive? Even in his prime, he was not that difficult to take down and out position, but still always found a way to win.
Renzo Gracie, 39, has remained active and is coming off wins over Pat Miletich and Carlos Newton, who were both major stars when Shamrock was UFC’s king. Gracie can take people down and out position them, as he won a world championship in Abu Dhabi combat, which is submission and position grappling. On paper, Shamrock should have the advantage standing, but there is always the question of what happens to a fighter who has been largely out of top level competition for so many years. But if Gracie can get it on the ground, Gracie vs. Shamrock has the potential to be quite intriguing. They are two of the best submission fighters in MMA history.
A win by Gracie would take the luster off the PPV, and would force EliteXC back to the drawing board to come up with its top drawing card. Therein lies the importance of the match. There is no other fighter outside of UFC and Pride who is close to as marketable as Shamrock. His ability to promote a fight ranks with Tito Ortiz. In his prime, he had an exciting style, and the Shamrock name doesn’t hurt.
It’s being promoted as the latest chapter in MMA’s biggest family feud, stemming from the two famous Ken Shamrock vs. Royce Gracie matches in 1993 and 1995, a rivalry that was the foundation of today’s UFC. Gracie won the first by choke in less than one minute on the first-ever UFC show on November 12, 1993, in Denver. The second was the longest match in UFC history, going 36 minutes to a draw, in a match that Shamrock would have likely won had their been judges. The most recent chapter was on March 10, 2006, in San Jose, when Frank knocked out Cesar Gracie in 21 seconds before 18,265 fans in what is still the all-time North American attendance record for the sport.
Ken Shamrock, who shared the same last name because both were adopted by Bob Shamrock and had been raised together as brothers, was a pro wrestler in Japan, who along with two famous Japanese wrestlers, wondered what would happen if pro wrestling was made real. No chairs to the head. No blind referees. They created an organization called Pancrase, and a few months before the first Ultimate Fighting Championship in the United States, debuted their new sport at the Tokyo Bay NK Hall. Ken quickly became the biggest star of this new sport, and they were looking for some new Americans, largely to get beaten up by the more experienced Japanese. Ken started training fighters in 1994 to bring to Japan, including Frank. Training in those days was primitive compared to what modern fighters do. They did wrestling and some basic submission moves handed down by the pro wrestlers who learned from Karl Gotch, a submission expert from the 50s. They did almost no stand-up training, and no cardio at all. Because Ken was so strong, and Frank became one of his main tackling dummies, the first style Frank learned was simply survival in bad situations.
He debuted as a fighter in Japan on Dec. 16, 1994, beating Holland’s Bas Rutten. It didn’t take long before Frank Shamrock became a main eventer in this world that blurred the lines between pro wrestling and real sport. On Jan. 28, 1996, before a sellout crowd in Yokohama, on a show that was the first U.S. pay-per-view airing of Pancrase, Frank Shamrock beat Minoru Suzuki with a kneebar to become the Provisional King of Pancrase.
A year later, things changed again. Ken had a falling out with the Pancrase organization. In the dispute, Frank was fired. Ken went into pro wrestling with the WWF. Frank ran Ken’s Lion’s Den gym for a while, and then caused a major rift within the family that never fully healed when he left Lockeford and the Lion’s Den and went out on his own.
After a match in Honolulu with John Lober on Jan. 17, 1997, where he dominated the first 20 minutes and ran out of gas, losing a split decision, he reinvented himself. He learned kick boxing from champions Maurice Smith and Javier Mendez, and trained cardio as hard as anyone in the game. He became something of the prototype of today’s cross-trained fighter. It was also the last time he lost a fight.
He got into the Ultimate Fighting Championships almost by accident. UFC had always wanted him, but in those days of no weight classes, they felt at 190 pounds, he’d make a great opponent for Tank Abbott, a 260-pound brawler who they were hoping to build for a big money match with Ken Shamrock that never ended up happening. There’s no better way to hype a big grudge to the public than have big brother go for revenge against the oversized bully who beat little brother. But the fight never happened.
Instead he got in through the back door, so to speak. UFC had signed Kevin Jackson, who had won a gold medal in wrestling at the 1992 Olympics, and had just come off winning both the World Cup in wrestling, and the championship of the Extreme Fighting Championship, a short-lived rival to UFC. They were creating an under-200 pound weight class for Jackson to be champion. Because the Jackson debut was scheduled for Dec. 21, 1997, in Yokohama, Japan, they were looking for a Japanese opponent. The best contender was actually Hawaiian-born Enson Inoue, who was somewhat adopted by the Japanese as a native because he married Miyu Yamamoto, of the famous Yamamoto wrestling family. Miyu was a multi-time world champion, whose father represented Japan in the 1972 Olympics and later became the national team coach. Her brother is the Japanese MMA star Kid Yamamoto. However, three weeks before, Inoue was scheduled to main event a Shooto show against Frank Shamrock, so the UFC decreed the winner would face Jackson to become the first under-200 pound champion.
