Frank Shamrock – Uncaged: My life as a MMA Fighter

“I believe that there is a champion in all of us. No matter the circumstances, each and every human being should be encouraged to achieve excellence in life. You should live your own dreams.”

Frank Shamrock – Uncaged: My life as a champion MMA Fighter – Get The New Book On Amazon

frank shamrock mma

Frank Shamrock. Image Credit

The mind, spirit, and drive of a champion are something that comes from within and cannot be stifled or controlled by others. No matter how significant the adversities or obstacles may appear, such individuals always seem to find a way to rise up and accomplish what was thought to be unattainable and unimaginable. Such individuals are heroes; serving as inspiration for others and showing us what the human spirit is capable of achieving, no matter how aggressively the odds are stacked against you. The larger the mountain of adversity a protagonist must climb the more inspiring their story becomes…. and no story can be more inspiring than that of Frank Shamrock.

Becoming a ward of the state at the age of 11 years old, Frank decided that a life on his own was better than that of a life consisting of neglect and cruelty. By the time he was 18 years old, Frank already suffered physical, mental, and sexual abuse. Spending his years being bounced around from one juvenile detention center to the next, Frank had experimented with and used all types of drugs, fathered a child, and was about to be sentenced to prison.

For the first 18 years of his life, Frank Shamrock suffered and lived the life that many may have expected from a person dealt his hand. Furthermore, once he was incarcerated, the pattern appeared clear with Frank’s bleak criminal future seeming an almost certainty. But, looks can be deceiving and stories are not always as predictable as they may seem. While in prison Frank Shamrock began to undergo a metamorphosis both physically and mentally and upon his release the hero’s journey would began.

Prior to prison, Frank spent time on the Shamrock Boys Ranch. This was a safe haven for troubled boys owned and operated by Bob Shamrock. Bob would serve as Frank’s first father figure, eventually adopting him as his son.

Upon his release from prison, Frank took Bob’s advice and went to train with and under the tutelage of his adopted brother Ken Shamrock at his gym, the Lion’s Den. During those 9 months, Frank worked and built the foundations of skills and discipline that would eventually equip him to become one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time.

For a decade between the mid-90’s and mid-2000’s, Frank Shamrock engaged in some of the most epic battles in MMA history and was arguably the greatest pound for pound fighter the world had ever seen. Shamrock’s astonishing journey through the world of mixed material arts began when the then unknown travelled across the world to fight in the Japanese Pancrase Organization.

Shamrock became the first Middleweight Champion of the UFC (later to be renamed the Light Heavyweight Championship) with his shocking record setting victory over heavily favored and undefeated Kevin Jackson. During his reign as UFC Champion, Shamrock was ranked the Number 1 pound for pound MMA fighter in the world, as he successfully defended his title 4 times, never relinquishing the title in a match. His most epic title defense came on September 24, 1999 at UFC 22 when he defeated the much larger Tito Ortiz. Many consider this to be one of the greatest fights in the UFC’s history as Shamrock defeated Ortiz late in the fourth round with a sequence of vicious elbows and punches.

Shamrock would go on to win numerous titles in other organizations including, WEC Light Heavyweight Championship, and Strikeforce Middleweight Championship.  Today Frank Shamrock is a successful business man, actor, coach, author, and entrepreneur. He is a man who has grown into a mentor for others as he gives his time and energy to advising and coaching others.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Frank and to discuss his current life and epic journey.
frank shamrock quote


SP- First off, I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed reading your book. Is the making of the movie still in the works?

Frank –Yeah, still working on the movie. So far it has been turned into the Bio-doc on Spike, Bound By Blood. We are pursuing making a feature film for it as well.

SP- Who is going to play you?

Frank- I got a young kid who looks like me 20 years ago. So my plan is to train him and have him go on the journey.

SP- So he will learn to fight?

Frank- He’s already a Martial Artist who has lots of other artistic talents such as break dancing and performance art.

