Origins of Combat: The (follow up) Ken Shamrock Interview, Part 2
Origins of Combat: The (follow up) Ken Shamrock Interview
Part Two of Two: A Difficult First Tour in Japan, the Nasty Boys, and a Triumphant Return to Japan
By William Colosimo | email@example.com
William Colosimo: From the end of September of ’89 to the end of October ’89 you went to All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) for that tour. At this point you would have still been doing pro wrestling for Nelson Royal and Gene Anderson.
Ken Shamrock: Right.
WC: How did you get to AJPW?
KS: I’m not sure. I don’t know, because I was pretty green. Nelson must have been able to pull some strings or something, because I carried the strap really early, and I think it was because of my reputation. I was decent – I wasn’t great, but I was decent. I could do a match. I could follow somebody. And I could definitely follow some spots. So, I couldn’t lead a match – that’s for sure. So, I think Nelson had an idea that if I went there I would definitely learn a lot faster, in something different, so he basically pulled some strings and got me over there.
And I remember when I first got there, it was really different because there wasn’t a whole lot of selling – you know, you hit the mat, bounce up, sell for a split second, and then you go again. There were a lot of high spots, it was fast – and I was really behind the eight ball, I just couldn’t catch up to them. And it took me probably half the tour until I finally got it right. And I remember watching a bunch of the young boys (Editor’s Note: “Young boys” refers to new trainees who basically act as interns) work out before the wrestling and then after the wrestling matches were over, and I thought to myself “You know, I better start doing that because if I don’t change what I’m doing here…” – the first couple days I got there I wasn’t doing very well- “…if I don’t go in and start trying to practice and get this right, then they’re going to send me home early.” So I remember after about three days there I started going in and working before the matches and after the matches to try and get down their style, because it was hard to follow ‘cause they didn’t speak very good English, so it wasn’t like I could listen to them and follow. So, I started picking up their pace, understanding the way they sell, how they take bumps, and what they would really sell on and what they won’t sell on – and so I think after two weeks of doing that, then I started getting praises from (Shohei “Giant”) Baba and from other guys like the Can-Am Express – Doug Furnas and (Dan) Kroffat – those guys really started working with me and helping me a lot. I know Dean Malenko did a lot for me.
So, it was really an experience for me – and when I came back, I was night and day from when I left. I started really being able to lead matches, I started being able to do a lot of stuff that I wasn’t able to do because my confidence went through the roof after I went and started training, I started getting more confident, I started picking up the pace, and not being able to hear people actually say anything to me, and basically react on instinct. So when I came back, it was so much easier because I could hear and understand, but yet almost the instinct took over – even though I was hearing it I was reacting to the movement and the action – even though they were still saying it, I was still doing it at the same time.
WC: Giant Baba, the owner of All Japan- he invited you back towards the end of your tour?
KS: Well, yeah, I was invited back – they definitely wanted to bring me back – but shortly after that, things started to change for me. I started getting other opportunities. Started looking at (the Newborn) U.W.F., I got to see that. Then I got introduced to Sammy (Masami) Soranaka over in Florida, I did a tryout – I dominated all those guys up there, beat them all up – one of them was Bart Vale, and he was over there already doing it, and I pretty much controlled – other than the stand up and his karate- I definitely wasn’t there yet. But, because I was so strong and then I was a street brawler and fighter, that my wrestling- I could take him down and brawl him, and pretty much beat him. So, I got sent over to Japan shortly after that, and then I did some tryouts there, which was brutal. They liked me, and then I came back a couple months later, did my first match in front of 17,000 people, and I won.
WC: Is Wayne your middle name?
KS: Yeah, that’s my middle name.
WC: Okay, because in U.W.F., Professional Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi (PWF-Gumi), and then Pancrase you went by Wayne. Did that have anything to do with the competing Japanese organizations, or U.W.F. was thought of in theory as real fighting where AJPW wasn’t? What was with the name change to Wayne after you used Ken in AJPW?
