Although he’s approaching 60 years of age, Ken Shamrock still looks like he can live up to his “World’s Most Dangerous Man” moniker for a few rounds. But as he approaches the October 27 Valor Bare Knuckle event as a promoter and not a participant, he makes it clear that he is not getting the itch for a comeback.
“Well, I scratched it and I scratched it real well until I got a rash because I stayed in it too long,” Shamrock laughs. “I think I fought longer than anybody. I fought my last fight at 52. And I always tell people when they start telling people you should retire, don't retire until you are ready to retire because then you're going to come back. I don't have to come back because I know I gave everything, every single drop of what I had, even to a point to where I had a losing record at the end of my career, but I scratched the itch, and I don't have that itch anymore.”
For reference, Shamrock was competing in Japan’s Pancrase promotion back in 1993 before he made history by fighting on the first UFC card later that year. What followed was a hall of fame career in the Octagon, fights in the PRIDE promotion, and a run in the WWE before he ended his MMA career with a pair of bouts against Kimbo Slice and old UFC rival Royce Gracie in 2015-16. The closing years weren’t pretty, but few fighters have neat and tidy endings. That shouldn’t affect the legacy of the man, and now that he’s hung the gloves up, he’s providing a platform for a new generation – not in MMA, not in traditional boxing, but in bare knuckle.
“It goes back to the beginning of when I first started in Pancrase,” said Shamrock. “It was basically open hand striking. They didn't use bare knuckle, and I always felt like when I got into the UFC and it was bare knuckle, that was the purest form of fighting from what I've experienced to that time. Then when they started putting gloves on guys, they wanted to try to make it safer, which I understood. And then six months into it, I realized they were worried about guys not being able to come out for the next fight in the tournament style.”
Shamrock adjusted to the rules, but there was still a desire to see fighting without gloves, without barriers like ropes or a cage, and while he never got the chance to compete in such a forum, now he has the platform to let others test themselves.
“I felt if I had the opportunity, which I do now, to be able to bring back that pureness of fighting, I would. And I think that as time goes, we'll start seeing the elevation of bare knuckle because the outcome of the fights are exciting and they're vast, but also because the safety of it.”
The Valor BK promotion put on one show in 2019, featuring former boxing world champion Ishe Smith and ex-UFC fighters Lavar Johnson, Mark Godbeer and Rameau Sokoudjou, but the COVID-19 pandemic ground momentum to a halt. Now the promotion is back, with the Jacksonville, Florida show reintroducing the Bout Circle (an open space with no ropes or a cage) and fights where the action is truly conducted with bare knuckles.
“We wanted to be different, but in the world we live in with TikTok and Facebook and all these 60-second clips, everybody wants that action,” he said. “The NFL has changed their rules so there's more scoring and more excitement on the field; baseball, too. So sports are starting to understand what the fan base wants and they need that action now. And so when I did this, I also took from those things that I was seeing going on in other sports and thought fighting has got to do that. I'm watching the fights and they're starting to go long and they're still good fights, don't get me wrong, but I think that with the attention span of most of the people in the world today because of the way TikTok and all these other things are coming out so fast, they want it now, so you may have to change the rules, which is what we did to make fighters engage more.”
And when Ken Shamrock talks, fighters listen. So when he’s on the other side of the phone trying to sign someone, there’s an added weight to that conversation since he’s been there and done that in the game before many up and comers were even born.
“You have a different kind of respect for that league because they've experienced what you've experienced,” Shamrock said. “I have that ability to be able to understand where they're coming from, know what they're feeling, know what they're thinking, and be able to come to a resolution. And I think even with the beginning stages where we're at right now with getting some of these young fighters to come in and really talk to them about how I started and how I was following this dream. And the focus shouldn't be on certain things. It should be on you working hard, getting yourself in position to win. Other things will come, but really, it's about you being in position to be great.”
In his career as a fighter and pro wrestler, Shamrock earned that “great” designation. Now in his next chapter, the competitive nature is still there – not to throw hands, but to make sure the fans get the fights he would have wanted to be in.
“In my head, I think this is what I would want as a fighter,” he said. “I would want to make sure that when I go into fight that that's what the other guy is going to do. And some of the things in there, like the clinch, it's mind boggling. That's a cheat code. Mike Tyson messed his career up because they allowed guys to throw a one-two and then grab him so he couldn't counter. And I thought, let's change some of these rule sets. Let's make sure that the fans are getting what they want visually, but also action wise, and the fighters that are true fighters are going in there knowing that they're going to fight.”