SP – That sounds great. I wanted to talk with you today about a number of things but I will try to keep it brief because I know you are busy. One of the things I really wanted to discuss with you was your mental strength and your ability to overcome tremendous amounts of adversity, both in and out of the cage. What do you attribute that to?

Frank- I think for me it was that I didn’t like being poor. I could feel there was a difference being on welfare, waiting in line for cheese, and just being a different social status. As soon as I became conscious of that I began looking for ways to change it. And that was always a driving force, because I didn’t like the feeling of being hungry.

SP- When did you become conscious of this?

Frank – It was around 13 or 14 which was the first time that I really got stable. I was at the Shamrock Boys Ranch at the time and I had a real father figure and a pretty stable family of sorts in the group home. This was the first time I had a community, guidance, and rules. That was when I first began to realize there is a better way and that I could do it. That was kind of my moment.

SP- Throughout your career and life what was the biggest mental obstacle that you had to overcome?

Frank – Mental? Just fears, general fears.

SP- Fear of what? Fear of being a failure, fear of losing a fight? 

Frank- Yeah of being in a fight, of losing, of hurting somebody, just all the general kind of human fears. I spent a lot of time alone reading so I had a very healthy imagination, and I still do. But it made the fears very real. I was always very scared to fight and figured that it was crazy that you would escalate a human confrontation into violence. So I struggled with that for a long time, the idea of hurting people, and it being OK. That was always odd.

SP – What was the biggest physical obstacle which you had to overcome?

Frank – My back. When I was 16 my right leg went numb when I was playing basketball. I went to the doctor and he said I had scoliosis and at some point I had broken my spine. He explained to me that I would have to have surgery and cage my spine for a year. The doctor started laying all this stuff out. He told me that I was never going to be able to participate in contact sports again. I told him of my dreams of becoming a World Champion and he just responded that that was never going to work out. At the time I was living in a group home, so I went home and told my group home Dad what the doctor had said. He thought the Doctor was crazy. So he took me to a chiropractor. The chiropractor confirmed everything, but said it can be managed if I kept my core strong and worked specific muscles. So my greatest physical obstacle has always been this ticking time bomb with the deterioration of my lower back.

SP – That takes a certain level of strength for a 16 year old to go against a doctor’s orders.

Frank – I think by then I had my dreams laid out. And I just had to find a way to get behind them.

SP- Your first day of the Lion’s Den when you had to endure server physical punishment as some sort of test, what kept you from quitting that day?

Frank – Well I kind of considered myself a tough guy at the time. I had been through a lot and just come out of prison. I had fought quite a few people and figured I knew how to fight. At this point I had never really lost a fight; nobody had ever beaten me up or beaten me down for that matter. I just had a lot of confidence going into it. So when I went into the Lion’s Den I just never wanted to quit.  And it was my shot to be a combat sport athlete and a champion, so I just kept going. It was probably the worst thing that has ever happened to me physically.

SP – Nothing went through your mind, while getting beaten on like maybe, “This is insane, what am I doing?”

Frank – I was living in desperation, living in survival mode. So I was kind of use to that, fighting for my life. But it did seem extreme. It seemed like physical abuse and a whole other level of weirdness, but I made it through somehow.

Frank Shamrock

A True Champion. Image Credit:

SP- You had just mentioned being incarcerated. It must have been strange for you when you headed over to Japan to fight just 9 months after your release. You go from being treated like a prisoner to being revered and loved. Was that a weird thing to have to get your mind around?

Frank – Totally. Beyond weird. I grew up very closed in and was a product of physical abuse. So I was all closed up. Then in prison you put on this tough guy image and walk around with it and have to hold it up all the time and defend it. So it was like a 180. I was training in Japan while still on parole just 9 months after being released from Folsom. I was living in a Japanese Dojo training, so yeah it was strange, it was other worldly.