KS: Yeah, I don’t know because as far as I knew I was Ken Shamrock and they just announced me in my first fight as Wayne Shamrock. I couldn’t understand even what they said. I kind of heard the Shamrock part of it, but when they said the Wayne Shamrock, it was almost like “Is that me?” I didn’t know. Well then come to find out, it was about a couple weeks later, that they had listed me as Wayne Shamrock. And that’s what I went by. For whatever reason I don’t know.
WC: Once you went to Japan – I know up until mid-1991 you were still doing pro wrestling in the States – but after you went to AJPW were you looking to basically have a contract and stay there and pretty much wrestle exclusively in Japan?
KS: No, I wanted to go up there and basically experience something new and travel. And, so I did that. And I was definitely excited about going back. I was definitely excited about working for the Japan organization, for sure. But I wasn’t willing to cut out the U.S. either though. Because I did get a couple shots on the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) stage, on some house shows. So, I was moving out really fast and my name was traveling and people thought that I had some ability, I looked good – so I was definitely playing both sides of the fence, I would have taken the Japan or the WWF, whatever came first.
WC: I wanted to give you Bart’s take on your time in AJPW-
KS: (Laughter) Okay. Bart Vale?
KS: (Laughter) Okay, okay. Go ahead. This should be interesting.
WC: He said when you were in AJPW, you rubbed a lot of the guys in the locker room the wrong way, they didn’t want to work with you and they wanted you gone. But apparently there was a complicated contract – the boss wanted Dean Malenko, the guys didn’t want you – so Dean shows you tape of Funaki vs Suzuki, (Editor’s Note: Masakatsu Funaki vs Minoru Suzuki, a work-shoot pro wrestling match from the April 15, 1990 U.W.F. show that inspired Ken to go in that direction) Sammy kept pushing Bart “We want to get this guy in here,” you go to U.W.F.- the style you like, they keep Dean, everybody is happy. Is that true? Do you think you were too stiff with those guys?
KS: Probably. I mean like I said, I told you I was trying to catch up, try to do what I had to do – but like I said, I was green. So, I know even in the U.S. that I was stiff. I even had a fight with the Postman, the Mailman, whatever his name is (Editor’s Note: Ken is likely talking about Curtis Thompson, who wrestled Ken as U.S. Male) in the locker room – where he had come up off the bench and punched me in the face because I stiffed him. I had no clue. He punched me in the face, and he’s a big strong dude- he’s all shredded like a bodybuilder. And he just come up off the bench and punched me in the face. And I looked at him and I said “You do that again, I’m going to hurt you” (laughter). So he came at me again, I picked him up, slammed him on the ground, people pulled me off. He did it again, came at me again, I picked him up and slammed him on the ground again, people grabbed me, pulled me off – he did that three times. Finally I told everybody to leave me alone, because if he does it again he’s gonna get his ass kicked, so you guys stay out of it. And, I remember he didn’t do it again.
So yeah there’s no question that I rubbed people wrong. There’s no question that people probably didn’t want to work with me. But, as far as I knew, from what I was told, from Baba, was that he would bring me back. That’s what I was told. I thought I was putting in the work, we went into the practice before and after to try to get a grip on it. So, there’s a reason why I got the strap, Nelson put the strap on me – it wasn’t because I was bad, but I believe that people probably didn’t want to work with me because I probably reacted and stiffened up on guys, there’s no question. I was green. I mean, look at (Bill) Goldberg. There’s a lot of people that didn’t like him. But he was one of the best people out there and he sold all kinds of tickets, so – get over it. (Laughter) Get over it.
WC: The second half of 1990 – there’s a lot of stuff that happened in the second part of that year. Funaki vs Suzuki in U.W.F., that happened in April of ’90. At some point after that Dean showed you tape of that match, but we obviously know the Nasty Boys (Editor’s Note: Pro wrestling tag team of Brian Knobbs and Jerry Sags) confrontation had to happen. Looking online, it looks like you were in the South Atlantic (North American Wrestling Association / South Atlantic Pro Wrestling) promotion working with them up until late July, so the altercation must have happened probably like late July of 1990. We know late October you were already fighting Yoji Anjo in the U.W.F. So basically in a three month period you went from the Nasty Boys fight, you had to heal up, and then you went to see Sammy in Florida, then you went to Japan for the tryout, then you had the Anjo fight. How long do you think you were laid up from the fight with the Nasty Boys?
