Regardless of what you think of both fighters, Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie are undeniably two of the leading pioneers from the early days of MMA. They were doing it long before it was clearly going to be a big thing, and they managed to carve extremely long and successful careers out of the combat sport.
So it makes perfect sense that both these men would have another crack at each other at this stage in their respective careers.
I felt extremely lucky to get a chance to talk to Shamrock about his fight with Gracie, Bellator vs UFC, how he gets pumped up before matches, and more.
My conversation with Ken Shamrock:
Q: What does it mean to be fighting Royce Gracie at this stage in your careers?
A: I spoke about this many times and still it's very exciting to me... This is something that's historical, OK? Very rarely do you get two guys who helped start an organization and built an organization and were there in the first year, who've fought twice. And then when people talk about it, there's always this argument about who was better, who won what, or who really did this?
And there's always a debate... Well now we get an opportunity 20 years later, these two guys who actually made this legacy and made this debate, happen to be able to get in the ring and actually through all the discussions over 20 years of who was better, or who really won, or who did this, get to play it out in real life 20 years later.
And we're not just walking in on canes, we're walking in two healthy fighters who can go and compete with almost anyone in the world today. To me, it's like, how do you not want to watch this, man? It's not like two guys who go in there and fall over and can barely get through a couple rounds.
This fight is going to be exciting to watch, two guys who can get after it. And it's gonna be a legacy. There's gonna be a story told that will be talked about for years.
Q: How has your training prepared you for this fight? Are you feeling ready?
A: You know anytime when I get to train, it's a process. I have to make sure that when I get in to my gym that I give myself plenty of time. I usually start three to four months ahead. And it's a process to get me where I need to be. And up to this point, there've been a few hurdles, but that's normal for me.
I've given myself plenty of time for that. But where I sit right now, I'm ready to rock and roll — I mean, things are going really well for me, I feel excited for the fight, confident about the fight. I pretty much, in my mind, I'm hoping Royce comes in shape. I hope he comes ready to fight because I'm looking for a fight that will be talked about for a long time. I'm looking to win a fight that's gonna be competitive. I want this to be a great fight, not just an ordinary fight.
Q: Can you speak on the sport of MMA and its progression since the '90s when you started? What's changed and what's stayed the same?
A: When you looked at the sport when I [first] did it, the rules weren't all solidified yet. I don't know man, to me I think that when they put gloves on fighters, they took away the purity of what MMA or No Holds Barred was about.
Because when you've got gloves on, it's hard to do chokes, it's hard to do ankle locks, it's so much harder to do all these very technical submissions when you have this glove on your hand.
So it really took away the purity of the submissions, but it also took away people having to be accurate with their punches. Because if they weren't they would break their hand. Now, you've got pads on your hand and you can tape 'em, you can get away with a bunch of stuff and actually knock 'em out.
Whereas, back in the day, when I did it, you would end up with a broken hand. So, to me, that's the biggest thing, the purity of the ground game and the submission game is gone and the striking... Anybody can throw a roundhouse or an overhand right... Easily knock a guy out as opposed to when I was fighting. You had to be more accurate with your shot or else you could break your hand in the first round.
So, to me, those are the biggest changes with the sport and how the sport is actually playing out now. The gloves and how it affects submissions and striking.
Q: How have you managed to keep a fighter's mentality through a long and successful career?
A: Well it goes to my desire and love. I mean, as long as someone loves and desires something, you'll keep going after it. You do it as long as you possibly can do it. So, that's what I'd say it's about. My passion, love and desire for competing and being a part of the greatest sport in the world.
And just being a part of the fans, too, that's something that I desire and love, too. So, that's what it's all about to me. My desire and love and passion for the sport.
Q: Have you created any relationships with your fans over the years?
A: I do have relationships, yeah, through social media. And the things I hear on there are really awesome. I had one father who basically told me how I saved his life. You know, he was hanging out with the wrong crowd, he heard my story about going through things, and dedicating my life to directing my anger to something positive, because I was very angry and violent.
And I found a sport that helped me direct my anger and do it in a positive way instead of fighting in the street, getting in trouble, and going to juvenile hall and jail. I put it into an event or a sport and it turned my life around and now I'm a world champion. And he was in that situation, he was fighting all the time. And he's so happy that I was able to tell my story because it helped him become a better man.
And the reason he's a better father today to his kids is because of my story. And some of those things you hear about, it's when you realize... And I realized this a long time ago when my father told me about it... You're bigger than just being a world champion. You have a responsibility as a role model now that people look up to you and look to you for guidance. And whether you want it or not, as a professional athlete you've already got it.
And that responsibility makes you put your best foot forward. You have to talk to people about things we've gone through and talk about how we overcame bad situations so that other people can look at it like, "You know, I can do that, too." And after you've been down, you're [an] example of what someone can go through and how they can overcome it.
Q: Do you think one must have a rough upbringing to become a great professional fighter?
A: No, I think for me it was just a situation. It was something to direct my anger to and I did it through football and wrestling and of course through NHB and then into MMA.
But anybody can really do it. There are people who are losing their houses, sad things, they get sick, they get behind on their taxes, they can't catch up, they're losing their homes and don't know what to do. And the same thing goes for them.
I have the record or the background of being a violent person, but these people's worlds have been turned upside down and they're hurt... They're angry. And they turn their lives into training. Going into the gym and boxing, hitting the bag, doing grappling, lifting weights, and they found out very quickly doing this that the pent-up anger and hurt that they had... they were able to release that through training.
And a lot of these people, that's what their fitness did. How hard are you willing to work, because anything is possible as long as you're willing to work for it. And you can accomplish anything you put your mind to, whether it's physical fitness or whether it's out there in the world of business.
Q: Do you think this is your last fight or do you see yourself starting another run?
A: I really don't have an answer to that right now. I mean, right now this fight is it. I really want this fight. And, you know, depending on how this thing goes and the way it goes, it depends on my future.
Because I'm looking to dominate. And if I do that, there's a good possibility I keep going.
Who are you taking? Royce Gracie or Ken Shamrock?
You can see Ken Shamrock vs Royce Gracie at Bellator 149, which takes place February 19th at 9PM ET on Spike TV.