Erasing Shamrock from the UFC History Books

By Jason Probst Jul 11, 2009
With an over-the-top buildup leading into UFC 100, Zuffa’s promotional effort for Saturday’s card left virtually no stone unturned, including a countdown that recapped the greatest 100 UFC fights as voted on by fans.

That is, the greatest fights except those involving Frank Shamrock.

The UFC’s first middleweight champ and arguably its biggest star in the late 90s, Shamrock never lost a fight in the Octagon. However, the UFC excluded all of his bouts from fan voting -- even his epic scrap against Tito Ortiz in September 1999 at UFC 22.

In short, Shamrock-Ortiz was one of the UFC’s earliest title bouts that felt like a top championship boxing match, given the buildup and drama that made Shamrock’s fourth-round TKO his finest -- and final -- performance in the Octagon. Giving up more than 20 pounds after the weigh-in, Shamrock calmly and tactically dissected Ortiz in what stands as a masterpiece of strategy, along with a heady dose of down-and-dirty know-how.

Sadly, the bout won’t be featured on the UFC’s countdown that has been airing on Spike TV.

“I thought it was a pivotal fight (in MMA),” Shamrock told Sherdog.com. “Physically and mentally, it was a pivotal fight in the history of the sport itself. It’s obviously pretty ridiculous and childish they left it out. That’s obvious. I was the first-ever champion, and Tito was the first guy in a weight class to work his way up. In my opinion, it was the first real legitimate build-up to a championship fight. It was a real story.”

Shamrock doesn’t get along with Dana White and UFC brass. Nor does Ortiz, another former UFC champion, whose losses only -- not wins -- were made eligible to be voted on by fans.

Given the good the UFC has done -- from pushing MMA into the mainstream spotlight to contributing to positive causes such as last December’s Spike TV card that raised funds for soldiers dealing with Traumatic Brain Injury -- such treatment of fighters seems overtly bush-league.

Zuffa, the UFC’s parent company, has skirted the potholes that derailed a half-dozen competing promotions in the past three years. The company has carefully built the UFC brand and scrupulously polished its image to become a mainstream attraction with a revenue upside that is seemingly limitless given its talent base.

But rumblings inside the industry, along with observations by assorted Zuffa watchers, suggest power moves underway that will significantly alter the considerable sums of money the UFC generates.

Stephen Martinez/Sherdog.com

Shamrock and Dana White
have long been at odds.
As reported by multiple sites recently, the UFC has begun making sponsors -- whose guerrilla marketing through fighter gear and banners is a big source of dough for athletes -- pay a fee to the promotion, reportedly up to $100,000, to sponsor (and advertise on) fighters. White acknowledged Friday on CNBC that the UFC has implemented such a policy, though he didn’t say how much money his company is requiring from sponsors.

For years fighters have secured individual deals with sponsors through agents and managers. Those criticizing the new policy have suggested that fighters will lose sponsors who can’t pay the fee and, by losing sponsors, will lose money. To wit, all is not well in UFC-ville amidst the rank and file who comprise its citizenry, but the tourists keep coming in bigger numbers then ever, blissfully unaware for the most part.

“I think it’s terrible,” said Shamrock of the sponsorship fee. “It would be different if (the UFC was) on network television and the network, say, ABC, said, ‘Hey, you can’t have a Condom Depot ad on your trunks,’ but the UFC is not on ABC. They’re going to be putting that money in their own pocket.”

Shamrock added that if the UFC is tightening up sponsorship requirements with the fee-based policy, it could push athletes to other promotions.

“It will attract fighters to Strikeforce,” said Shamrock, who is currently under contract with the promotion himself. “When I go in and fight, endorsements are 30 percent of my purse, and I make a good purse. When you’re working your way up, that’s your house payment. I know what the UFC is doing. They’re trying to change their business model midstream, and that’s hard to do. But do you really need 100K so someone can put a logo on (a fighter’s) shorts?”

To the UFC’s credit, the organization did make a hugely needed change a few years ago when it quashed the problem of fighters thanking sponsors during post-match interviews. A tradition begun by Ortiz, it quickly mushroomed into an embarrassing sideshow as fighters would thank an ever-expanding list, instead of discussing the match that just transpired. Critics of the move howled that sponsor thank-yous would dry up funds, and were savagely incorrect, and the sport seems a lot more professional now that Joe Rogan can interview fighters about fights instead of having the fans get bombarded with nettlesome sponsor thank-yous.

But the latest move could in fact reduce fighter compensation and also thin the long-expanding ranks of agents, managers and middlemen. For now, though, the UFC’s market dominance figures to only rise after this weekend’s stacked UFC 100 card.

Shamrock’s UFC 100 Picks

Shamrock hopes to return to Strikeforce in December and fight one of the fighters he sees as emerging stars in the organization, such as Jake Shields or Robbie Lawler. In the meantime, here are his picks for UFC 100:

Dan Henderson vs. Michael Bisping
“I think Bisping is tougher than we all think he is, but Dan’s the guy to test that. Dan literally is the toughest, most rugged person I’ve ever met. Every moment he goes as hard as he can. That’s Dan. I think Bisping might be bigger and stronger, but I pick Dan.”

Georges St. Pierre vs. Thiago Alves
“I like St. Pierre. I just think he’s a more complete martial artist, in every area, mentally and physically. Plus, he’s in his prime right now.”

Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir
“I like Brock. I look at the sport from afar, because I don’t really watch fights. Brock, to me, looks like a guy who’s just incredibly serious and focused. He’s not there to hang out and get chicks. He’s there to smash people.”
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