SP – In your book you mention that when you moved to Japan that the other fighters weren’t really sure how to treat you. They have a sort of a ranking system and they weren’t sure where you fit in. It sounded as if you were kind of the odd man out in that situation.

Frank – Yeah, it seemed as if everyone was waiting for me to do something. It was kind of a strange position to be in. Because I hadn’t fought, I was really still a young boy, and I was sort of the brother to Ken. Yeah it was odd, but I just trained like everyone else and just kind of jumped in line.

SP- It’s kind of insane when you think about it. You were all of a sudden in this different culture, different world, with no sort of experience to feed off of and no prep or information on what to expect. The only commonality being the training, was it difficult to adjust? 

Frank- Yeah, it’s very odd when you look back at it. But I do remember in the moment just being astounded by the similarities. In prison by the time I paroled, I had been studying body building for 5 or 6 years.  I was training a group of like 8 people and they were training a small group of people. I had been hired by the fire crew to teach conditioning to the inmates who would go out to fight the fires. I was running like 500 to a 1,000 group crews in conditioning and exercise. But I already had this conditioning within me; my Dad had taught me how important it was to build up my body. So I was just struck by the similarities in Japan. While in the Dojo we were cleaning mats together, we are working out as a group, eating as a group, and interacting in similar ways. It was just a weird time, but all my childhood was like that from 11 on. I was a ward of the state so I moved from group home to group foster home, all the way up to the camps. So it wasn’t that different being in Japan compared to when I was in the Lion’s Den because there we also all trained in the house, ate together and worked out together. The biggest difference was that no one spoke English and it was very much ritualized. It was like a well oiled machine.

SP – What struck me reading your book is even though you spent a lot of time surrounded by others in camps or homes you also had to spend a lot of time on your own. Is that accurate?

Frank- Yeah, yeah. It’s been this way most of my life, having a lot of alone time, and a lot of personal reflection time.

SP – You like that?

Frank – I enjoy it. I feel compressed when I don’t get it. I perform really well when things are chilled out.

SP- Looking back at your career what is the moment which you are most proud of?

Frank – I say my first fight with Bas Rutten. Because no one thought I had a shot, no one knew who I was or what I was doing there. When they told me who I was fighting people felt bad for me. So beating him really opened the door. It’s between that fight and the fight with Kevin Jackson in the first UFC title match when I set the record with a 14 second victory. That was interesting because I actually dreamt that one. I was so deep in study, documenting everything, figuring things out for the first time. I was a nerd in superman a body.

SP- Do you do a lot of visualization? 

Frank – I do so much insane visualization that I have taken it into my dreams. I do dream control and dream awareness where I can look at things from different angles. That’s how I beat Kevin Jackson. I was having a lucid dream and was looking at the technique and I saw a huge hole. When I awoke and told everyone they thought I was crazy. But I was able to repeat it in practice, show everyone, and to explain the theory that hadn’t existed yet. So yeah, visualization has been key for me for years.

SP – Being so cerebral, and having such a coaches mind, do you enjoy coaching others?

Frank- I do really enjoy it. I have evolved as a coach through the years. I went from strength and conditioning, into a martial arts instructor, to team coach, and now I am doing executive coaching. It really is the mind set in the machine and the structure that you put into place. If you have a willing participant who is a passionate person, often times all they need is the structures and systems set up and they can be ultra successful.

SP – What was your biggest disappointment as a fighter?

Frank – I would have liked to have come along 10 years later and made millions of dollars. That would have been nice. (laughing) So that’s kind of a bummer. I also would have loved to have fought Ken when we were both younger and more athletically inclined to do so.

SP- You mentioned the money that has come with the evolution of the sport. Do you think the younger fighters of today appreciate the past fighters who have paved the way for them?

Frank – Everybody is very polite to me. But I do think the culture changed a little bit with the UFC. They brought in a different culture and spent some time scrubbing out the old. The older group was a quality brand back then, real industry builders.

