Stories From the Road: Frank Shamrock

The Legend

By Joseph Santoliquito Jul 3, 2016

It may be difficult to comprehend how that Frank Shamrock and this Frank Shamrock are one in the same. This Shamrock speaks in measured tones and with a philosophical reverence. That Shamrock would steal the socks off your feet if you were not watching. This version is immersed in charitable work, lives in the present and often peers at the future with a smile. That cocky, smart-ass kid carried the bluster of a carnival barker who felt impervious to everything, including the law -- which is why he was a petty thief, a shadow player weaving through the night staring at a future that seemed to be a dark hole.

Maybe it’s why Shamrock and older brother Ken Shamrock are so admirable. Maybe it’s because they are primarily self-made, with a wealth of guidance from the late Bob Shamrock, their adopted father.

“I was always in trouble; Ken and I both ended up being wards of the state and the Shamrock Group Home,” Shamrock said. “Ken got stabbed trying to rob somebody and ended up first in a hospital and then a jail. That’s how he became a ward of the state. I came from a trail of broken homes. I wound up in the state system and ended up at the Shamrock Boys Ranch. It is amazing where we both are today.

“I was a petty criminal,” he added. “I stole a lot of stuff in my past. I was dishonest about a great many things. It’s a time and stage of my life that I’m obviously not very proud of, but I also think it shows where you could be at one time in your life and what you can do when you get straightened out. I started young. I had my first felony when I was 11, so by the time I reached 18, I had 20-plus felonies; and in one year, I went from jail to fighting with legends in Japan.”

Soon, “The Legend” became a mixed martial arts legend himself.

Shamrock poses a strong argument to be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame, alongside his brother. He was the first Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight titleholder and retired as the four-time defending undefeated champion. He was the UFC’s pound-for-pound best in the late-1990s, and his numerous MMA championships included the Strikeforce middleweight belt, the interim King of Pancrase crown and the World Extreme Cagefighting light heavyweight title.

The man he is today is not the rambunctious, incorrigible child he once was. He’s 43 and does not harbor any notions of a comeback. He’s done his time in the cage -- and then some. “I have a better chance of being the president of our local PTA than I do coming back to fight again,” said Shamrock, who lives in Simi Valley, California, with his wife and 8-year-old daughter, devoting a great deal of time to his family’s charity, the Shamrock Way Organization ( Its mission is to protect at-risk youth. He is rebuilding the Shamrock Boys Ranch with his brother in honor of their late father.

“I look back at my story and I’m inspired that I’m still alive,” said Shamrock, whose 27-year-old son owns a home improvement company. “I think of my growth and development as a human being and how I was able to turn things around and use it positively in society. I’m very proud of that. In prison, I took psychology and business management classes. Everything I received was self-learned and sought out, but my core principles of living came from MMA training.”

His career began in the early 1990s Pancrase as part of the Lion’s Den troupe out of Dallas. The hodgepodge of talent included the Shamrocks, Guy Mezger, Vernon White, Jerry Bohlander, Tra Telligman, Pete Williams, Mikey Burnett and later good friend Bas Rutten. It was the start of a new life.

Left Alone in Lake Charles

Shamrock wasn’t supposed to beat Tito Ortiz at UFC 22 on Sept. 24, 1999 at the Lake Charles Civic Center in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Shamrock was the UFC middleweight champion going up against Ortiz, a rising star for whom former UFC owner Bob Meyrowitz had big plans. Ortiz had devoured Shamrock’s former Lion’s Den teammates Mezger and Bohlander -- by September 1999, he had left the Lion’s Den. Ortiz was four inches taller and had 25 pounds on Shamrock.

“I’ve always said it’s the most difficult fight I was ever in, because Tito was so much bigger than me,” Shamrock said. “My natural weight then was about 183 pounds. Tito was easily a weight class heavier. His natural body weight was around 215, and he was literally a head taller than me; and yeah, that night he was easily 30 pounds heavier. When you start stacking the punches and kicks, you feel the damage. Beating him was going to be a huge physical and technical feat.

“Tito was kind of like the new up-and-coming star and I was the older, mature star,” he added. “I finished my first contract with the UFC and I was a free agent. I fought a few times in Japan because I wanted to keep my value, and [the] UFC came back with a multi-fight contract where they wanted me to fight Tito. I saw it as a chance to exercise and renew this exit plan I had. I really fought Tito as a strategic move to move on to Hollywood and sort of a next level. Tito was also a friend of mine. I went back a ways with him. I knew he was a nice kid, but I knew for certain that I would beat him. Leading up to it, we were friends. We agreed that we wouldn’t be friends during the promotion, but we kept in contact through mutual friends. We went out for a last night of partying and then we didn’t talk for three months.”

Ortiz dominated much of the fight imposing his superior size on Shamrock. However, the sway of the fight began to change in the fourth round. Shamrock could hear Ortiz breathing heavy. He had an inkling that Ortiz’s size advantage could work against him if he was able to hold out for the first few rounds and wear down “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy.”

