It’s hard to believe, but Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie are fighting for a third time at Bellator 149, almost 21 years after the last time they met, at UFC 5. While that match was ruled a draw, long-time fans of MMA believe this third fight to be the rubber match. Shamrock beat up Royce for 35 minutes at UFC 5, and Royce made Ken tap in less than a minute at UFC 1. Now, their combined age is over 100 years old, and their story will finally be finished.
It’s not every day when you get to speak to a true legend and trailblazer of mixed martial arts. Ken Shamrock was fighting before that title was even given to the sport we love. So I asked him to illuminate on old tales and paint a picture of where he thinks MMA is going under Bellator’s legend-embracing banner.
I wanted to clear the air on a 20-year-old issue: Why were you upset about Royce wearing a gi back when you originally fought him?
Well, it was the idea that he wore the gi and they took my shoes away and said my shoes were a weapon. I said his gi is also a weapon. It’s supposed to be no holds barred, no rules, and yet they took my shoes away 24 hours before I stepped in the ring, didn’t give me a chance to prepare for that fight without shoes, which was something I had never done before. That was the issue. There were just different things behind the scenes that they manipulate to put the card together the way they want the card to be put together. The time limits… the rules they came up with and it’s supposed to be with no rules. So, that was the issue.
In this fight I pushed for him to wear the gi and then they told me that it’s just not gonna happen with the rules and regulations and all of that. Obviously, if he were to wear the gi right now it would upset me, because I’ve been training for a bare back. Those were the things that bothered me. It’s not just that he wore the gi, it’s that I didn’t get to wear my shoes. Those are the kinds of things that need to be very clear.
Would you call yourself the World’s Most Dangerous Middle-Aged Man?
[Laughs] First of all, I don’t think you can name yourself. I think that a nickname is either given to you by the fans or the show, or something that happens that gives you that label. I don’t believe in naming myself. If that’s what people do, if that’s what they give me, then I will definitely embrace it, but right now? All that’s on my mind is February 19th and getting the win.
What was the genesis of this fight? Was it close to happening before or did the stars just align to allow Bellator to put this on between you two?
I myself tried to make this fight happen two or three times and there were some very unreal expectations that were coming from his side so that there was no way it could happen. Quite frankly, physically impossible for it to happen. One time they wanted me to weigh 185 pounds and I haven’t weighed that since high school, that’s not even a possibility. And then they wanted a million dollars one time, so a lot of things. Pretty much, without saying, they didn’t want the fight. They basically just changed some statements that would get them to nullify the fight to make it impossible.
I tried to get this put on by myself and here we are. I’m 52 and he’s 49, and he saw my last fight with Kimbo and he believes that he saw something there that made him feel comfortable taking the fight. I’m happy that we’re doing the fight, it’s been a long time coming. The timing of this fight, I believe, is perfect. Even though we are not young bucks anymore, if we had done it 10 years ago, I’m not sure it would have the same impact as doing it now. I’m a firm believer in things happening for a reason, I believe this fight is happening at the perfect time and I will embrace it.
Do you think the other organization out there is blowing it by not embracing the fact that there are still many fighters out there that are ready and willing to battle?
I do, I think that there definitely should be a legends division. There are a lot of guys out there who have made a name for themselves in MMA and a lot of guys who were at that point of making a name for themselves before father time came up on them. There’s a lot of fans out there, there’s a lot of interest out there for guys fighting one another who have either already fought and never got to finish the story, or that the fights just never really happened and the fans want to see it happen. Whether it takes 20 years to see it happen, the fans still want to see it. The bottom line is that it’s about people coming and watching the event, it’s about the interest of the fans, and what the fans want see. Not what a promoter wants to see, but what the fans want to see. And for whatever reason I see so many promoters missing the boat on that. It’s not about your feelings and what you want, it’s about what the fans want, what they think is interesting.
In my last fight with Kimbo Slice, we made a big example of that. Scott Coker put on a fight that people wanted to see and it broke record numbers. This fight is no different, it’s the fight people want to see. I even heard Dana White say, “It’s not a fight I’d be interested in putting on.” Uhhhh, it’s not you. Are you gonna buy out the tickets? Because last I checked, it was the fans that watched the fight, not you.
You’re seeing so many UFC HoF fighters, a large share of their Hall of Fame, fighting in Bellator. Do you think it’s Dana White’s stubbornness or is it Bellator just being willing to let these men fight?
I think Bellator is looking in a different direction than what the UFC is. UFC is looking for the next greatest young fighter and they want to find that. Whereas Bellator is looking at the entertainment part of that, and the value of it with the different celebrities that are still valuable to the fans. You want to make sure that you capitalize on what the fans want to see, and at the same time they’re using that to piggyback off of, to find and build the next greatest young fighter.
Now with that said, there have been a lot of people calling you out lately — Kurt Angle, Pat Miletich, Dan Severn — are you interested in any of those fights?
I’m not gonna say no, you know? That’s what I’m doing here, I’m enjoying myself, I’m enjoying my retirement. People would say I’m not retired; well, I am retired. I’m retired from fighting at that level of being ranked. I’m fighting for entertainment and it’s something fun for me. I’m not trying to compete for a world title, that’s not what I’m doing. I am out of that. What I am doing now is enjoying myself and taking fights that are interesting to me and seem interesting to the fans. That’s what I’m doing, it’s just about entertainment for me and for the fans. I just want to have fun. I want my fans to have fun.