SP – What about the fans? Do they appreciate your work?

Frank – My daughter always asks me, “Dad how come all these people know you, and why do they always want to talk with you”?(laughing) So I try to explain to her that I was a great fighter but she just looks at me like, “Sure you were Dad”. To her I am just Dad, the guy that drops her off at school. So that is kind of funny. The good part is all the fans, the people who come up to me are always so respectful and so nice. They are real solid people.

SP – Is it difficult, because of your background, growing up abused and neglected to accept praise?

Frank –Totally. It is something I have dealt with for years and years. And now when I feel uncomfortable with praise I just examine myself and think, “why I earth would I feel that way”? If my reaction is uneasiness, than there is usually something I am not taking care of in my spirit.

SP – What can be taken away from a win and what can be taken from a loss?

Frank – For me it is always huge learning experience when I lose. When I win, I still learn, but I always have been able to learn a lot more from a loss. If I lose, the first thing I would examine is why I lost. And usually it is something obvious. This applies both inside and outside of the cage. And that’s business, that’s being a Champion, that’s being a competitor. If you roll out a crap product you have to go fix it, if you roll out a crap fight then you need to fix it.

 SP – When you have experienced a loss, does self doubt ever begin to surface? Or are you able to just move on?

Frank – No, it creeps in. It creeps in like everybody. Everybody is feels exactly the same way, we all go through the same emotions. It is just what we do about the situation, about those feelings.

SP – I love this quote in your book; “You can learn a lot from watching a person’s reaction to adversity”. Can you elaborate on that? 

Frank – At your core your character is who you are. When pushed and pressed, if you have a solid character you stay strong and won’t fall apart. When you are working on your mind, body, and spirit and making your human being solid, none of that outside adversity bothers you. There is a level of confidence and wherewithal when you have yourself together. I can speak with someone and know from 2 minutes of conversation if they are together or not.

SP – Well I will tell you now that I am not together. I am pretty much a mess.

Frank – (laughs)

SP – So please don’t analyze me.

Frank – Well we all have this energy, this life force that exudes from us and goes through a few layers before it comes out. Whatever those layers are will dictate what will come out. That’s what you feel, that’s what you see, and that’s what you communicate. It’s what you choose in your words and actions.

SP – So you think this is something we should be constantly working on?

Frank – We should, otherwise we’re dying. This machine lasts only so long. Science has us living to around 84. I got myself planned out to a 100 years. I have to take my mind and spirit to where I want it in that amount of time.

SP – I know you did a lot of body building when you were young. While you were a fighter what did your weight training consist of?

Frank – I still maintained a body builder type workout up until my 30’s. Lifting would consist of 3 days a week, using medium to heavy weights. I did 3-4 exercises, body groove, push-pull, and I would always keep it changing. I needed to keep weight on my body, so lifted heavy and got extra meals in each day. I always looked at it like I had to put weight on the machine because I was usually 10-15 pounds too light for the weight class. When I first went to the Lion’s Den, I was taught to use high repetitions and high endurance conditioning. We did high rep squats, push-ups, sit-ups, and leg lifts. It worked great but it made me smaller. I always needed to get bigger because everybody was way bigger than me. My natural body weight is around 183 lbs.

SP – What was the biggest you ever got up to?

Frank – When I paroled from prison I was 204. And I was just massive. All did was lift weights for 3 ½ years.

SP – How was your mobility at that size?

Frank – It was good, I always stretched. I put on a lot of muscle and felt a little tight because of the muscle. But I was studying body building and I read about a French bodybuilder, Serge Nubert. He had the most amazing physique; the most beautiful and symmetrical build. And his secret was that he stretched between every set. So he would do a set and then he would just completely elongate and relax and stretch everything out. Then he would go back and pump it up again and then repeat. He described the muscle like balloons, you sculpt them the way you like, you stretch them, feed them, and take care of them. To me it just made sense and was so disturbingly simple. So I followed that practice, and still do today if I do any body building or body shaping.

