With an expected return to action in March, the rumor mill has been abuzz with speculation on who former Strikeforce middleweight champion and undeniable legend of the game, Frank Shamrock, will be facing off with in his first fight back on the “comeback trail”.
Some of the names being thrown around as of late include Japanese grappling sensation Kazushi Sakuraba, Cung Le, Robbie Lawler, Scott Smith and Dan Henderson to name just a few. And while nothing has been set in concrete as of this writing in regard to who Shamrock will face next, one thing is for certain, and that is that it will undoubtedly be a fight to remember as the thirty-seven year old San Jose resident has a long history in the sport as one of it’s most consistently entertaining athletes.
If you’ve had the opportunity to view Frank’s legendary battles with the likes of Enson Inoue or Tito Ortiz in the late nineties, you’ve had the chance to witness two of the most brutal and entertaining bouts in MMA history. Shamrock hasn’t slowed a step in recent years as he steamrolled into the new century, putting on two of the most exciting bouts of the last decade against the likes of Cung Le and Phil Baroni under the Strikeforce banner.
History will have no choice but to look back on the pioneer of the sport many years from now as one of the undisputed best in the game during the years when he was needed the most. Shamrock was the first champion in a weight class for three of the biggest promotion’s in the industry. In 1997 he became the UFC’s first ever light heavyweight champion with a lighting quick armbar over Kevin Jackson and went on to defend the strap four times before becoming the first man to grab the WEC’s version of the light heavyweight crown back in 2003. Of course, all of this was before Shamrock became Strikeforce’s first middleweight title holder with a second round strangling of Phil Baroni on 2007.
FiveOuncesofPain.com recently had the chance to catch up with Shamrock to discuss a variety of topics including being in a position where he must rebound from back-to-back defeats, the beef between himself and Jake Shields, possible future opponents, and much more.
Cory Brady for FiveOuncesofPain.com: You have been pretty essential in the development of Strikeforce over the last several years, headlining the first major event against Cesar Gracie in 2006; Is this the vision you had for the future of the promotion, where Strikeforce is heading right now?
Frank Shamrock: Yeah, most definitely. It was a well laid out plan and a well executed plan, but this was the plan.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: So was part of the original plan back in 2006 to eventually secure a major network television deal?
Frank Shamrock: Well, I’d love to say I predicted the CBS thing (laugh), but I can’t really take credit for that. Although I think the Cung Le fight may have had some sway with the CBS executives. You know, we made the right moves and the company has been conservative but effective in taking some of the small risks. So yeah, this is where I hoped we would be.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: 2009 was obviously a huge year for Strikeforce, do you think 2010 will be the year when they really tear down the doors with a lot of viewers that may not have been previous fans of the sport through the recent alignment with CBS? Of course there was MMA on CBS before, but of course EliteXC kind of fell face first there. What are your thoughts on 2010 in general for the sport of mixed martial arts?
Frank Shamrock: Well I really think it’s all about building the brand; creating Strikeforce, creating the Showtime shows and the CBS opportunity for all of the MMA circuit. But honestly I think that very few people know about Strikeforce in the mainstream, and I think 2010 is our year of going into that mainstream and letting people know that Strikeforce is a brand of mixed martial arts. It’s a really unique brand of mixed martial arts. We’ve just been trying to sell that story and now we have enough people looking at it
FiveOuncesofPain.com: Now I’m sure you were paying close attention to the recent bout between Scott Smith and Cung Le as two very real possibilities as future opponents; What was your impression looking back on the performance by each fighter?
Frank Shamrock: I thought the whole fight was just magic. It was Ali vs. Foreman in “The Rumble in the Jungle” all over again. It was just fantastic. From my professional side of calling the match, it was absolutely amazing and enjoyable. As far as my other professional side in regards to possibly facing one of the two in the future, I thought it was all good. Cung looked fantastic… and he just got tired. You know, you have to finish the race though. Scott looked.. like a punching bag (laughs)… and he punched back (laughs), and finished the fight. In my opinion, there were no losers. I mean Cung got stopped, but the whole story and the whole fight in itself, I thought it was phenomenal.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: Is it kind of a nerve wrecking experience being a commentator during a fight between two guys you have the potential to fighting sometime in the future? I mean being a fighter and a commentator is one thing, but watching one guy you’ve already fought, and another guy you may fight in the future; What was that like for you?