Bellator seems to be almost in that same mindset, so I fit well with that because that’s kind of where I’m at. And I believe that Bellator is gonna benefit from this greatly because UFC is building all these names but then not capitalizing on using them to their value. They just basically cut them loose. Bellator is saying, “No no no, we’ll take you, we’ll embrace you, and we’ll use you in some aspect.”
Do you think Kurt Angle is making a mistake teasing a potential move to MMA?
I don’t know. The only way to tell is when he gets in the gym and really starts training, and he tries to put in a good hard two weeks of training and then see where he’s at. Because everybody wants to do it, everybody that had the ability at one time wants to do it, but as time flies by on you, you sometimes mentally don’t understand what it really takes to get there, to get in the ring and fight. Forget about the actual fight itself, but the training to do it, to get to the fight. That’s the hardest. I think that’s what most guys have to do before they actually make the decision, put together a two-week mini training camp and go for two weeks straight with constant training to see whether you’re physically and mentally able to withstand that long period of training to get to the fight.
Do you have on any thoughts on CM Punk’s latest injury as he tries to start his MMA career at the highest levels?
It sucks for him because I feel his urge and his want to get in there, and at the same time he’s a smart guy, he also realizes that, “Wow, man, my body’s just not holding out for me.” His mind is saying, “Yeah, man — this is what I want to do,” but his body’s saying, “Think twice about it.” He really needs to go back there and start thinking about what it is that he’s doing and that if he’s physically able to withstand the training that it’s gonna take to get to the fight. That’s the biggest thing that people forget about. It’s not the fight night, because we can all go in and fight one time, get in there and just fight, but to prepare yourself for a fight so you can win, that’s the issue. I think that’s where he’s having the problems, being able to get through training and staying in training for a long period of time.
After the Kimbo Slice fight, Joe Rogan said he thought it looked fake. I’m gonna throw another hypothetical fight at you — Joe Rogan is 48 years old and his UFC contract is ending soon — would you be willing to fight him?
[Laughs] I’m not gonna go out there and say anything stupid, but it’s just something that we’ve been talking about with guys that retire and come back and they want to train. It’s a whole different game when you’re actually in the gym and you’re training and you’re not just at seminars and different things, but when you’re actually going to a fight and you gotta put in the training for a fight, that’s when you separate the men from the boys. That’s where you really realize if a guy’s got what it takes, or if the guys have been around for a while and their bodies can handle the long-term training.
With him saying that, it’s just another ignorant statement. In my mind, how can you say something like that when you haven’t put yourself in that situation to know whether or not you can fight? “I’ve done this, I’ve done seminars I train blah blah.” That’s just not the same thing, that’s ignorant talk. So, I’m not even going to answer that question because I believe that’s just a statement made out of ignorance.
You’re someone who’s fought under almost all, if not all rule sets in MMA. Which do you prefer?
I don’t. What I look for is being able to compete. I enjoyed doing Pancrase, it was fun. What I loved about that was that because there wasn’t closed fist striking on the ground, there wasn’t a whole lot of strikes on the ground, it was all basically submissions, so you saw a lot of guys attempting more submissions, a lot of guys in and out of angles and setting different submissions up and being more balanced on the ground. You didn’t have to worry about getting caught with a right hand or a left hook or something on the ground, you could try to work for a submission hold. It made it a lot more active in that you could actually take chances going for submissions. I enjoyed that, it really helped me improve my game on the ground when I did go into no holds barred.
I really loved that, but again, at the same time, when I got into the UFC, I really enjoyed the fact that if I had to use my hands, especially with somebody whose submission skills were very good, I didn’t have to give up position and I was able to go ahead and just ground and pound them and make them move and give up position to try for submissions. It’s just different strategies for different types of defense and I enjoyed that, I really did, I really enjoyed both.
With Royce, there have been a lot of pictures of you guys smiling and getting along. Is this water under the bridge or is there still some bad blood?
I wouldn’t say bad blood, but there’s a story to be told and it’s a story that I believe never got told. Here’s my opportunity to be able to express myself on some of the things that had bothered me earlier on in those years when they controlled the fight card, they positioned fights where they wanted them, and were able to put rules in/take rules out that were convenient for them. I don’t hang on to those things, but every time that you bring up the fight, there’s always this question about how Royce did this, how Royce did that, those things that I talked about are never discussed and never talked about on how they basically took away my footing.
I had to go in on the fly, and had to fight on a canvas mat with no shoes. I had never done that before. It was my first time in the ring with no shoes. It was a really big thing to overcome because it’s like being on ice. So, it’s really an opportunity to really tell my story, and nothing’s gonna come out of it, those things are already done, it’s just the fact that I have a platform now to be able to express my feelings, tell my story, and then let it be.
If you only have a few fights left, what are you gonna do with your time when you finally hang up the gloves?
I have a couple businesses that I’ve started up, I’ll be doing a lot of that, but my love is for my kids and working with kids. I’m working with different at-risk kids. I have 13 grandbabies and seven children and I am going to enjoy my children when that day comes. I’m gonna be traveling, spending time with them, and spoiling them and supporting them.
The World’s Most Dangerous Grandfather.