Born a fighter, die a fighter

It’s early morning in Reno, Nevada. Ken Shamrock is now 54 years old and fought his latest professional MMA fight two years ago against Royce Gracie. It’s not clear to us if Ken retired after that fight or not. His Wikipedia gives a confusing statement, describing him as “semi retired”, so we start by asking him about it. “No, I’m not retired. Because if the right fight came up I’d take it! I know how people always say ‘you’re going too long, you shouldn’t fight anymore, bla bla bla’, but I don’t understand that. Most people get to a certain point where they’re just not interested anymore. Me, my heart and my soul will always be a fighter. I’m not comfortable with saying I’m done, I quit, I give up. That’s the way I am and that’s the way I always will be. From the day I was born to the day I die, I am a fighter!”


Ken has had a long fighting career, but truth to the matter is he has been fighting his whole life. Coming from a broken family, he moved in and out of group homes, and lived a very rough life. At age 10 he had been stabbed, committed several robberies and lived in a car. The first time he got in to a real fight he was just 5 years old. “I was in a bathroom and a couple of older kids, three or four of them, came in. They jumped me, gave me a beating, kicked me in the head. It was a racial thing, me growing up in an all African-American neighborhood. There were 8-9-years-olds living in the streets. Kids at the age of 10-12 were dealing drugs. There was no one to protect you, so if you got beaten you had to move on and figure out a way to protect yourself next time.”

Ken giving an inspirational speech.

Besides fighting in the streets, Ken later on started fighting in a more organized way, in the Toughman Contests. He participated in three and won all of them. Via pro wrestling in Japan, he came into a new fighting organization in 1993 named Pancrase. He won his first three fights against Japanese opponents, all via submission. “Then one day, one of my students brought me a flyer of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which said No Holds Barred. I immediately thought of Hulk Hogan and pro wrestling, but he said that this was real fighting, anything goes! I called Art Davie and told him that as long as it’s real, and I can kick to the head and do whatever I want, I’m in!”



The history of UFC 1 is well-known, and Royce Gracie submitted Ken in the semi-final. That was the start of a trilogy that would extend over many years. At UFC 5 they met again, and Ken was better prepared for Royce’s strengths this time. The fight lasted 36 minutes and was declared a draw. 21 years later, the two rivals entered the cage for a third time, now under the Bellator flag. Two minutes in to the first round Royce lands a knee that seems suspiciously low, and he wins the fight via TKO. “I always respected Royce over the years, for what he was able to do. But after this last fight, I have a hard time throwing the word respect in there. To knee me low, it happens, it’s no big deal. But to then say that I should have known it was coming because that’s the way we used to fight, and pretty much say he did it on purpose, that’s not a person who has the true spirit of fighting. It just shows me the kind of person he is. I have a hard time with people that must cheat to achieve things.”

Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock at UFC 5, April 7th 1995.

With all the fights and memorable moments Ken has had in his career, we ask him to pick the ones that stick out and that his most proud over. “I have to say that the ones that are most important to me, are when I became the first ever MMA Champion in Japan and the very first MMA Superfight Champion in the United States. The superfight was the first single fight, where the two best fought straight away, without going through a tournament with injuries and obstacles. That was against Dan Severn at UFC 6. Or actually, it was the one against Royce at UFC 5. They called it a draw, but I think anyone who watches the fight can see that I won it. Sometimes I dream of being able to go back and fight Royce in my prime. I mean, I was 39 and 42 when we fought back then, while he was in his prime at 27 years old. I think that would have been a great fight, and we could have been doing it for years and entertained millions of fans with that rivalry!”

The fight at UFC 5 was declared a draw after 36 minutes.

Few fighters have had such a suitable nickname as Ken. It was in a TV-show called The World’s Most Dangerous Things that Ken Shamrock was first named The World’s Most Dangerous Man. “For me, it was an honor. If you give yourself a nickname like that it doesn’t mean anything, but if you get it on National TV, it’s pretty evident that it’s true. I mean, no one could deny that I in fact was the world’s most dangerous man at the time, because I beat everybody in Japan, and then being the champion in the Unites States. There were fighters from all over the world coming to fight me, like Brazil, England, Australia, you name it. The nickname suited me and just stuck with me since then!”


Morality in promotion

We ask Ken how much MMA he watches today, and he says it’s not much, mainly highlights. One fight he did see was UFC 229: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor, and he has a lot of thoughts on the whole spectacle. “I’d like to see someone ask them if they understand that they’re hurting the sport, even if their fanbase grows. It can possibly hurt MMA in the future with the way the public, TV and sponsors are viewing this. And the fact that Conor attacked the bus and could have put somebody’s eye out. Do you deserve to go to prison for something like that? If it happened on the street, they would be in jail! Khabib and his guys as well, for jumping an organized ring and hitting a fighter, and jumping out of a ring and going after a coach. Anybody else in the world we live in would have to go to court. I would also like to hear them answer the question if they would do it again if the same situation came up.”

“When I had my thing with Tito, there was security people all around us making sure there was no way we could get to each other. Everybody knew we had a beef and that we would take every opportunity to go at one another, so they prevented it. Now I see a guy who flies his private plane with a bunch of people to the US and go right into a place that is supposed to be secure and controlled, and attack a bus of fighters. How does that happen? Where is the protection of the talents and the people involved in the event? And then, when it’s time for them to fight, how can you turn your backs to the idea that these things can escalate? Not expect that there will be upset emotions after the fight? How can you not be prepared for that and not be ready to stop it? Where is the security? That’s my main issue with the whole thing!”


“If it was wrong to use the video material from the bus incident in the promotion of the fight? Absolutely! What they did was to incite a riot! They are glorifying something that we do not want to see in the arena. We don’t mind them two fight each other, as long as it’s between them two, but we don’t want things to escalate. After the fight, both Conor and Khabib has received so much publicity, because of something they did wrong. Now, how do you stop other people from doing it now? You’re opening a door for all these other fighters to say ‘oh, that’s how you get popular!’. You’re telling the younger fighters that rules don’t apply, just go ahead and do whatever you want to do to get your name out there, and we won’t suspend you.”

“Look, I’m not an angel when it comes to following rules. I was the first one in MMA who went after people, who pushed people around and put my toe over the line. But the one thing I didn’t do was to endanger other people, other than my opponent! These guys didn’t just cross the line, they blew it up! And to be honest, I don’t blame them for acting on their emotions and their desire to be great. I blame the organization for glorifying their actions and making them feel like it’s okay! If you’re going to do this you must make sure that you can protect everybody around this thing. You need enough security to control it. And that, they didn’t have that night.”

We thank Ken Shamrock for his time and wish him the best with all his projects!

Text: Pelle Axelsson