SP – I have heard that today you do mostly hiking, is that true?

Frank – Yeah for the most part.

SP – Do you still hit the weights?

Frank – Only if I have a movie role or something that requires it. I look at it like an interval training experience. Every few months I do a film or a TV show or something and I go in for like a month or so and go workout. That has been my strategy for a while.

SP – Does it comeback pretty quickly.

Frank – It comes back but honestly I am losing muscle mass as I get older and I am just not maintaining it the same way. I have been in the gym for 25 years so I get tired of it.

SP – What has Martial Art taught you?

Frank – It has given me that fabric on how to live and how to give back to society in a positive way. It has pretty much given me everything. It has been one of the biggest catalysts to my emotional development and healing from my childhood.

SP – Do you have a favorite Martial Artist?

Frank – I think Bruce Lee was my favorite. Where he was going and what he stood for is the essence of Martial Arts. The human body has been doing this for thousands of years and expresses itself in certain ways once you start grabbing on each other.  I was in the gym and I would create a move and then we traveled to Russia I would meet a guy, we didn’t speak the same language and would be creating the exact same moves.

SP – What do you think of the MMA today?

Frank – I feel both good and bad.

SP – Do you feel the UFC is good for Martial Arts?

Frank – I think it is good that it is expanding the presence of Martial Arts and combat sports. And that at the end of the day is also my mission. I can’t begrudge them for their business tactics. That is their choice, the reason I didn’t sign on with them was I didn’t agree with their business tactics. What they told me they were going to do, they did something else. That something else was a detriment to the sport and to the talent. And when that happens I have to say something because that’s the right thing to do.

SP – Do you have a relationship with Dana White today?

Frank – No. We don’t really talk. I’m not really in the sport. Every once in a while I will be hired to consult a business or brand, but I am mainly in other industries right now.

SP- Do you miss it at all?

Frank – No, I had 16 years of it and I had my fill. A few people have asked me to run their company but it just doesn’t excite me anymore. It’s not what I want to do. I want to help people with Martial Arts. I want people to use my knowledge to help them whether it is in Martial Arts, business, or life. That’s the direction I want to go. I don’t want to look after a bunch of guys beating the heck out of each other.

SP – If you had been anything else besides a fighter, what would career would you have chosen?

Frank – I think I would have been some type of physical therapist, or something along the lines of focusing in on the mechanics and healing of the body.

SP – How does your body feel? Are you beat up from the sport?

Frank – I feel good now, but when I first retired I felt old and jacked up. But I took care of my body. I think it is a combination of learning the sport the hard way, (because someone had to create it), the toughness of the sport, and my deteriorating back. But it took about 3 years to feel good. I hiked during that time, stretched, and had some physical therapy done. But now I feel great. I just can’t floor it but most 42 year olds can’t floor it anymore.

SP- You inspired a lot of others, who inspires you?

Frank – I always liked Chuck Norris, and I always admired Muhammad Ali. I have always been fired up by people that are bigger than life and who have clear morals, values, and beliefs. I also admire the healers, like a Tony Robbins and David Allen. They are people who are helping others to fix certain aspects and develop certain aspects of their lives. Technology and technological development also inspires me.

SP – Last question for you Frank, is there still a Shamrock-Gracie rivalry?

Frank – Um? I guess so. I am retired, but Ken is still going so I guess he can keep it alive. I think it is pretty much dead, I think we are two generations removed now. It is moving on and there is a new era of stories. But that was a good one.

SP – It was a good one. This has been great, thank you so much for taking the time today.

Frank – Ok thanks Sam. Have a good one.

Frank Shamrock – Uncaged: My life as a champion MMA Fighter – Get The New Book On Amazon

Frank Shamrock Documentary : Bound By Blood:

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