Frank Shamrock: Well it used to be really weird, and I’ve gotten myself to a point where I’m so connected to the moment of calling the fight, that I’m not thinking about anything else. Because I’m really trying to do my best at calling exactly what I see. That sort of overpowers me and I can kind of get rid of the other stuff. I feel like my most important job at that time, and it is my most important job in the moment, is to tell the story. I mean there’s always a feeling of like, ‘Oh, I gotta get Cung back’, but my most important job is to tell the story. Telling the story always comes first for me when it comes down to it.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: Would you consider the recent lightweight title bout between Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson one of the best fights you’ve ever witnessed, or at least one of the best fights of the last year?
Frank Shamrock: It was absolutely one of the best fights of 2009, if not the best fight of 2009. I didn’t see a better fight over the last year. I didn’t watch a lot of fighting, but I didn’t see a better fight. I would also say that it was in my top ten fights of all time. That’s what mixed martial arts should be all about. You get knocked down, you get up, you drag it out, just up and down, and anybody can win.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: The word around the campfire is that it’s going to be an early March return for you; I have to ask; Are there any names currently floating around out there as a possible next opponent for you?
Frank Shamrock: I haven’t been offered any names . I think we were kind of waiting on the Evolution card to happen to see what was going to happen, but the possibilities for me in the middleweight division are endless. With Henderson, with Scott, with Le, Jacare, with everybody. The possibilities are just endless right now. I’m hoping that they’ll give me somebody old (laughs) like myself (laughs). I just think that 2010 we’ve done a really good job telling a lot of the different stories, and I think it’s really important that we kind of weave those stories together into something that’s continuous and highly entertaining. And in 2010 we’re going to hit our mark. This will be mainstream. Everybody’s going to be talking about this amazing brand new show called Strikeforce (laughs).
FiveOuncesofPain.com: I know you have recently expressed that you have no desire to face Jake Shields anytime in the future because you don’t want to give him the opportunity in what would be as really high profile fight against yourself. Would you say a lot of that has to do with the way he handled himself in trying to call you out? Do you feel he went a little bit overboard with the way he has gone about asking for the fight?
Frank Shamrock: No, actually I thought it was nice to see him finally doing something to promote and market himself. I was irritated because I was trying to do my job as a professional commentator and he was just unpleasant and… accostful (laughs), in a professional setting when we’re trying to do a commentary job. You know, in a professional setting, that’s not nice.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: Right, I know it’s the fight game, but with any job you’re going to end up working with people you don’t like, but the reality is that you still have to work with them.
Frank Shamrock: Yeah. He’s a nice kid I think. He needs to grow up. But my point is, why should I? When there’s so many other guys that are respectful, and they’ve earned it, they care, and that have done a really good job. People that I personally enjoy doing business with.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: Why do you think Shields wants to fight you so bad? Do you think it could have something to do with the fact that you knocked out Cesar Gracie in 2006?
Frank Shamrock: I’m sure of it. That and I’m very famous and very successful, and I have a really big paycheck. I’m sure that he wants some of that. My point is, earn it, and we’ll all meet up in the end.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: So are you saying it to earn it by being exciting?
Frank Shamrock: Be exciting, sell it, work it; it’s the whole package. You can’t just show up, fight, and then be unpleasant. I’m in the business for the next 50 years. Which means eventually be doing business together (laughs). He’ll be working for me, or something will happen.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: I’d like to throw out a few names and gather your thoughts on them as fighters, and how you feel like you would match-up with them if you were to meet sometime soon. First off, Kazushi Sakuraba?
Frank Shamrock: I would love to fight Sakuraba. I think he’s old like me, and I think we match up stylistically very well. I don’t think he has the chin for it, or the knees for the type of game we’d be playing. I think punching him in the head and making him work those old knees would be the strategy. I mean, his knees are worse than mine. It would be like a contest of terrible knees. I just think that I’d have the advantage physically. But I’d love to fight him.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: Is he someone you’ve kind of been wanting to fight for a while now? It seems like both of your styles are so similar.
