In 1997 Frank Shamrock relocated to Sunnyvale, California, and essentially created the now thriving mixed martial arts scene in the San Jose area. That's what happened in those days when a world class fighter moved into your town - others followed, interest was piqued, and satellites orbited around every great fighter.
Shamrock had left his adopted brother Ken's famous Lion's Den after hard words were exchanged and a computer monitor flew through the air. That's a story for another place. Frank was an alpha dog. So was Ken. It was a parting that needed to happen for both men to thrive. Shamrock was a former King of Pancrase. Within months he added a UFC title to his collection. San Jose, suddenly, was on the MMA map.
In his new home, Shamrock found the American Kickboxing Academy and kickboxing star Javier Mendez. Javier had dipped his toes into the waters of MMA already, getting fighter Brian Johnston a shot in the Octagon. It's there he met Frank Shamrock who asked if he could use Mendez's gym to train. There was an instant connection.
Soon Frank, who had already started adapting the kickboxing techniques of Maurice Smith into his repertoire, was asking Mendez for pointers and teaching Mendez's students the submission game. It was a partnership that worked.
"Frank never lost a fight with me in his corner," Mendez told me at a Strikeforce Challengers event. "Frank was becoming one of the first well rounded mixed martial artists. Soon we had B.J. Penn and his whole team at the gym, hoping we could do for him what we had done for Frank. 'Crazy' Bob (Cook, now Mendez's partner at AKA) was one of Frank's fighters. He had a bad eye and I told him to retire and help me train the guys at the gym. He became an important part of the training."
Shamrock came with his share of baggage. At the Lion's Den, fighters were groomed in a brutal style by an unyielding task master. When you fought for Ken Shamrock, you took lumps. Beatings were administered routinely, chokes held until the victim passed into unconsciousness. It took time to learn what it takes to be a fighter - and until you did, you were on the bottom of the totem pole. For Frank, it was a learning experience.
"It was like that for months. Because I didn't really know anything. Everybody was a tough guy and I was a young kid. It was tough. It was wild. I'm surprised I made it, because it wasn't a welcoming atmosphere where they wanted you to be successful," Shamrock said with a laugh. "Ken was the king of the cavemen and we were all underneath him. We learned that way."
Some of that mentality came over with Shamrock to San Jose, that hard Japanese style of training, the kind Ken had learned from Masakatsu Funaki in Pancrase, and that Frank carried in his DNA. It was important, Frank thought, to make sure his fighters were battle-tested and cage tough before they ever had a fight.
One of the young fighters training with Shamrock and Mendez at AKA was Mike Swick. A Texan who would go on to some level of fame and fortune after an appearance on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, Swick was often a victim of Shamrock's brand of tough love. When Shamrock started an anti-bullying campaign, Swick exploded on twitter.
"That’s ironic considering he was the biggest bully at our gym until we had to split him from our team," Swick wrote. "I can’t even list the fighters on the team that were injured and hurt by him and that he passed out in chokes even after they tapped. This is like making the drug dealer a cop so he can help them get more drug dealers."
Shamrock responded in kind:
Mik swick callying me a bully is lame. I used to whoop his butt for sure cuzz he wanted to be a champ. Always respect and love 4 him. Guess swick forgot how I used to write his fan mail bak when he in the military. Or how I bled for him and trained him personally. @officialswick sorry Mike if i hurt your feelings. i was making you a man and a champion, as you requested.
From there the issue faded away. Shamrock had retired, his body breaking down from years of fighting and training; Swick battled injury issues of his own, becoming the forgotten man at AKA, sidelined since February 2010. Last night it returned with a vengeance.
When asked what fight might bring him out of retirement, Shamrock responded with Dana White's name. The two men have long been political rivals in MMA. When White and Zuffa first took over the UFC, they called Shamrock in for a meeting. He laid out his ideas for growing the sport and the company. They ignored most of them and struggled at the box office for years, although it's likely any approach would have failed until reality television came to the rescue in the form of The Ultimate Fighter.
Shamrock was persona non grata with Zuffa. Things got so bad that Mendez and Cook changed the name of their fight team from Shamrock Submission Fighting to the American Kickboxing Academy. "Frank had issues with some people in the business," Mendez explained. "It was easier to get our guys fights that way."
Shamrock, in turn, signed with Strikeforce and put his ideas on display. Using social media and plenty of trash talk, Shamrock built huge fights with Cesar Gracie, Phil Baroni, and Nick Diaz. His is the template the UFC seems to be using to build their own grudge matches. Once again, Frank Shamrock had been ahead of his time.
Of course, this new common ground hasn't made the two men like each other. White has essentially erased Shamrock, a UFC legend, from the company's history. Shamrock has never been shy with his criticisms - and now with his grandstand challenges. White, wisely, wanted no part of a fist fight with one of the sport's greats. But he did throw Swick's name out there as a possible challenge for the retired former champion.
@frankshamrock swick has been beggin me to put a beatin on u. He thinks its a joke u do anti bully shit, says he never met bigr bully then u
Whether this is promotion for a fight between the two men is anyone's guess. It's the kind of organic approach Shamrock likes to take, and the fight would be a barn burner. He explained his philosophy last year in a Bloody Elbow Community interview.
"I just think we're the entertainment business. And our entertainment is sport. And until we make it a real sport and everything is on the table, we're in the business of sports entertainment," Shamrock said. "So, whatever is bringing in ratings and putting butts in the seats and keeping MMA going - we need to be doing it."