Origins of Combat: The (follow up) Ken Shamrock Interview, Part 1

Monday, December 04, 2017

Origins of Combat: The (follow up) Ken Shamrock Interview

Part One of Two: Amateur Wrestling, Tough Man Competitions, and Squatting

By William Colosimo |

As extensive as my prior interview with Ken was, I realized afterward that I could have delved deeper into his fight experience and situations that led up to his introduction to hard-style pro wrestling (and later mixed martial arts, MMA) in Japan. This interview will help bring a new dimension to Ken’s story and round out the origins of his fight experience.

William Colosimo: What I wanted to cover was some of your fight experience leading up to Japan. A couple somewhat controversial topics, but you’re used to that – nothing crazy (Ken laughs). What I wanted to start with is your amateur wrestling credentials- how much experience did you have before the neck injury- I believe it was a broken neck in high school?

Ken Shamrock: Yeah, I broke my neck in high school, my senior year. I wrestled for two years- my junior year and my senior year. My junior year I made it to sections, my senior year I was undefeated until I broke my neck.

WC: Was that fairly early in senior year?

KS: No, actually I got done playing football, and then wrestling came up. We went almost all the way through the first part of the season, and we were just getting into league, I think we were halfway through league – so I only had one or two matches left before we entered into section and then state. So I think it was about that time, and I was undefeated- ‘cause I won the Douglas tournament, I won the Rotary tournament- which were two of the big ones. I won those, I beat two state champions in the finals- in two different weight classes. One weight class was 180 something pounds, 185 pounds, and the other one was 160, 165 pound weight class. So it was two different weight classes that I wrestled, I wrestled up and down- whether it was Nevada or California by the weight class, and in both those I was in different weight classes. In one of them I beat the state champion, the other one I beat the state champion the next weight up- so there’s two guys that I beat that were state champions in two different weight classes. So I was on my way to do something great, then I end up breaking my neck.

WC: When you did the weight fluctuations – that was the same year?

KS: Yeah – it was the same year, ‘cause when we wrestled over in Nevada, the weights were different than they were in California. ‘Cause we were on the border there. So we went over and did the Rotary tournament in California, and I beat the champion at I believe it was 168 pounds, 165 pound class, and then after that we went into Nevada, I believe it was the Douglas tournament, and I beat the state champion there at 185.

WC: So your senior year of high school- I’m guessing this is like 1979?

KS: No, actually it was ’82, but thank you (laughter).

WC: (Laughter) I didn’t mean to add age if I did. I’m going to skip over the U.S. side of your early pro wrestling, but when you were in the Nelson Royal organization (Editor’s Note: Atlantic Coast Wrestling), that’s when you fought in and won either two or was it three different Tough Man tournaments?

KS: Three different Tough Man tournaments. One of them was in Redding, California, the other one was in Hickory, North Carolina, and the other one was in I believe Statesville, North Carolina.

WC: I saw you had done an interview where you said one of those was kickboxing, at least one of those was boxing – these seem like they would have all been in roughly 1989, when you were in Nelson Royal, and I know they gave you the strap after you won these Tough Man tournaments.

KS: Right.

WC: 1989 sounds about right to you?

KS: Yes.

WC: Did the Ken “One Punch” Shamrock nickname come from these Tough Man competitions?

KS: No, actually that came from me bouncing – and also when I lived in Susanville (Ca), after I got out of high school I was working at my father’s group home because I had broken my neck, so I didn’t get off to college right away, so I was working for him for a year. End up putting on a lot of weight, got bigger and stronger, and in Susanville there’s always these guys that people label as the toughest guy in town. That’s just the way it was, a small kind of town. At the time there was two or three guys there that were kind of in that area, and one of them was a guy named Ron, I’m not gonna get into his last name- but he was about 260, 240-260, probably like 6’2”, 6’3”, something around there. Big guy. And he threw a bottle across the hood of my dad’s car, it was a convertible Eldorado Biarritz, and it was a classic. And so, I remember getting out of the car thinking I’m gonna get killed, he just hit my dad’s car with a bottle. So I got out, he got all tough with me- I ended up knocking him out of his Birkenstock sandals, I mean I hit him so hard it lifted him out of his sandals onto the ground. So I got that nickname.

