Where Are They Now?: Ken Shamrock

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October 23, 2013

But Shamrock’s passion for wrestling and, eventually, shoot fighting, was truly ignited when his travel partner, Dean Malenko, showed him a tape of Japanese stars Minoru Suzuki and Masakatsu Funaki grappling. Their style of wrestling instantly appealed to Shamrock.

The Malenkos arranged for several tryouts to get Shamrock over to Japan, where he found himself in the same dojo as Suzuki and Funaki. After dominating two of the dojo’s young students with fighting skills he picked up on the street as a kid, Shamrock found himself standing across from Suzuki, an alternate on the Japanese Olympic wrestling team.

“He choked me out, he heel hooked me, he beat the crap out of me for 30 minutes,” Shamrock said with a laugh.

After Suzuki finished sparring with the American, the trainers asked Shamrock if he had enough. But Ken was eager to keep going, so they sent Funaki after him.

“He beat me up for another 30 minutes, armbarred me, everything,” Shamrock said. “But I was so intrigued, I wanted to keep going.”

“The more they did to me, the more I was learning.”

Though he had been put through the wringer, Shamrock earned a place with the UWF promotion, which focused less on sports-entertainment theatrics and more on traditional grappling. He eventually joined Funaki and Suzuki in forming Pancrase, a shoot-fighting promotion that borrowed rules from pro wrestling.

Shamrock won Pancrase’s top championship before returning to America, where he was a star for the new Ultimate Fighting Championship. The no-holds-barred aspect of UFC appealed to Shamrock, so he jumped at the opportunity to compete. His rivalries with fighters like Royce Gracie and Dan Severn helped build UFC into a top fighting company. Shamrock quickly became the face of the company, doing tons of media and promotion as “The World’s Most Dangerous Man.”

The increased attention, though, eventually became a major setback for UFC. The vicious nature of the sport caught the company flak from politicians like John McCain, who infamously dubbed it “human cockfighting.” Shamrock still feels that the sport was misunderstood.

“People were looking at something they didn’t understand,” he explained. “In their minds, they saw bare-knuckle fighting and thought it was brutal. But if they really understood, it was a lot safer than boxing.”

Still, the sport had plenty of detractors, and mixed martial arts was banned in the majority of the United States. With fights drying up, Shamrock began looking for opportunities outside of the Octagon. He ended up going back to where he started.

“Vince McMahon reached out and showed a big interest in me and in changing pro wrestling as we knew it,” Shamrock recalled.

“He came to me and said I could come to WWE and they’d build me into something special. I appreciated his confidence in me.”

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