Interview with Ken Shamrock

Mixed Martial Arts Legend.  Former WWE Superstar.  UFC Hall of Famer.  The World’s Most Dangerous Man.  The Godfather of MMA. 

All of the above have all been phrases attributed to Ken Shamrock, a former champion in virtually every promotion he competed for.  Anyone who saw Shamrock compete either in shoot promotions like the UFC, Pride or Pancrase or in worked organizations like the WWE and TNA, where he was the upstart promotion’s first Heavyweight Champion, could not help but me impressed with his intensity and ability to strike fear in opponents and fans alike with his mere presence.

As much as those phrases all describe Shamrock admirably, I found myself thinking of a different series of adjectives while I was talking to the former multi-time champion.  Innovator, businessman, mentor, historian all were coming to mind.  Perhaps the most accurate word might be reflective, as Ken Shamrock, at 48 years old, though still looking like he could enter the octagon, has ended the stage in his life where he made his name with his fighting prowess, and now uses his intellect to guide his path, and history to understand his past, and that of the sport he helped to make famous.[i]

The UFC has evolved into a multi-million dollar empire, and as athletic entities grow, the pioneers who were there at the beginning generally see their legend grow.[ii]  As a still relatively young man, and living in the digital age, it is easy to fans to watch the early matches of Shamrock and see the early stars of the sport and understand the evolution of a product that for many has replaced Boxing as the premier combat sport in North America.  For many fans, Shamrock symbolizes when Mixed Martial Arts began, although if you ask Ken himself, he might give you a different view.

The labels he has been given might flatter Shamrock, but in our conversation, he is looking towards putting the correct historical perspective of his career, and the sport of Mixed Martial Arts as a whole. 

With UFC dominating the current Mixed Martial Arts narrative, there is a common belief that it all began with that promotion, but modern history tells a different tale.  Tough man contests had long been contested across the United States and there have been examples in the past fifty years of combining multiple disciplines in competitive contests.

Still, as much as traditional Greco Roman Amateur Wresting was a featured attraction in the Olympic Games since its inception, it never translated into huge dollars, thus the belief that a legitimate wrestling match would be too “boring” to draw money, and for a long time in the United States that was true.  In Japan, however it was a completely different story.

In 1975, Muhammad Ali, the Heavyweight Champion of the World in Boxing took place in a “Boxer Vs Wrestler” match against Antonio Inoki, a legend in the world of Japanese Pro Wrestling.[iii]  The match itself was considered a dull affair, with Inoki lying on his back for most of the match kicking the legs of Ali.  The match, which was shown on closed circuit television, told many what they thought they already knew, that hybrid types of fighting wouldn’t work; though in Japan, the intrigue of these type of matches never went away.

Shamrock, whose first ambition was to be a Professional Wrestler, found his way to Japan, and was working for a company called Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi, an offshoot of the UWF promotion in Japan that employed a more realistic shoot style.[iv]  The wrestling showcased by the new organization was still a work, however on a card at the Tokyo Dome on October 4, 1992 they would elect to have Shamrock would compete in a legitimate contest against a man named Don Nakaya Nielson, who was the World Kickboxing Champion at the time.  The match only lasted a minute, when Shamrock tapped out Nielson in an armlock, but something very interesting occurred; the normally stoic Japanese crowd was into what they saw.

Almost instantly, along with Japanese wrestlers, Minoru Suzuki and Masakatsu Funaki, Ken Shamrock helped to form Pancrase, an organization designed promote all fighting disciplines within one sport.  During its inception, Pancrase proved to be successful and Shamrock would become the first “King of Pancrase” in a tournament in 1994.  More importantly, Pancrase shows were filling large size venues and proved that that there was money to be made for a new style of combat sports.

Meanwhile in the United States, Professional Wrestling, while still popular had seen its largest organization, the World Wrestling Federation, openly went to State Athletic Commissions expressing that their matches were predetermined to avoid paying them.  Wrestlers evolved into “Sports Entertainers”, and those who still clung to the belief that Pro Wrestling may have been on the level were told the exact opposite by the product itself.[v]

Boxing began its wane in popularity in the U.S. as constant corruption and the lack of globally recognized champions caused its fan base to slowly deteriorate, a trend that continues to this day.[vi]  Fans of combat sports needed a void, something that felt real, they were ready for the UFC.

For all intents and purposes, the UFC was the first major Mixed Martial Arts organization in the U.S., and almost immediately sports fans started to pay attention, and much like Shamrock had in Japan, he would become a champion again and generate fans.  In the mid-90’s however, the UFC was facing financial issues due to successful lobbying to remove it from Pay per view.[vii]  Shamrock, regarded by many as the biggest name in the sport, looked to capitalize on that with his first love, Professional Wrestling.

