Frank Shamrock’s (Downloadable?) Code


By Cameron Conaway Sep 11, 2010
When people ask, “Who is your favorite MMA fighter?” I always answer Frank Shamrock.

Many of the question-askers are those fans who claim to be “diehards,” yet when pressed they only know of Rampage Jackson and Chuck Liddell. I’m used to seeing a sort of uncertainty in their eyes when I say Frank’s name. I’m used to feeling a sense of disappointment that these “fans” don’t know about Frank Shamrock.

I felt that same disappointment when Frank retired. The disappointment wasn’t from sadness as I watched the man so positively influential on me when I was young walk away. Nor was it because his retirement meant I was getting old. It was because the only other MMA news that could have possibly trumped Frank’s retirement from MMA happened. On the same night he retired, fans of the sport were stunned into stillness. Fedor lost.

Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation writer, is also a big influence on me. So when I was granted the chance to interview Frank recently, I sought to somehow fuse them both. A famous Kerouac quote is “First thought, best thought.” I rolled with it.

“Frank, I’ve got a series of phrases here and I want you to say the first few sentences that come to mind. I’ll follow up where I see fit, but I want to tap into your subconscious.”

He laughed. “Sounds good. Shoot.”

Sherdog: MMA strength and conditioning.
Shamrock: It’s come a long way. The physical requirements are unbelievably high, through the roof. When you look at all the components of fitness, MMA fighters are the world’s most conditioned athletes.

Sherdog: How has your own training changed and evolved over the years?
Shamrock: It’s changed dramatically. Early in my career at the Lion’s Den, I didn’t know the first thing about cardiovascular training. It wasn’t until I met Maurice Smith that I saw and understood the benefits. We began running stairs, and I instantly saw the huge crossover that cardiovascular conditioning could have for MMA.

Back then, we were mostly running stairs. But we did anything we could to feel our hearts beating fast and to try to keep our hearts beating fast for as long as possible. Today’s athletes, and the scientists behind their training, have taken it to a new level. They use oxygen deprivation, hyperbaric chambers and blood enrichment. It’s amazing to have been part of the early movement and to have had the chance to see how far it’s come.

Sherdog: What were your strength and conditioning goals when training? Aside from fighting, how did you gauge progress?
Shamrock: Impact. Everything I did was related to how I could withstand and absorb impact without hurting myself. I had a broken spine when I was younger, so even sprinting hurt badly. I trained so hard because I wanted to protect my body. At 16, I was diagnosed with scoliosis. Doctors said I’d never seriously play another sport. I had the fighter mentality even then, so I wanted to prove them wrong. I stopped running in 1997 because of the trauma to my body. My back just couldn’t take it. Even sprinting on grass taxed my hips and back too much. Elliptical trainers came along and they were the first machine where I could train my muscular and cardiovascular systems without hurting myself.

Now, I do a lot of bodyweight and kettlebell exercises. I’ve given up traditional weight training for the most part. I also do yoga and a lot of breathing and balance work. I used to be all gung-ho about smashing everything and lifting heavy. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m one of those old guys going soft. I always saw old masters and thought they just kind of let their bodies go. But really, it’s the degenerative process. You can slow it down, but you can’t come close to stopping it.

Sherdog: Fedor losing.
Shamrock: Tough for Fedor and the brand. The sport took a hit on that one. He was the first guy that had the whole invincibility thing rolling. The sport is what it is; we all lose, but it seemed like he was one or two fights away from having that shield thing. That superhero thing. Stars grow and in one day can crash. It’s crazy. It’s like some new vitamin on sale. One day everybody says it’s the greatest thing. It’s sexy. Then it crashes all in one stroke. The myth of Fedor crashed. I could feel it coming.

Sherdog: Pre-Fight rituals? Do you have a spiritual outlook regarding fighting?
Shamrock: Everything I did was for fighting. I prayed everyday, as well as before and after matches. I don’t go to church; I go to martial arts school six days a week. This is my temple. It’s all spiritual.

As for rituals, I have to brush my teeth before I fight because you breathe better when your teeth are clean. I have to take a warm shower before every fight because it relaxes and loosens muscles and helps them work better. Everything is for fighting. Fighting is life. We do group prayers before each match. I always bow to my opponent, though that’s not so much a ritual as it is a part of the martial arts game. I don’t know, there’s a lot of differences between how I used to do things and how I do them now. It’s like there are two Franks -- classic and modern. Classic Frank grapples. Modern Frank strikes. Actually, in the EA Sports MMA game, there’s the modern striking Frank, but if you purchase the game at Wal-Mart you can get a downloadable code to unlock classic Frank. (Laughs.)

Sherdog: Alistair Overeem.
Shamrock: A killer. Has the potential to be a superstar, but I’m not sure he’ll do it. If his focus is purely on fighting, he could. But I don’t think he sees what’s going on in the U.S., the huge growth of the sport. I hope he does. He’s got great technique, he’s massive and people love him. He looks the part and can fight. Most big guys can’t fight. They look like they can fight, but they can’t move. He’s a rare breed. Most big guys don’t have to fight people, so they don’t have the same urgency to train hard. I’ll fight a big guy any day over a medium-sized dude who has to scrap. We Americans, we love the big guy. He could be a huge hit here.

Sherdog: Strikeforce women’s tournament.
Shamrock: I like it. I like it a lot! I like when women fight in MMA. It’s bringing the sport closer to mainstream. It’s such a powerful act. They fight so hard, so technical. Miesha Tate, Sarah Kaufman -- they bring even more heat than the men sometimes. Sport aside, look how far women have come? It’s awesome. These women aren’t slinging Frisbees. They’re fighting. This is real. They can go from nobody to superstar in one year. Look how Sarah Kaufman was on ESPN. I study this game intently -- she’s got great hands, a solid chin and tactical aggression. Her jabs have grown tremendously.

Sherdog: Retirement.
Shamrock: (Laughs). It was time. There wasn’t much more I could do physically and technically in the cage. What more could I do? I knew early on I had a bad back, that my days were numbered. I wanted to keep doing something good for the sport and this meant doing it as long as I could while remaining the best in brain and body -- that balance. I want to forever influence the sport in a positive way. I think it has the potential to change lives. I guarantee you I’m never going anywhere.

That said, retiring was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I knew if I kept walking into the cage, the things I had built would slowly fall apart -- my body, mind, brand and image. In the early days, nobody wanted to talk about MMA; now it’s the thing that my neighbor’s kids are talking about. I thought to myself, “I can’t keep dragging my carcass out there and allowing the youngsters to beat on me.” I didn’t want to be that old baseball player who keeps trying to throw it and blows a shoulder. I wanted people to say, “That Frank, he’s a sharp dude.”

I know Leon Spinks; he’s brain-dead. There’s nothing he can do for the sport anymore. He left it all in the ring. I don’t want to be that guy. I want to be here forever, whether as a mentor, teacher or coach. Part of the never-hang-it-up attitude is generational. People believed they could train hard and pick up the technical or business stuff later. Now, there’s more awareness about healthy lifestyles, of the benefits of a healthy body. MMA is a business as much as it is about fighting. And I don’t believe the business is being geared the right way. This sport can save lives; it’s saved mine. I’d be dead without it. But the older generation -- they left themselves in the gym or ring and now what are they?

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