Where Are They Now?: Ken Shamrock
Though it’s been three years since he last fought, Ken Shamrock is just as aggressive in his post-competition career as he was in his prime. The former Intercontinental Champion is still training fighters, teaching regular people how to defend themselves and does motivational speaking. He has a reason for pursuing so many business opportunities, which he can trace back to his youth.
Born Ken Kilpatrick in Macon, Ga., Shamrock had an extremely troubled childhood. From the time he was five years old, he was getting into fights with other children every day.
“I fought all the time,” he told WWEClassics.com.
The young boy couldn’t avoid it. Even after moving to California with his mother and stepfather, things only got worse.
“I had gotten stabbed, I ran away from home,” he recalled. “I lived in an abandoned car for a couple months.”
Shamrock turned to a life of crime soon thereafter. He joked that his record was probably “thicker than a Bible.”
He was given several chances to shape up, but failed to do so. The troubled teenager was one misstep away from prison before he ended up at the Shamrock Boys’ Home.
“Once I got there, my life changed,” Shamrock said of his time at the facility for wayward youths. “I met somebody that understood that I wasn’t just a number.”
That somebody was Bob Shamrock, the founder of the Boys’ Home. Bob took in problematic young men on the verge of jail time and gave them a place to work through whatever problems they had and make them productive members of society.
“He took the time to get to know us,” Ken said.
Bob Shamrock and Ken grew very close over Ken’s time at the home. When he turned 18, Ken was adopted by Bob and changed his last name to Shamrock. Already a professional wrestling fan, Bob arranged for his son to enter the business under the tutelage of the unpredictable “Mad Dog” Buzz Sawyer. Shamrock was quick to admit that the infamous brawler wasn’t focused on teaching him the finer points of grappling.
“He was bringing me in to beat guys up and take their tryout money,” Shamrock said. “I wasn’t really learning anything.”
Ken’s father looked up some more reputable schools and found one operated by Nelson Royal and Gene Anderson in North Carolina. Shamrock passed their tryout with flying colors, though the double-tough youngster would be surprised by the rigors of the business.
“After six months, I was like, ‘This stuff is not as easy as people think,’ “ he said. “You have to be coordinated, athletic and intelligent to figure this out. I earned a new respect for it.”
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.”
That confidence swayed Ken from signing with WCW and several organizations in Japan and towards WWE. Shamrock was given an unprecedented stage to showcase his skills as a fighter and a wrestler. His expertise as a grappler made him a perfect fit to referee a Submission Match between Bret “Hit Man” Hart and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin at WrestleMania 13.
“I was completely in awe of what they did in that ring,” Shamrock said. “It made me a complete believer that wrestling is not for wimps.”
Shamrock was thrust into the spotlight almost immediately upon his 1997 debut. He was given a No Holds Barred Exhibition to showcase his fighting skills, and took on the vicious Vader in his first official bout. Shamrock was almost immediately a threat to any champion in WWE.
“It was awesome,” Shamrock said of his early days in WWE. “It was great to know that they had enough confidence in me, that I would be able to learn from these guys.”
Still, Shamrock felt a little unwelcome from some Superstars, who thought the fighter hadn’t earned his place in the company.
“I don’t blame them,” he said. “Guys that came in before me took advantage of it, didn’t respect [the opportunities], but I did and I really appreciated that. I tried to make that known that I felt it was a privilege.”
Shamrock shot up the ranks of WWE. By the end of 1997, he had challenged Shawn Michaels for the WWE Championship on pay-per-view and found himself in a heated rivalry with The Rock over the Intercontinental Title. He defeated The Great One at Royal Rumble 1998 for the title, only to have the decision reversed when the referee found brass knuckles that had been planted on him.
“Come on, I won that,” Shamrock joked when asked about the match. “If only I had some backup.”
Though The Rock was barely into his second year as a wrestler, Shamrock credits his battles with The Brahma Bull with teaching him a great deal.
“It was great,” he said. “Working with him is what almost got me to that next level.”
Shamrock’s incomparable intensity, his dominating MMA-inspired offense and his bone-snapping Ankle Lock made him one of the more memorable stars of The Attitude Era, and an influence on future Superstars for years to come.
Still, while Shamrock captured the Intercontinental Title in a one-night tournament, as well as the World Tag Team Titles, WWE’s biggest prize eluded him.
“I thought that, with the matches I had with The Rock, I was going to move up and go after him for the WWE Title,” Shamrock explained. “For some reason, that never happened.”
Stuck just below the WWE Title picture, Shamrock admitted he was frustrated with his place in the company.
“I wasn’t being serious and doing what I needed to do to improve,” he told WWEClassics.com. “I really wanted that title.”
Shamrock pushed on, fighting for that elusive opportunity by grappling with some of WWE’s biggest names like Michaels, Austin, The Undertaker and Chris Jericho. By fall 1999, though, Shamrock felt it was time for him to move on.
“I got bitter, but it was stupid on my part,” he said. “There were so many guys that deserved an opportunity at the WWE Championship that didn’t get it, that probably deserved it.”
He never achieved his goal of winning the WWE Title, but Shamrock now reminisces on his WWE career with a smile.
“I was able to work with top guys on every big show,” he said. “I was able to learn so much in a short amount of time. I look back on it and think I was truly blessed to have gotten those opportunities.”
After leaving WWE, Shamrock returned to MMA and took part in several high-profile fights in Pride and the UFC. His 2002 fight against Tito Ortiz is often credited with reviving MMA, which was now regulated by athletic commissions across the country.
Though he hasn’t fought since 2010, Shamrock still trains like a machine, trying to stay in top physical condition.
“I’ll probably die with abs,” he joked.
The World’s Most Dangerous Man is also working on several projects. One of the major ones is Shamrock Slam, a sports energy drink that will be available in a few months.
“A lot of these other energy drinks have so much sugar,” Shamrock said. “Mine has zero sugar, but you get the same kind of jolt. It’s got green tea, coffee beans and pomegranate.”
He’s also committed to passing on the fighting and fitness knowledge he’s acquired over the years. He’s trained countless MMA fighters through his Lion’s Den training centers. Now, with pro bodybuilder Ken Yasuda, Shamrock started ProFit101.net, a comprehensive site where people can get fitness and self-defense tips from the comfort of their home.
“It’s real simple stuff, anybody can learn it,” Shamrock said. “You can use it to defend yourself if you have to.”
With everything Shamrock is doing now, he still has one goal in mind. He wants to do for troubled youth what Bob Shamrock did for him so many years ago.
“I’m going to be opening a group home for boys and girls,” he told WWEClassics.com. “I want to build a home that they can be proud of and be able to turn their lives around.”