Frank Shamrock: Well we had the same teacher. We have the same lineage. My thing at my height of learning was that I really wanted to kind of find my style of fighting, and develop it. He was the only other guy that had the same lineage of teachers, and training, and experience that I did. I felt like we were destined to meet, we just never did.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: So that might be a fight you would be interested in if it could come together?
Frank Shamrock: I would definitely be interested in that fight.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: I have to ask: A rematch with Cung; is that something you want?
Frank Shamrock: Absolutely. I love Cung Le.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: I know you’re all about the high profile fights and he’s a guy with a history of putting butts in the seats.
Frank Shamrock: I like Cung. He’s exciting and he’s interesting. He’s a little short on the words, but he puts on a great show.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: Dan Henderson?
Frank Shamrock: Yeah, Henderson; I love Henderson. He’s a star, and a stud, and he owes me one. He owes me one from when I heel hooked him in a wrestling match (laughs), so I have a feeling like Dan will be coming to get me soon (laughs).
FiveOuncesofPain.com: Plus, I think that’s a fight a lot of people might want to see.
Frank Shamrock: Actually it’s a really good stylistic match up. I mean, Dan’s a strong guy. Dan is the strongest guy that I’ve ever tied up in a clinch. He’s just a stud. I’ve trained with him and sparred with him, and you know, he’s one of those guys where you fight him and it takes weeks off of your life, but it’s an amazing experience. I don’t know if they could put us on the same card though (laughs). It would have to be a pretty big card.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: Right. Well, with CBS in the mix, it makes sense.
Frank Shamrock: Yeah, it’s coming.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: Alright I have a few more names I want to go through with you here. This guy has been one of my favorite fighters to watch for a while now; What are your thoughts on Melvin Manhoef?
Frank Shamrock: I love him. He is exciting, scary and very kind all at once. I think that makes him really appealing. His ground game kind of sucks…
FiveOuncesofPain.com: Right. Something he admits to though…
Frank Shamrock: Yeah, it’s like he embraces that he’s terrible on the ground. But he’s just so good and explosive elsewhere. It’s kind of like he has the Mike Tyson thing going on with him.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: Get the guy a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and he’d be unstoppable.
Frank Shamrock: Oh my god, are you kidding me! But I think facing him would be a test because I’d probably do something stupid like try to stand up with him.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: Yeah, kind of test yourself, right. It seems like you’ve always been the kind of fighter that likes to test yourself against the advantage of your opponent.
Frank Shamrock: Yeah. I get retarded like that. Strategically though, the game would be to get him down to the ground and trap him in a submission.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: Robbie Lawler?
Frank Shamrock: Robbie Lawler.. I like Robbie. I’ve never thought about fighting him. It’s never been offered to me.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: Alright, what about Scott Smith?
Frank Shamrock: I love Scott. I’d fight Scott. He’s a good guy.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: It seems like that would be a good fight for you in the sense that you could kind of kill two birds with one stone. If you beat Scott, you just beat the man, that beat the man, that beat you recently.
Frank Shamrock: See that’s not a bad idea, the old two-for. I didn’t even think about that. Now that’s being efficient right there.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: Is recapturing the Strikeforce championship something you have your sights set on right now, or is it really all about the big fights at this point in your career one way or another?
Frank Shamrock: The honest answer is that apparently I’m on the comeback trail. I thought I was up there in championship contention, but I lost two fights. I feel like I have to earn my way back up to even being considered. I mean they could probably give me a championship shot because I’m Frank Shamrock, but technically, I haven’t earned it. When I fight, I’m going to go in there with the mindset that I have to get back to what I was doing.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: You’ll look at title hopes a couple of fights from now I’d imagine.
Frank Shamrock: Yeah, that’s not my goal right now. My goal is to win a fight. I need to win one, I mean it’s been two fights, and for me, that doesn’t usually happen.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: Have you even began to think of the day when you may step away from the sport as a fighter, or is that the farthest thing from your mind right now?
Frank Shamrock: Yeah, I have thought about it. I’ve thought about it in a lot of different ways. For me, this is really what I love to do so it’s going to come down to: How much does it hurt me physically and financially, or otherwise.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: And obviously you’re still competing, but do you still have that deep down urge in the pit of your stomach to get out there and fight?
Frank Shamrock: There is nothing that feels better.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: Thanks for taking this time with us Frank.
Frank Shamrock: Thanks Cory.