“In the fourth, I was on my back and I was going to roll through and kneebar him,” Shamrock said. “Tito didn’t bite. He was straddling and sitting back. I rolled through and ended up in a funny position, so I rolled again where we ended up with my head down and me on all fours, and he was above me on all fours. He dropped a real quick short knee that cut my head open [above the left eyebrow]. When you watch the fight, you’ll hear his corner say, ‘Try to gash his head; stick your fingers in [the cut].’ Tito was digging his hands and trying to pull my skin off my skull.

“I’m yelling at Tito, calling him a sick bastard and his corner is yelling, ‘Yeah, rip it!’ I think he was tired and desperate,” he added. “I think it’s what his corner told him to do; that’s why he did it. Tito was so big. I had to wait for him to get tired, so I kept moving. I remember the cut happening and the cool air. When you feel cool air on your skin, that tells you there is a hole somewhere. Tito got me down and I tried to get him in a guillotine choke. He blocked the choke, so I covered his mouth with my open hand and suffocated him. Tito lurched forward and I was standing above him, and I hit him with standing elbows in the back and side of his head. That’s when he tapped out. It was probably my biggest victory. It was my best moment in that I was able to capture what I wanted with my career.”

On top of the MMA world, proclaimed by Meyrowitz and announcer Jeff Blatnick as the greatest competitor in UFC history and having moved to 5-0 in championship fights, Shamrock within an hour went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. He was an exalted fighter about to enter a Twilight Zone episode.

“The cut wasn’t causing any problems for me during the fight,” Shamrock said. “There was a stinging pain, and it made me mentally conscious that I had to step it up a little if I was going to beat Tito. I won. ‘Big’ John McCarthy raised my hand, and they packed the cut. I did the post-fight interviews; I did a TV show. I have this huge cut on my head, and the blood is beginning to leak through the bandage. I had to get to a hospital.”

There was just one problem.

“Everyone left, and I mean everyone,” Shamrock said with a laugh. “I was wandering around the arena looking for the doctor, because I was the last fight. I didn’t shower. I wanted someone to sew me up first. The whole UFC staff bounced. Now, we’re talking about 1999. These were some lean times in the UFC. They didn’t have the facilities and the event staff that they have now. I had this hole in my head after defending the title, walking around with this bandage over my head. It was a good, deep gash. I came to the ring area thinking I could catch someone. It’s when I came across this fan. He says, ‘Hey, you’re Frank Shamrock!’ He asked me what I was doing. I told him I had to see a doctor. He literally drove me to the emergency room at the local hospital and dropped me off. The cut needed 11 stitches. The best part is the guy was a martial artist and ran his own martial arts school.

“The crazy thing is I ran into the same guy 20 years later at a Bellator show that I was broadcasting,” he added. “He introduced himself as the guy who drove me to the hospital that night. Sadly, I don’t even remember his name. I do know he has a bar in New Orleans, and we wound up hanging out at his bar after the Bellator show; but what happened after the Ortiz fight is certainly the strangest thing that ever happened to me in MMA. I went from being champion and having my hand raised to walking around wondering where everyone went.”

Rutten to the Rescue

Shamrock is a big fan of Biohazard. Before 1996, however, he had never been to a rock concert in his life. Shamrock had just defeated Katsuomi Inagaki at Pancrase “Eyes of Beast 1” on Jan. 26, 1995 in Nagoya, Japan. He made plans with Rutten to meet him at the Biohazard concert at a place called the Liquidroom, which holds about 2,000 people.

“Bas and I walked through a backdoor of the club and right onto the stage after our event,” Shamrock said. “We virtually walked on with the band and started partying like rock stars. Then everyone began diving off stage. All of the Japanese were doing it, but when Bas and I did it, everyone scattered and we had nowhere to land but the hard concrete floor. Oh yeah, we were drunk all right.

“Bas is one of the great people of MMA, and he certainly has one of the hardest heads,” he added. “A flying head butt from Bas Rutten is a terrible idea, but thank God Bas went first. He dove into the crowd and wound up head butting some guy and knocking him unconscious. The guy he hit went right out. Bas got up and actually had a big cut over his eye, because the collision was head-to-head. He had this giant one-inch gash over his head, bleeding over his eye and on to his cheekbone. Still, he’s out there bleeding in the crowd and motioning for me to jump. That’s Bas.”

Finish Reading » “He sent me dirty emails that had stuff in it like, ‘I’m going to strangle you like JonBenet Ramsey,’ because this was during that time period -- some real terrible stuff. I thought that crossed the line a little bit. It wasn’t anything personal, nothing like picking on my mom. It was John’s way of getting himself up and staying in the game. He ordered room service to my room at 4 a.m., calling my room in the middle of the night and hanging up, ordering sheets for me at 4 a.m. -- all kinds of stuff.”
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