Shamrock knocked out Inoue with a knee to the chin in a match that had perhaps the most exciting last few minutes of any match up to that point in the fledging sport. He followed that up by locking an armbar on Jackson in 14 seconds and becoming the first UFC middleweight champion (the division is now called light-heavyweight, and it’s the championship now held by Chuck Liddell). His first defense was against another champion of EFC, Russian Igor Zinoviev. One hard slam and Zinoviev was knocked out in 22 seconds.
In 1998 and 1999, he was the UFC’s biggest star. His timing couldn’t have been worse. He had far more tools than his more famous older brother, who became a huge name as a pioneer of the sport, or Royce Gracie, the original pioneers. But due to bad publicity over perceived violence and brutality, virtually every cable company had stopped airing UFC pay-per-views. Very few people were aware of his run as champion, and even fewer saw the matches. His most famous fight was his final UFC fight, on Sept. 24, 1999, when he stopped Ortiz.
When he stepped into the cage with Ortiz, he was giving up somewhere between 25 and 30 pounds, and was on his back the entire fight, just like he was when facing in brother in practice daily. It was his ability to survive in a bad situation without being hurt, combined with his movement on the ground and superior cardio, that spelled the difference. By round three, Ortiz was tiring, but Shamrock had spent the first three rounds on his back, taking some punishment and dodging most. He suffered a broken foot early, and had a nasty cut on his forehead, made worse as Ortiz stuck his finger in the cut and tried to widen it, to get a blood stoppage.
Because nobody had ever done such a thing, there was no rule in place against it, although after that fight it was made illegal. In the fourth round, Ortiz was out of gas, just like Shamrock was against Lober the night he learned one of his most valuable lessons. It’s one of the greatest fights in UFC history.
Shamrock quit the UFC after his biggest win, at the age of 26. He did some fighting, but never against any top level opponents after a late 2000 win over Elvis Sinosic on a huge event at the Tokyo Dome. He went to Hollywood to try acting. He tried promoting. He opened a gym. When UFC was purchased by Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, and Dana White was put in charge, in 2001, he was with them, working as a television announcer and resident legend. There was a nasty falling out. Although he was one of the greatest champions the company ever had, all his records are for the most part erased. His existence is never acknowledged. In a UFC-commissioned book on the history of the sport, his name is barely a footnote. In the weekly marathons of UFC programming, his groundbreaking matches never air.
One of the reasons Frank Shamrock is so polarizing is because he builds up his fights like he’s a pro wrestling bad-guy. He claims nobody can beat him. Since the match with Sinosic, he’s faced opponents that were way below his level, and turned down huge money offers to fight in Pride and UFC. His most recent fight with Cesar Gracie was so successful because of the tremendous job he did in the local media of building up the fight. But Cesar Gracie, while a successful teacher, had never had a serious MMA match, and was 40 years old at the time. Shamrock won by knockout in 21 seconds. It showed that with the right rivalry, a company other than UFC can pack a stadium in the U.S. It also led to the California State Athletic Commission to be far more vigilant when it comes to sanctioning mismatches. The reality was, he could have fought a tougher opponent, but a tougher opponent wouldn’t have drawn nearly as well.
New MMA promotions are springing up weekly. A television barrage is just weeks away to where there will be MMA events on national television by mid-March five nights per week. Almost every top level fighter is under contract to UFC or Pride.
From a business standpoint, it was suddenly great to be Frank Shamrock, particularly after he drew the crowd in San Jose, a success that no independent MMA organization has ever come close to. While many would say Matt Lindland is the best free-agent fighter on the market, he doesn’t have nearly the charisma or potential drawing ability for a new company as Shamrock does. But charisma won’t be enough once the cage door shuts. A great deal of the potential of success for the new promotion depends on Shamrock’s ability to be the fighter he was.
Notes: Two years ago, there was barely a such thing as MMA on television. By the middle of March, it will be hard to avoid it. One month from now, the television schedule will look like this: Monday: The International Fight League from 8-10 p.m. on MyNetworkTV; Tuesday: UFC Unleashed from 9-11 p.m. on Spike TV; Bodog Fight from 11 p.m. to midnight on Ion (formerly the Pax Network); Thursday: Inside the UFC on Spike TV at midnight; Friday: IFL on Fox Sports Net at 11 p.m.; Saturday: IFL on MyNetwork TV from 8-10 p.m.; Bodog Fight on Ion 11 p.m. to midnight. That’s not to mention Pride on different nights on FSN, various major event specials on Showtime, Versus (starting in June), Ion and Spike, and at least two PPV offerings per month.
Dave Meltzer is the creator and author of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, a leading publication covering pro wrestling and MMA. For more information, go to www.wrestlingobserver.com.[/quote]