I went to Redding California, I bounced there – got into a situation where I had to throw some guys out, well they waited for me after the club closed. I walked outside to the parking lot, which was across the street- and I got jumped. One guy hit me in the back with a bat. Well, when he went to swing and I kind of curled up, put my hands up over my head, and it rolled my back a little bit, so when he hit me over the back with the bat it broke. Well, then I turned around and I hit the first guy I saw. And when I hit him, he went down, and the rest of the guys kind of ran off. But he ended up going blind in one eye, because when I hit him I guess I broke his socket or something. Or at least that’s the rumor. But I had some lawsuits too with that, because his dad I believe ran the Pepsi-Cola distribution out there in Redding, so they were pretty well off.

And then in Reno Nevada after that, maybe a year and a half, two years later I was in Reno, I think I was 19 at the time, and I was bouncing there at a place called Premier Club. A bunch of guys came into the club. One of them was a guy who played at Brigham Young University. He was a tight end, he was probably about 6’4”, 250 plus. He comes walking in, starts trouble with a guy. There was me and one other bouncer on ‘cause it was during the week, I believe it was a Tuesday or a Wednesday. And of course he started the trouble. I’m standing at the door, I look down the hallway, I see there’s a problem so I walk in, I go “Whoa, whoa take it easy, what’s going on.” Then he slaps my hand away, he starts talking smack. So I spun him around, drug him out, but he was a big dude so as I’m dragging him his buddies are starting to see what’s going on so they start coming. So I get him out the door and bash through the doors, I throw him on the ground. His buddies come out, “What’s going on?” I said “Well, your friend here, he has to go, ‘cause he’s starting trouble.” And of course they started talking smack – well I see this guy get up after I throw him on the ground, and he starts running at me. As he runs at me, he throws a punch – I duck under, I hit him with a right hand – blood spattered all over the wall, he hit the ground, it looked like one of those highway patrol magazines where the blood just circled around his head. I thought I killed him. Everybody thought I killed him. Well, he went into a coma. So, yeah. I went to court over that. I had some issues with jail time, whether I was going to go to prison or not for manslaughter, it was crazy. ‘Cause Mills Lane, who is a boxing judge was the judge at the time, he basically threw it out and said it was mutual combat, which both parties were neither at fault for or innocent. So they basically threw out that one. And they went to civil court, and they came after me that way. And that’s how I really got my name “One Punch” Shamrock- was because when I hit somebody they went to the hospital.

WC: The other fight experience before going to Japan, I believe you called them “squatting” matches, basically street fighting for money.

KS: Right. We called it squatting, it was in North Carolina. I did one behind a biker bar – my neighbor came over and got me out of the house at about one or two o’ clock in the morning (laughter). I had just won a Tough Man, so word was going around that I was a tough guy. Well this big biker bar was about five miles up the road. They had some tough guys of their own, and they basically challenged me. So I don’t remember the exact amount of money, it wasn’t a whole lot but it was money. And so, my neighbor came to my house, knocking on the door, he had been drinking quite a bit, said “I got a fight for ya.” I said “Well, okay… how much?” And I’m not sure, I think it was $750 or something like that, I don’t remember the exact amount. But it was a decent amount of money for me to walk out the door and go fight, you know? That’s what I was doing. So I said “Alright.” So I jump in his truck, as I’m jumping in he has a guy with him, he’s kind of lit up too. He says “I can take you. I can take you.” And the guy’s probably 190, maybe six foot. So I’m looking at him and I go “Dude, shut up. Just get in the car.” And he says “No man, I could take you. I got forty bucks.” And I just laughed. He takes out his forty bucks and my neighbor goes “Alright, go ahead, go ahead.” I’m like “Are you serious? Alright, man.” So the dude stands there, he didn’t even swing at me but he’s just kind of bouncing around, so I reached over and open hand slapped him in his ear – knocked the piss out of him. He hits the ground, and he’s delirious- he don’t know where he’s at. He gets up off the ground and just starts running down the street. Gone (both laugh).

