Shamrock: Invincible, Invisible
Want a career in MMA? Go punch Tito Ortiz (Pictures) in the face.
Just ask Forrest
Griffin (Pictures), who saw his stock rise
considerably after a valiant near-win against the former UFC light
heavyweight champion; or Chuck
Liddell (Pictures), who colluded with Ortiz to set
pay-per-view records for MMA attractions; or Lee Murray (Pictures), a British thug who got slotted
in main events for dropping Ortiz in a raucous London brawl, Lenny
Even swinging and missing, as in the case of Ken Shamrock (Pictures), can lead to considerable
viewership. Fans never seem to tire of Ortiz's considerable
forehead being assaulted.
And so it stands to reason that Frank Shamrock (Pictures)'s bizarrely fascinating win over
Ortiz in 1999 -- at once boring and not boring, like a Fellini
movie -- should've been the beginning of a legendary career.
Instead, it was more or less the end of it.
Shamrock, dissatisfied with meager pay and uninspired by remaining
contenders, chose to semi-retire to a life of acting and teaching,
taking only the sporadic, pointless bout. Fights against Elvis Sinosic (Pictures) and Bryan Pardoe (Pictures) seemed more for his amusement
than the audience's. Fighting a 0-0 Cesar Gracie (Pictures) had him flirting with outright
It took a victory over Phil
Baroni (Pictures) in 2007 -- flashy, exciting and
violent -- for observers to realize that Shamrock's constant boasts
might not have been empty self-flagellation. He had always claimed
to be a digital fighter in an analog sport. People chuckled.
Looking at a lifeless Baroni in the ring, splayed out as if he had
just eaten the business end of a semi-truck, it didn't seem so
Is Shamrock as good as he thinks he is?
With a rotting ACL and 15 years' of abuse logged in the Lion's Den
and the Pancrase circuit, it's probably unadvisable to gamble his
body won't simply decide to retire in mid-fight. Despite a vaunted
cardio regimen, he hasn't seen a championship round in nearly 10
years. His wrestling, which he admits is rarely used to avoid being
taken down, is too lax for today's scoring criteria.
And yet Shamrock continues to stir interest, in large part because
his bravado has yet to be contested. He is the only fighter on
record who predicted a finish in mid-fight -- miming the "nappy
time" sign against Baroni -- and then more or less delivered on the
Shamrock's primary weapon is his intellect. He's a strategist
worthy of Patton, and his ability to make adjustments is second to
none. It's the same brain that told him not to become a cripple for
free sandwiches in the late 1990s and the same brain that
frustrates viewers looking for him to demolish a who's who of the
sport's top middleweights.
Saturday brings a fight with Cung
Le (Pictures), a dynamic standup artist with a
perfect 5-0 record in MMA and the odd anecdote about clocking
Shamrock in practice years ago. It's a fight that is guaranteed to
be explosive -- and guaranteed to leave questions about Shamrock
Whether he has interest in answering them is another matter.
It's unlikely Shamrock, the Strikeforce middleweight champion,
would have interest in following a promotional hierarchy. Yet a
fight against a ranked competitor, someone like EliteXC champion
(Pictures), could intrigue
There's still depressing talk about a fight with adoptive brother
Ken, which isn't nearly as interesting as Frank believes it to be.
At 45 and with a half-dozen losses in recent memory, a commission
would have to be feeling particularly sadistic to approve the elder
Shamrock's participation in another pounding.
Then there's Ortiz, who seems likely to become a free agent when he
fulfills the final fight on his UFC contract. When Frank defeated
Ortiz in the fall of '99, no one much cared: The sport was
struggling politically, and it was a minor miracle to be hosted in
an arena without livestock. Today, a rematch would likely be seen
in millions of homes on CBS, achieving a goal of network exposure
that Shamrock recited to journalists in 2005.
The fight with the elder Shamrock, worthless; a fight with Ortiz,
interesting; with Lawler, worthwhile.
All of them are seat-warmers for what would be a monumentally
entertaining and important bout with Anderson Silva, the sport's
current king. Unfortunately, Shamrock's differences with the UFC
brass would likely act as an insurmountable hurdle. That leaves
other fights that appeal to a general audience -- but hold little
in the way of establishing him as a viable threat in his division
-- as expected options.
What to do, then, with a paradoxical career like Shamrock's?
He's too good to be toiling against aging non-threats and
undeveloped newcomers, yet apparently unwilling to risk his legacy
against a tested contender. He plans to fight for "10 more years,"
but he made similar claims of ambition before the Ortiz bout. His
attention drifts from ventures like Shootbox and the IFL to
self-marketing and the occasional prizefight.
But he seems to be enjoying himself, laughing loudly and satisfied
with his status as a freelance mercenary.
In a sport where fighters are all too often abused physically and
financially before being discarded, maybe that's as good a victory
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