As a former Professional Wrestler, Shamrock did not have to make an adjustment to a worked style.  Joining the World Wrestling Federation in 1997, Shamrock would make is eagerly anticipated in-ring debut against former WCW World Heavyweight Champion Vader, which saw Shamrock win in stiff and compelling fashion.[viii]  Shortly after, the company embarked on what would be known as the “Attitude Era” where sexual innuendo ran rampant and pushing the envelope was encouraged.  Although Shamrock did not participate in multiple risqué angles, he raised the bar in a different way, in the ring.

Subtly, the product changed.  Following Shamrock’s lead, submissions were now rendered by tapping out.  Other wrestlers would slowly adopt more realistic like submission moves as their finishers.  Shamrock, who was known for his unparalleled intensity was rubbing off on others, and though the WWE does not often reference Shamrock, much of his influence can still be felt today, especially as they are entering what they call the “Reality Era” where television matches have been much longer and a higher premium is being placed on genuine athleticism and in ring ability; an era that Shamrock paved the way for.

 In my conversation with Ken, we talked about he was justifiably one of the first members of the UFC Hall of Fame, and how he would like to see that institution, or a Mixed Martial Arts Hall of Fame look in the future.  We also had a chance to discuss his legacy in Mixed Martial Arts, Professional Wrestling and how he transformed from a terrorizing in ring combatant into a soft-spoken public speaker. 

         The first thing that I wanted to discuss was your membership in the UFC Hall of Fame.[ix] 

         “I am in, yes.”

         You have been vocal about your opinion on the status of the UFC now, and how the pay to the fighters has not exactly been reflective of the name recognition that of the company’s talent. 

         Currently, the UFC does not have a physical Hall of Fame in terms of an actual structure where fans can visit, similar to that of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada or the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.  Is this something that you hope will change in the near future?

“I get what your saying but I am not sure that the UFC Hall of Fame can get there.  The Halls of Fame that you spoke of have that kind of credibility is because those Halls have people that actually know the history.  In this case, we need someone who knows the history of Mixed Martial Arts.  The thing that we are missing today is the actual study and understanding where Mixed Martial Arts came from, how it got to where it is today, the people who helped create it.

Right now, the only Hall of Fame we have is with the knowledge of people who are from this era: not necessarily digging and trying to find out the roots of MMA, so we have people in the UFC Hall of Fame, who maybe friendly to the organization (UFC) or from just the memories of what we know. 

For instance, the UFC (Hall of Fame) does not have Frank Shamrock who was involved in their history, nor does it have Jerry Bolhander who was the very first person to hold any other belt than the open belts or the Heavyweight belt.[x]  Jerry Bolhander was the first one to capture those straps.[xi]  There’s no mention of him, and there has to be because it’s a first, even if may not have accomplished that much, it’s a first!

A lot of the history that we are seeing with this Halls of Fame (The UFC) basically have very limited knowledge with the people who are putting them into the Hall.  You get people over in Japan who fought with me in the Pancrase organization, with all of the people from around the world with Bas Rutten being one of them, who have definitely paved the road for what we know today as MMA, which started three years before the UFC was even born.[xii]

         For me, if there was a physical place for people to go and enjoy the Hall of Fame, you just can’t put up one like the Football Hall of Fame, or Baseball or Hockey or Golf because there hasn’t been enough study and enough education for people to enjoy it.  Nobody’s really doing their homework to get people interested as to where all of this came from; the people that made it important, the people that made it what it is today.

         To enjoy the people that get inducted today, you need to know that line that got us here.  How can you put something up when you don’t have the right information or even the right people to do this?  Every time someone is inducted (into the UFC Hall of Fame) it is always someone from the current era, but there’s no understanding where it came from.”

         Who would you like to see spearhead that?

         “Well, I would like to see the reporters who follow MMA have more of a role.[xiii]  On top of that I would like to see some historians who would do a legitimate background search on where this (Mixed Martial Arts) came from and how it all started because we know it goes all the way back to the Olympic Games.  It was hand-to-hand combat with two people with no skills or styles; just two people going in and one person would walk out.

         In all honesty, I would like to see induction done by those who know the history, those who know the stats, and those who know what they meant to the growth of UFC.  On the same level you also need a historian who could really make it legitimate of MMA, so that when people go to look at it, they are not just looking at what happened in the past twenty years. 

