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Injury Sidelines Shamrock's Return, But Not His Spirit
"Talking on the phone seems to be my main purpose in life," laments Frank Shamrock from his office in San Jose, California. It's been an eventful two weeks for the beloved former UFC champion, a roller coaster of developments that began with the long-awaited and highly-rumored announcement that was almost three years in the making -- Frank Shamrock was returning to MMA competition. But just as quickly as the golden carrot was dangled in front of the masses of hungry fans, it was hastily snatched away. There was only a week to ponder and debate the possible outcomes of his match-up with Renzo Gracie black belt Ricardo Almeida at the World Extreme Cagefighting's August 31st event, because fate obviously had other plans this time around. Shamrock had succumbed to the one thing he says he hates about the fight game -- getting injured. With the realization that his return will be delayed, it would seem the undefeated 5-0 UFC veteran has some time on his hands... or does he?
By now, the MMA world is quite familiar with the details of this untimely occurrence. It all started in training at the American Kickboxing Academy, as Shamrock fired off a right kick that caught training partner "Crazy" Bob Cook's elbow. It registered with Shamrock immediately, as he had to stop to recover for twenty seconds, something he says he never does in sparring. Although in pain, Shamrock felt able to continue, and continue he did -- for an entire week. "I even went to the St. Louis stadium where the Cardinals play and ran it," he recalls jovially. Although he couldn't tie his shoes and the leg continued to swell, it wasn't until a regular visit to his chiropractor that Shamrock began to fathom the scope of the damage received. Complaining of a focused pain in one area, the doctor decided to take an X-ray which immediately revealed a crack in the bone. With this knowledge, Shamrock admits he trained for one more day, but a persistent phone call from his chiropractor persuaded him to go to a specialist for treatment. The second X-ray revealed a clean break directly through his right fibula, and it was there he says that reality set in -- he wasn't going to be able to fight. The break could have been worse had the bone been displaced or moved -- a small favor that will force Shamrock to sport a temporary "walking cast" over a cumbersome plaster one for the next month. Following that month, it will be approximately two weeks before Shamrock can start sparring again, and from there, he says, he will need about two months to get into fighting form again.
As he sits by the phone with his newfound friend (the cast he has already affectionately dubbed "Big Daddy"), Frank adds up the time in his head. "December or January," he blurts out, "but I don't want to fight anywhere cold," he quickly adds. "I hate cold weather." His demeanor is cheerfully contagious for a man who just spent months of arduous training for a fight that is not going to happen. "I was feeling down for the first three days, mostly because I felt old. Then, I remembered that I'm not even thirty yet," he zips with his undeniable charm. It is a combination of charm and unquestionable talent that has propelled Frank to the top of the fighter chain and has kept him there, even in retirement. One cannot help but think his small venue request can surely be accommodated for one of the sport's most popular and revered fighters ever. Following a very healthy stint in Japan's Pancrase organization (where he fought 3 wars with Bas Rutten), Frank went on to defeat Enson Inoue, Olympic Gold Medalist Kevin Jackson, Jeremy Horn, and Igor Zinoviev -- to name a few. Having left the fight scene at the height of his popularity, moments after handing a young, brash Tito Ortiz a loss at UFC 22, Frank has room to negotiate.
It was a smaller promotion, the WEC, that surely made the negotiation of the century to snatch Frank up from under the noses of the bigger shows in town and secure Frank on its upcoming card. "In part, this fight fell into place and in part, it was a business decision that made better sense," he explains. "I was trying to get a fight with Sakuraba [in Pride]. That's what I've been doing for the last couple of years and it finally hit bottom." "Bottom" was the subsequent offer Pride made for another fighter, Shungo Oyama, in its upcoming Shockwave event. That match-up was later replaced with an invitation to fight Vanderlei Silva, but Silva was not the opponent Frank had been training for, he says, so he cordially declined. But, Frank had not been training for Ricardo Almeida either and had stated in the past that he would only return to fight competitors with "an equal or larger image" than his own. Did Almeida meet this criteria or was this match-up considered a "warm-up" fight for the stagnant fighter? "I think he was both. Ricardo Almeida is a tough fighter. He's very good on the ground, but I would have destroyed him with my hands. The challenge for me was I was going to fight a completely different guy in Japan, for a different reason, in a different style, so I had to switch gears fast to do this thing."
The Almeida match-up is no longer on his plate (for now), but those who know Frank Shamrock will readily attest that his days are still far from empty. As an entrepreneur extraordinaire, Frank has seen success not only as an MMA instructor to the students that have flocked to his school, but has also utilized his skills to branch out into the private sector. A self-conceptualized police training program called Science of Officer Defense and Criminal Submissions (SODCS) continues to grow nationally. His restaurant, Down For The Count Sports Bar and Grill in Gulf Port, Mississippi, opened three months ago and is thriving. He continues to build on a modestly successful acting career with a recent role on the HBO television show Oz [Frank is pictured here on the set of Oz with Randy Couture], as well as numerous auditions (he was recently contacted to audition for a role in Vin Diesel's upcoming The Fast and the Furious 2.) "The joy is the journey," Frank explains. "You go down a little path and try a bunch of different things. I do all kinds of things -- things that make money and things that don't. People might call me eccentric."
One endeavor that might not be deemed eccentric would be Frank's past involvement regarding proposed legislation to protect the careers of MMA fighters. "What we originally set out to build was a nonprofit, non-bias commission that could point out right and wrong, represent the industry, and keep it safe without any monetary involvement. We wanted to build something to protect these guys that were out there breaking their legs and risking their lives for entertainment." Three months ago, Frank issued a personal statement verbalizing his views on the state of the sport and its participants. Looking to create a safer and more congenial environment in which fighters could reside, Frank invited fans and members of the fight community to e-mail in suggestions and rally support. He says the response was overwhelming. Frank also attended initial meetings in Nevada for proposed educational programs in the overseeing of the sport, but remarks that money quickly became the issue of the day. "When the question of who would fund these programs was brought up, all the promoters in attendance looked over their shoulders."
On his home front of California, Frank was there on June 4th when a proposed bill for the allocation of funding for mixed martial arts was denied. A whole year must now pass before such a bill can be introduced before the California State Athletic Commission again, a sobering prospect that Frank says he and those involved with the proposal must accept. "With recent developments and with the fact that I was going to fight again, my involvement with this project has temporarily stalled. But it is something that I will revisit in the near future. I will be working behind the scenes on the political avenue for this bill, because unfortunately, people still don't understand the bill, what it's for, and what this sport is about. This sport needs good representatives, and that's what I'm working on."
One thing Frank says he is doing less of these days is coaching. "For three or four years there, I was training ten guys a week with two or three of them fighting every weekend. I was very hands-on, but now there are too many guys trying to kill me," he remarks. Instead, Frank has chosen the role of cornerman. "I like to do the mental talks -- that kind of thing," he states. With regards to his own fighting, Frank says he will honor his one fight deal with the WEC, taking on Almeida or any new opponent they might throw his way. Beyond that fight, Frank says he has no immediate plans, but is confident that other fights will come his way.
In the meantime, Frank Shamrock will have to keep himself content with the flood of phone calls he's received from the media, family and friends alike. "Everyone seems to know where I am," he chuckles. "And they know I can't leave." Immobility seems to be the newest challenge for one of the busiest players in MMA today. Fans, too, will have to wait it out for a few more months, but at least now there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Frank Shamrock WANTS to fight again, and for the fans patiently counting the days until his return, that is all they need to hear.
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