KS: Well, just to give people an understanding about what happened there – I mean, an altercation happened, I tried to step in and help my friend out who was more of a ring guy, setting up the ring, breaking it down. And he would travel around, he had his girlfriend, and she was pretty well endowed in the upper part of her body. They came in, they grabbed her boob, pissed me off, I told them to stop, they both bowed up, and I said “I told you to stop.” Well then the bouncer grabbed me from behind, like in a bear hug and they made the Nasty Boys leave. This was at Plum Crazy. When the Nasty Boys left, they kept saying stuff to me that was disrespectful, so I was furious and hot. So I went to the hotel room where they stayed at, I kicked in the door, and next thing I know I woke up in the hospital. So they kicked me, then went unconscious ‘cause I got hit with something steel in my head, I don’t even know exactly what – I was told it was a phone that had a steel bottom to it, I was told it was something heavy, I don’t know exactly what it was. It wasn’t his fist – if he says that’s what it was, it’s not- it wasn’t that, because from what the doctors told me, they basically cracked my skull. But that could have been from the kicks, ‘cause when I went down they started kicking me – both of them. And they broke my sternum, they broke my eye socket, they fractured my skull, and they were gonna pick me up and throw me over the second balcony onto the ground. I know these guys. I traveled with these guys. So to me I thought in my head, “What kind of people are these guys?” Anybody that would do that when you know somebody, you’ve got a disagreement with them, and then all of a sudden you knock them out and you kick them until they’re almost dead, then you’re going to throw them over the balcony. Well, then somebody came up and saw, I think it was Robert Fuller- I think, I’m not sure – and told them “Hey hey, stop! Whoa.”
So, the ambulance comes picks me up, they rush me to the hospital, I die in the ambulance – like they had to revive me. So I get to the hospital, my head, when my wife came she just broke down, because my head looked like the elephant man, I mean it was so swollen and I had so much water in my head. And they were draining it, it was a bad scene. So I thought to myself, when they came to visit me – ‘cause they were going into the WWF right after that – they came to visit me and I told my dad “Do not let them come in here and see me like this. You let them know that if I ever come across them, that that will be the last thing that they ever remember. And this time it will be forward, straight on, and not from behind.” So I ended up kicking them out of the hospital because I wouldn’t see ‘em. I didn’t want to give them a way out.
Our paths never crossed, not while I was in the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) it didn’t. It crossed when we were in the WWF, because they were going out by that time, go figure. So, there was another story – because they cowered down, but – whatever. That was something that bothered me, but after that one incident where they cowered down it was almost better than me beating them up, because I didn’t have to go to jail, but they looked really, he – the big one that actually hit me from behind – he cowered like… it was bad. So it almost took the anger out – it was pathetic. I mean, it was so pathetic the way that he just turned his back and said “If you hit me, it’s a felony.” And we were in the airport and I was like “Did I just hear that?” The guy that supposedly says that if we ever saw each other – he’s telling all the boys “I’ll kick his ass again. I’ll stand in front of him and tell him I’m gonna knock his ass out” and he turns around and says “If you hit me it’s a felony”? So, yeah those things happen – it was definitely, when I look at it – I was part of that, I was part of that fault because it was stupid for me, it was over, it was done, I was young, and I was dumb. I kicked their door down, I walked into a room with two guys in there, I set myself up, it wasn’t their fault in that situation other than what they did. But I caused that problem to happen.
WC: And I’m just guessing the reason there were probably no charges against them was because you wanted to even it up if you saw them again.