         Really, if you just look at that (time period), it is really quite boring, even though I know I was a part of that, and it was fun!  But don’t you think that when a person walks into a place like that (a MMA Hall of Fame) they could get a feel where the sport came from, so they can understand how we got where we are today?  It would make it a lot more interesting to see where people got to where they are at. 

         That’s my feeling.  We have to do a whole lot more studying on the history of MMA before we think about putting up a building and have people come and view it.”

         If this were to ever happen, would you want this to be independent from UFC?

         “I think you definitely need something that is separate.  When a Hall is controlled by one organization they can control who and who does the research.  You want people who are going to write what they think without fear of not being invited to the next ceremony.”

         Speaking of history, I personally feel that you did not receive the credit you deserve for bringing Mixed Martial Arts elements to the WWE.  With all due respect to Dan Severn who was there at the same time you were, he didn’t have the same impact you did.[xiv]  I will go on record that a match you had with the Undertaker on Pay Per View, was an underappreciated match where Taker was clearly showing he was influenced by what you had already done.[xv]  Do you think the WWE has put your influence on their product in proper perspective?

         “I don’t know if I can really speak to that.  I do feel that I definitely deserve to be in their Hall of Fame based on the things that I did while I was there, being able to change that sport along with other people.  I feel I earned that right based on what I was able to do there in a small amount of time.

         I’m not sure that I can stand here and boast about that.  The fans are the ones that really tell the tale and I think they speak very loudly about where I stand in pro wrestling.  I don’t think that there are too many people who would tell you that I don’t deserve to be there.

         Obviously, a lot of times the fans aren’t listened to, or their opinions are overlooked a lot.  Today’s promoters just push them aside and don’t listen to what they want and they want fans to ‘shut up, sit down and enjoy the show’, because we are going to do whatever we want to do, like it or not, because you are going to come to the show. 

         I hear it all the time in the WWE.  I hear about how fans would like to see certain wrestlers, and obviously you can’t give them everything they want, but you at least have to listen to them and I believe they are being completely ignored.  I’ve always said that I think the fans are most important that you have when it comes to the entertainment industry.  They are the ones that matter most and they should be heard.”

         In terms of your legacy, you have been billed as the “Godfather of MMA” and the “World’s Most Dangerous Man”, which is not exactly a title you think of when you think of a public speaker.  Yet, here you are in 2014, and have embarked into that field, and have done very well

         “The one thing that I want to mention so that it is understood.   When I was fighting, there was a station that came on that called me that.  They were looking at the World’s most dangerous food, or animal and of course, a person.[xvi]   At the time, I was the bare knuckle/no holds barred champion and they (the producers of the program) looked at me for that.  I was named the ‘World’s Most Dangerous Man’ through a show; I did not name myself that. It was given to me, and it stick with me.[xvii]

         ‘The Godfather of MMA’, it’s the same thing.  I never named myself that; people just started calling me that.  Once people start calling you that, especially if you’re a smart guy, you’re going to roll with what people say, or at least market it.  Therefore, I just carried the Godfather name, and I thought it was very respectful and I was honored to carry that.  I just want to make myself clear that I did not label myself that.  You can’t name yourself, that has to come from other people.”

         Understood. Again, though, your transformation from revered fighter to public speaker is very impressive.[xviii]  I would like to know, and pardon my language here, can you tell me about the switch from ‘bad-ass’, to an eloquent public speaker looking to inspire?

         “I was in trouble a lot as a kid. My biological mother was a go-go dancer at the time and wasn’t home a whole lot and therefore me and my brothers had to take care of ourselves.  We were in Georgia, and then we moved to California, and then later she (my biological mother) tried to have us live a constructive life with rules, but by that time it was too late it didn’t work out because we were already rebels at that time. 

         I ended up in all kinds of placements, and just a lot of anger and a lot of disappointment was in my life.  I ended up in a place called the Shamrock Boys Home and that’s where my life started changing around a little bit.[xix]  The man who ran it would become my father.  He showed me how to direct my anger in something positive, and that was through sports.  Some of them in the home would be directed through acting, or singing or whatever it might be but it allowed the kids to vent their frustrations through different activities.  Mine happened to be sports.

         I have always said that through MMA my life became something positive.  I was able to fight in Japan and release all that anger.  As life goes on, as you get older, you realize that you don’t need to feed off that anger anymore.  If you continue, it will eat you up inside.  You have to learn to forgive yourself and forgive other people in order to move forward in life, in order to raise a family, and to enjoy yourself. 

         I was able to do that by speaking to others about my life and explain to others that you don’t have to hang on to that hate anymore.  You’ve made it, and you’ve done the things you need to do and you don’t need to hit people or hate things and that guilt and anger that you’ve carried around for so long and let it go. 