We jump in the truck, we head down to the bar – it’s closed – so they got a bunch of cars that are parked behind the bar there. It’s just a gravel area. It reminded me of when I used to do the “Iron Circle” with Steve Blackman and we had those matches and all the cars were in a circle and they had the lights on, it’s like a wrestling thing. It kind of reminded me of that except we were on gravel – well, this big ‘ol dude comes walking up, and this dude had to be pushing 280, 260-280- just a big barrel-chested, white-haired guy. Came walking out, big strong… like a powerlifting look. And he was probably about 6’2”, 6’3”. He comes walking out and I was thinking to myself “He looks pretty strong. He can’t go very long, I know that – but he looks pretty strong.” So he comes walking up and he goes “What’s up?” So, we put the money up, put it on there – and my friend had brought a gun. And he slammed it on the hood on top of the money. So we were sitting there and there were probably thirty or forty guys around, we were in a circle of cars with the lights on. And I’m thinking to myself, “If I win, am I getting out of here alive? ‘Cause none of these guys are our friends.”

So, we get going, the guy says “Okay, let’s go.” So as we start dancing around a little bit, the guy comes towards me, and literally he doesn’t throw anything, he just kind of walks up to me like he’s just gonna walk through everything, and I punch him right in the forehead. I mean it wasn’t in the nose, or the mouth, it was right in the split of his forehead. And I hit him. And luckily I didn’t break my hand. But I hit the guy, and I split him open and he literally sits down, like the guy just goes backwards and sits down. And I look at him, he’s got blood pouring out of his head. And I’m like “Okay, that’s it. Good. Right?” And so, I remember as we start to walk to the truck and take the money, people are like “No, man, it ain’t over.” And I’m like “Dude, I’m not gonna kill him.” Well all of a sudden I turn around and I see this big shadow, all of a sudden this dude’s standing up, I look back and I go “Are you serious?” He goes “This ain’t over. It’s gonna be a long night for you.” And I’m thinking “For who? He must still be delirious or something” (both laugh). So this guy goes to take a swing at me again, this time he doesn’t just walk straight in, he actually starts to run at me. And as he starts to run at me I just kind of ducked, and as I ducked, we kind of clinched – you know ran into each other, like I was under his armpits – like ducked my head under and got behind him – and as I got behind him I used his momentum as he’s moving forward trying to push through me, and I lifted him up off the ground and I basically belly to backed him, heels over his head onto this gravel and knocked him out with his own body weight. I stood up, and I go “Okay, now it’s over?” It’s like he wasn’t moving, he was flat on the ground this time.

And as we walked over, grabbed our money, I remember my friend fired off a few shots (laughter), I was like “Just get in the truck man, what are you doing?” He’s one of those redneck hicks, just a fun guy. Just really a fun guy. He was probably about 5’8”, 200 pounds, and just a fun guy. So he starts firing shots off and I’m going “Dude, stop! Get in the truck!” We picked up our money, we got in the truck, and he took me back to my house, I got in the house and I remember the next morning I told my dad, and my dad says “Why didn’t you wake me up? I would have gone!” It’s like, “I don’t know, I guess I didn’t think about it? I wasn’t thinking about taking my dad into a volatile situation I didn’t know if I was going to get out alive?”

WC: So the squatting – this wasn’t anything organized, this was a one time deal, or did you do it other times?

KS: No, I did it other times but it was for twenty bucks, ten bucks, it wasn’t anything that was organized. This was more organized, like these guys had done it, this was something they were doing. ’Cause they would circle the cars up after the bar was over, and if guys had a beef or if they wanted to challenge somebody – they bet money on it. So that was the first time I was in a really organized situation. It was like that Brad Pitt movie (Editor’s Note: Fight Club), so don’t piss the wrong people off (laughter).

Tomorrow: A Difficult First Tour in Japan, the Nasty Boys, and a Triumphant Return to Japan

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