The Tao of Frank Shamrock

By Jake Rossen Jun 26, 2007
Leading into last Friday's showdown with a bloviating Phil Baroni (Pictures), Frank Shamrock (Pictures) made it known to everyone that he was the predetermined victor based on his prowess as a Martial Artist, rattling off a laundry list of Budo talking points that seemed more suited for an Art of War lecture than a cage fight.

While Shamrock's existentialism has always made for a good quote, many were convinced that a seven-year layoff from elite opposition would be grim preamble for a depressing performance.

Pedro Rizzo (Pictures) took two years off, and the formerly durable heavyweight was quickly knocked out in consecutive bouts; Pat Miletich (Pictures) strayed for nearly five years, and was choked out by Renzo Gracie (Pictures); the less said about Mike Tyson's post-prison career, the better.

There's no substitute in the gym, not even with world-class training partners, for the kinetic and awkward reality of the ring. The crowd, the cameras, the attention, and your opponent being compensated for shattering your face can't be replicated.

That's why Baroni was the favorite heading into their manufactured grudge match. Despite an uneven record, the fighter had been in the gauntlet, mixing it up with highly credible athletes on a routine schedule. He's a heavy hitter, a good wrestler, and fresh off a series of dominating performances in Japan.

Ominously, Shamrock's last substantial win was against Tito Ortiz (Pictures) in 1999 -- President Clinton was still in office and Beverly Hills, 90210 was still on the air, for God's sake. Cornermen should've been sweeping dust and cobwebs off of him before the referee's inspection. Even commentator Jay Glazer's last minute reveal that Shamrock had torn his ACL and MCL seemed like a pre-digested excuse for pending mediocrity.

But incredibly, inexplicably, Shamrock showed virtually no sign of the rust that seemed guaranteed to plague him. He waded directly into the pocket of Baroni's ham-fisted assault, getting the better of him with a barrage of combinations, kicks, and knees, proving his assertion that he was the better technical athlete. Countering Baroni's boast that he wouldn't dare trade, Shamrock dropped him and nearly ended the fight in the first.

There was the gimmickry (Shamrock miming the hand gesture for "naptime" and pointing to Baroni), and then the choke, after which the victor kicked Baroni's unconscious frame off of him with a mixture of contempt and boredom.

It was the kind of dynamic, gutsy performance that made Shamrock's name in the last century a proprietary blend of skill and bravado that the sport rarely sees.

For fans, it was a bittersweet sight: they welcomed the return of "old Frank" -- an incarnation that apparently broke free of the ether world that's nabbed "old Vitor" and "old Tank" -- but they couldn't help but feel morose at the thought that they missed seven years of similar displays.

Taking into account the limited audience of the fledging EliteXC and Strikefroce, there is some degree of irony in Shamrock's claimed reason for his premature exit, that he was operating in a vacuum where his skills were unappreciated both financially and historically.

Undoubtedly, Showtime, Gary Shaw or Scott Coker are able to write in more zeroes than SEG's overdrawn resources ever could. But it remains a puzzlement that two men who could clearly enrich one another's interests -- Shamrock and Dana White -- instead choose to exchange adolescent potshots.

Shamrock's opportunities in Elite or Strikeforce are more cinematic in nature than anything that will compel people to buy into his legacy. A match with fellow San Jose attraction Cung Le (Pictures) will sell-out any venue in the area, but Shamrock's submission acumen will make Le look like a child; a rematch with Renzo Gracie (Pictures) seems necessary, but rote and predictable; the less said about the idea of fighting his rapidly aging adoptive brother Ken Shamrock (Pictures), the better.

Shamrock couldn't care less, obviously.

If he wanted to contest the best at his weight, he'd be in the UFC or seek out fights with rogue fighters like Matt Lindland (Pictures). Instead, he seems hellbent on taking the "i" out of deifying the abrasive UFC chair, using his stature to boost the profile of the competition.

As has been repeated ad nauseum in this space, overcoming the UFC's brand awareness is nearly impossible. Casual fans have a finite budget for combat entertainment, and they'll almost always go with the proven commodity over the upstart, even if the latter provides a more compelling show. Shamrock is getting wealthier, but not as wealthy as if he were in the Ultimate. He's getting attention, but not the kind offered by endless basic cable barker shows.

I'm still unable to discern whether his refusal to deal with the UFC is ego, or something more noble. That promotion's business practices are alternately celebrated and vilified, with some stars making millions and others making pennies, despite a seeming surplus of profit to correct the disparity.

Shamrock the Martial Artist claims it's an insult to the athlete. But are Elite and Strikeforce really doing anything differently, other than allowing him to cherry-pick his opposition?

With a mutilated ACL that could take over a year to rectify, Shamrock has plenty of time to weigh his options. After a few more showcase performances, it wouldn't shock me to see both Shamrock and White see the financial sense in having the Elite champion face the UFC titleholder, particularly if Shamrock can use the press to perpetuate the idea that he's the man to beat in the division.

Post-fight, Shamrock was bluntly articulate in his self-assessment, stating plainly that he has no interest in competing against anyone who can't sell tickets or t-shirts. That would seem to remove middleweights like Lindland and Murilo Rua (Pictures) from the equation.

Challenged in the ring or not, there's a quality of character in the self-professed "old dog" that elevates the sport. When Shamrock talks about honor and integrity and a love for athleticism, it sounds convincing.

In a sea of athletes who seem cut from the same biker-gang movie-extra cloth, that comparative squareness is a proper balance. His samurai spirit is intact.

But would Sun Tzu advocate taking the path of least resistance?

For comments, email [email protected]
<h2>Fight Finder</h2>