         It was not easy for me to transition into learning how to fight and be that guy who did not stand on that anger.  It was very difficult but I ended up figuring it out, and once I did, I was able to go into motivational speaking.  I was able to go and speak to people in need to understand that it is ok what happened before, its ok to be angry about it, but you can’t hang on to those things because it will tear you apart later in life. 

         That’s where I am now.  I am writing a book about my life and I have been able to make the transition and I have been able to let things go and still be successful, that it where my speaking comes from.  You’d be surprised how many people are leading normal lives who have a lot of hurt or anger inside of them and they are still trying to figure out how to get rid of it”

         When people think of Ken Shamrock, they think of automatically think of your exploits in the UFC and WWE.  As a past star in both, is there anything you would change anything in either of those promotions?

         “I would.  In the WWE, I would push for them being to able have an outlet for the wrestlers for them to vent their frustrations, a personnel department where they could talk one on one and talk about what is going on in their lives.  There’s nothing there right now.  There are guys who are struggling in life and in certain situations and there is nowhere for them to turn.  That is what I would definitely implement there.

         For the UFC, the definite thing that I would improve there the most is the fighter pay.[xx]  Obviously they (the UFC) have their stance on it, but I would implement an opportunity for these guys to negotiate their terms and their ways to move forward in MMA.  There is definitely a personnel problem in those companies, there needs to place for guys to go and vent about on the job frustrations; a place where they go and speak their mind.

         Is there anything that you want fans of Ken Shamrock to know what you are up to?

         “I definitely do.  I have a website,, which has all my social media sites on there, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, all of that.  I stay connected with my fans as much as I can, as they were the ones that really drove me to be successful.  I really wanted to make sure that when I was in the ring that they were entertained and was happy with what I was doing in the ring. 

         They really did help me to become successful, so I always like to stay connected to my fans, and I can do so through Social Media.  So go on, and be a part of the family and you can see what am I doing, or what appearances and podcasts that I am doing, or book me for whatever event that you may be doing. 

         Also too, I do a lot of ministry work and with troubled youth and will always be available to speak to young people.  Other than that, you know, I’m just living life large and thank you so much for allowing me to speak to you.

         Thank you, for your time and supporting us at!

[i]Ken last fought in 2010.

[ii]Ken has been outspoken in recent interviews about how the pay for the fighters have not been properly compensated for the increased revenue that UFC generates.

[iii]Inoki was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

[iv]The Fujiwara name comes from Yoshiaki Fujiwara, the head of the promotion who was regarded highly for his shoot style of wrestling.

[v]‘Sports Entertainment’ is what Vince McMahon, the owner of the World Wrestling Federation referred to his company as.

[vi]Basically, the horrendous business practices of Don King caught up to the sport.

[vii]The lobbying was spearheaded by future Presidential candidate and then Senator, John McCain.

[viii]Shamrock would actually appear a month earlier as the special guest referee in the highly regarded Bret Hart/Steve Austin “I Quit Match” at Wrestlemania 13.

[ix]Along with Royce Gracie, Ken was the first inductee to the Hall.  It took place at UFC 45 on November 21, 2003.

[x]Bolhander, a member of Shamrock’s “Lion Den” won the UFC 12 Lightweight tournament.

[xi]In the early days of UFC, weight classes were essentially non-existent.

[xii]Pancrase, a Japanese promotion, was a precursor for the UFC.  Shamrock was the “First King of Pancrase Open Weight Champion”.  That occurred in 1993. 

[xiii]In the major North American sports Halls of Fame, media plays major roles in Hall of Fame inductions. 

[xiv]Severn may have had classic encounters with Shamrock and others in the octagon, but as a pro wrestler, Severn’s look and voice did not end himself to WWE success. 

[xv]That match took place at the Backlash Pay Per View on April 25, 1999.  Although it was not well received by some, the Undertaker would later adopt MMA moves into his repertoire.  Frankly, I loved that match, and enjoyed it for being different than anything else that had been on WWE TV in some time. 

[xvi]The station was ABC, and was done on ABC News. 

[xvii]When Ken worked in the WWF, they billed him as such, though initially crediting ABC for that moniker.  

[xviii]An example of Ken’s public speaking can be found here:

[xix]It was run by Bob Shamrock, who would have over 600 boys during his time running the Home.  Ken, whose birth name was Ken Kilpatrick, would later be adopted by Bob, and take on the Shamrock family name as his own. 

[xx]Ken has been a longtime advocate for this for sometime and has been very blunt on this topic on numerous interviews.

Last modified on Thursday, 19 March 2015 18:47
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