KS: Yeah, they came to the hospital to try and get things right ‘cause they thought I was gonna send them to prison, because it was attempted murder. So, you know, and that’s not how I’m built either. Because I knew what I did – I came after them. I put myself there. And even though they won’t admit it, they were scared as hell. And that’s why they did what they did – ‘cause they didn’t want me to get up. I had a reputation, and it was proven over and over again through Tough Mans and fights. So, they definitely were scared. They didn’t want me to get up, and they made sure I stayed down – the only problem is they didn’t stop after that; they kept going.
WC: In doing research for this interview, I came across something that doesn’t make much sense. A little over a month after this incident, September 4th, 1990 for South Atlantic you allegedly had a match with a Brian Knobbs, who is one of the Nasty Boys. Does that make any sense or is that misrepresented online?
KS: That’s misrepresented, that never happened.
WC: Okay, because that would have been a month or so before the Anjo fight. You were obviously hurt bad. Were you in the hospital for say, all of August?
KS: No, it was probably a week. I came home because I didn’t want to stay there. But, it was pretty serious because my sternum was cracked. But I heal fast, I mean really do. I blew my knee out and I fought four months later, I fought Kimo and knocked him out with a knee (Editor’s Note: UFC 48). So, you imagine I had to train two months for that fight, so it was only two months before I was in the gym after tearing an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). So, I broke my neck in high school, I was told I’d never play sports again – I went and trained, I played football, I wrestled, and I fought- all with a broken neck. So, I heal fast; I’m a freak of nature. This was no different, when I got beat up like that – one day it looks like I’m almost dead, and then four weeks later – I’m in a ring.
WC: That makes sense, you would have gotten out of the hospital sometime early August, so you had time to set up another date – I know you had a date, I think the next day to go see Soranaka, you had to reschedule that – so you went to Larry Malenko’s gym in Florida. Did you meet Larry Malenko there, or just Soranaka?
KS: I met Soranaka and I believe I met Dean’s dad there. Just think about that though. This is what I think that most people don’t understand – and other things that I did – with breaking my neck and all that. Understand that I went from being dead in an ambulance, into the hospital, and then a month later I’m doing a tryout – just a brutal tryout. I mean, it’s like I’ve been blessed in that nature. I broke my neck – a year and a half later after a broken neck I’m playing college football as a linebacker. So, there’s a lot of stories like that where I’ve had some serious injuries, but I bounce back very quickly.
WC: You bounce back, you do the tryout in Florida with Sammy, we know you had to wrestle Bart along with three other people, you had your Japan tryout with Funaki and Suzuki, and then October 25, 1990 was the Anjo match – your first U.W.F. match of two matches. Now being that you were totally green at this point and the U.W.F. was your first work-shoot type match, how much help did Anjo give you prior to the match to see if you knew what you were doing?
KS: None. Zero. Zero. We talked, a brief moment – I couldn’t understand him. But I trained, and I worked out before because I came to Japan early. And so I worked out a little bit in the dojo. And I got a grip on how things were done. But, if you watch the fight – it was everything but real except for the finish – but it was real. We were getting hit, we were getting kneed – it was real (laughter). Trust me.
WC: And then your next match was with Funaki, the last U.W.F. show – it was after this match that you proved yourself to Funaki. So I assume during this match it was probably more of the same, where it was pretty brutal except for the scripted finish?
KS: Yes, it was. And Funaki pushed me, he wanted to see what I had. But what happened was he ended up running out of gas (laughter). So, that’s why I gained his respect and they started looking at me for more of the fitness stuff, and really pushed me in the (PWF-Gumi) organization after we moved away from the U.W.F. I started getting pushed a little bit by (Yoshiaki) Fujiwara, but – there was politics there, we were having to put guys over that were sixty years old- Funaki, Suzuki, and myself wanted to do something bigger and better.
WC: When I talked to you a couple years ago, you told me that you gave the Japanese your diet and they published a book with your information – I picked up a Pancrase book from Japan and its got a photocopy of one of your handwritten daily diets in there. I thought that was interesting.
KS: Well you look at their bodies that changed after we went from PWF-Gumi to Pancrase. Funaki, and Suzuki – all their bodies changed.
WC: Now, I’ve seen all the ’91 and ’92 PWF-Gumi shows from when you and all the other Pancrase guys were there. There was never a champ, there was never a belt, except in March of ’92 when Fujiwara was using Bart to try to promote PWF-Gumi in the States. Fujiwara was supposed to be the champ, Bart beat him, Bart got the title. That title seemed like it was never mentioned in Japan – was it strictly a U.S. thing to help promote the organization in the States?
KS: Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know anything about that.
WC: Your first mixed martial arts fight with Don “Nakaya” Nielsen close to the end of your run in PWF-Gumi – was this promoted as a different type of match than normal, or did the Japanese fans see it as just your average match? In Japan they would blur the lines between real and fake, and it was basically assumed that everything was real back then, so was there any different kind of promotion for your fight with Don Nielsen or was it more of the same for everybody?
KS: No – there was two fights on that card that were different from the rest of them – and that was mine and (Kazuo “Yoshiki”) Takahashi’s. We actually fought these guys, it was a lot of grudge because Don “Nakaya” Nielsen actually hurt Fujiwara. And so, this was a revenge. So, it was real. Nielsen was telling me how he was gonna knock me out, and I’m thinking to myself “You’ve got pillows on your hands, you idiot. You ain’t gonna hurt me with boxing gloves.” And so, I went in there and just destroyed him. I literally destroyed him. It was too easy. And that was my first non-determined finish.
WC: I did see a Takahashi fight where he fought a Thai boxer and that seemed very legit, but I don’t remember if it was on that card (Editor’s Note: It was- Takahashi fought “Superman” Sattasaba on that PWF-Gumi Stack of Arms show on October 4, 1992 at the Tokyo Dome). I know on the same card you fought Nielsen, Funaki fought Mo (Maurice) Smith.
KS: Yeah, that, that – I’m not gonna get into that, but, like I said- Takahashi and myself, on the same card, in the Dome – we fought a different match than everybody else.
WC: Ah, okay. During your time in PWF-Gumi- ’91 and ’92- obviously that show was built around Fujiwara, but as the months and years started going on, did you notice other people like Funaki start becoming bigger stars or fan favorites, and start overcoming Fujiwara as the star?
KS: No, I think what happened was that Funaki, or Suzuki, I don’t know which one – had been in contact with somebody else that saw an opportunity to take out the determined finishes – even though they were still kind of pretty aggressive before the finish. It felt like Suzuki, Funaki, myself, and some of the other guys that really had potential were being held down because we had to put guys over like Fujiwara and a few other guys. And it was almost taking away from what our spirits were. And our spirits wanted to run free. We wanted to be able to go out there and just be free. And not have any guidelines. And so, I think that’s where Suzuki and Funaki had been either contacted or they contacted somebody to try and start something that would fit more their personalities and my personality. They approached me and they told me, they said “Man, we can’t do this unless we have you. We need you.” Funaki approached me, and said “We need you.”
I know Bart Vale kept trying to corner them and talk to them and they kept pushing him away, and at one time they even ran out of the hotel, got in the car and Bart was trying to chase them down in the car – I mean it was literally that bad. Because I think Bart wanted to try to go with them to the new organization, but they didn’t want him. So, there was some friction – it was uncomfortable for me too, because me and Bart were friends. Now, it’s different because I think some of the things he says are stupid, but it is what it is. But then, it was like we were getting along – and even now we’re getting along, I just don’t agree and understand why he says those things he says. So, these guys had an idea, and they just wanted guys they knew could actually handle the heat in the kitchen, and so I was their choice – and as you’ve seen I believe that they’ve made the best choice because Pancrase blew up– and I was one of the forefronts there helping to do that.
WC: Absolutely. Ken, that’s a perfect wrap up to this interview. Thanks a million for your time.
KS: Hey, no problem. Thank you.
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