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Japan’s Rich MMA History: The Ken Shamrock Interview, Part 2 of 7

William Colosimo conducted the most detailed interview to date with Ken Shamrock, to unearth the origins of MMA in Japan, from the man who was there.
Japan’s Rich MMA History: The Ken Shamrock Interview

Japan’s Rich MMA History: The Ken Shamrock Interview (2015)

Part Two of Seven: The Professional Wrestling Fujiwara-Gumi

By William Colosimo |

William Colosimo: Now, when you were on Steve Austin’s podcast, here’s your quote concerning PWF-Gumi: “This is where we start doing more of the shoots. It’s not a full shoot, it’s a shoot where you carry guys a certain distance and then you beat them, but it’s not a give me finish.” I was wondering what the run down was on PWF-Gumi matches. First of all, who were the matches determined by- at least the ones with the predetermined finishes. Is that something you can get into?

Ken Shamrock: Yeah, that’s the problem with the deals and the different things that went over in Japan. I can say this- I know that Pancrase was more in line with who I was and what I wanted to do, and all the stuff before that was just entertaining and fun.

WC: There were a number of specific matches you had that I was curious about. Your second book talks about the July 1991 Duane Koslowski match, where you had determined the event winner with a prior match in the gym. You had won the gym match with a heel hook, so then it had been determined you would win the match at the show.

KS: Yeah, but you’ve got to remember too that when I did that match, it wasn’t just one time- because he was a Greco-Roman guy, and I took him down and submitted him. He jumped up and thought it was unfair because he didn’t know I was gonna shoot, or that he didn’t understand what was going on. So, we did it again- and once I was able to submit him again fairly quickly after that, then we shook hands and he was OK.

WC: Were there any other matches off the top of your head in PWF-Gumi where a gym match determined the winner on the show?

KS: I think that happened quite a bit.

WC: In October 1991 you were victorious in a match against Wellington Wilkins Jr. Do you remember anything about Wellington, and do you remember if it was a gym match that determined the winner?

KS: Yeah I know who he is, and I rolled with him in practice- and there was no need for us to see who was gonna win that match.

WC: You had a total of nineteen matches in PWF-Gumi, and five of them were with Suzuki. Were you guys fan favorites when you had your matches or did the management think that you two as a match sold to the audience? Why did you have more matches with Suzuki than anyone else in your PWF-Gumi career?

KS: I think it was because we moved so well on the ground, that we just flowed.

WC: What kind of relationship did you have with Suzuki while in that organization?

KS: Well, I think me and Suzuki had a good relationship up until the Pancrase organization. I thought we were both in line with what we were supposed to be doing and we had an understanding. And I was fine with it, just as long as we all had an understanding. But, when I got into the Pancrase organization, I was asked to do something, which wasn’t a normal thing in Pancrase- and then I got hurt doing it, and that pissed me off.

WC: We’ll get to that later- but in the past one Lion’s Den fighter had mentioned to me about that first Pancrase match with Suzuki- and I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but your first match back after that was with Ryushi Yanagisawa- that was the heel hook that took him out for a little over a year. I don’t know if you were making a statement because of what you might have felt was happening. But we’ll get back to that.

On to Kazuo “Yoshiki” Takahashi- on the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 12 pay-per-view (PPV), Takahashi was fighting Wallid Ismail, and you had mentioned on-air that you knew Takahashi because you fought him four times. Two of those were obviously the PWF-Gumi fights. Now, your first match with him- November 1991- this was just brutality. It went about ninety seconds, you won with a soccer kick to the face where it looked like you broke his cheekbone, it had blown up a bit. During the match he was able to get you up and tried to slam you for a pretty hard takedown. You both scrambled, you got to the feet first and got the soccer kick. That fight looked totally legit. I know you had mentioned in your second book that the Don “Nakaya” Nielson match was your first MMA fight- but was this first Takahashi fight a full shoot?

KS: I don’t want to talk on that match but I’ll tell you a story, and it happens all the time- when you get into a situation where both guys are supposed to have an agreement, and things are supposed to work a certain way- and one guy goes in and decides he’s going to do what he wants to do- then you’ve got to take what’s yours. And that’s kinda what happened, I believe that not everybody was on the same page, and I believe that some people think that they were just gonna go ahead and take what they wanted, and they ran into a wall.

WC: A couple days before the March 20th 1992 PWF-Gumi show held in Miami, Florida- Funaki, Suzuki, Fuke, and Takahashi visited Karl Gotch’s home in Tampa, Florida and trained with him. Training footage of this session is on the official tape release. Is there any reason you weren’t at that workout?

KS: You know, I don’t remember- like I said, I never really got to know Karl that well. I think a lot of it had to do with when we split different ways and organizations, I think Karl was a little bit upset that I went with the shoot-style, which was with Funaki and Suzuki- and not with Sammy Soranaka and Fujiwara.

WC: In May 1992 you had the match with Bart Vale. On the World Combat Championship PPV in October 1995 a broadcaster promoted Bart’s win over you as legit. In the summer of 2014 Bart was implying that the fight was real on his YouTube channel, basically saying that if people are confused about the match it is because the rules were different than today’s MMA. Is there anything on that match that you’re allowed to speak on?

KS: You just have to look at the caliber of fighter, and look at the things that I’ve accomplished and look at the things that he was able to accomplish, look at the skill sets. And I think that you will understand exactly what is real and what isn’t real. When I went into the Pancrase organization, that was as real as it gets as far as not having to lose cause someone tells you to.

WC: You beat Jerry Flynn in July 1992. Was this one determined in the gym?

KS: Well, we didn’t go “Hey, guess what- whoever wins this match is going to get to go over.” But, I hope that he didn’t say anything different because I’ve always respected him and I’ve always liked him- but I think he realized what would have happened if we would have gone live.

WC: No, I never talked to Jerry Flynn- and I’ve never heard him say anything negative.

KS: Cool.

WC: Your August 1992 rematch with Takahashi- this one went longer than the first, about nine minutes. You guys still went really hard. Can I ask if this one went more in line with what two people agreed on prior to the match, or were there issues here also?

KS: Well let’s just say that when me and Takahashi got into a fight, he had my personality.

WC: Just basically two fighters going balls to the wall.

KS: Yep.

WC: In October 1992 you fought Don “Nakaya” Nielson. How nervous were you training for this match, it being your first MMA fight?

KS: I wasn’t nervous at all. The fact is I was excited- so excited that I couldn’t wait for the bell to ring. I mean, I was thinking to myself “This guy’s got gloves on, man.” (Laughter) It’s like a pillow fight, you know? Yeah, he can kick and those things, so I knew I had to watch out for that- but I was thinking to myself that this is gonna be like taking candy from a baby. I understood what my environment was. Even before other people understood what was going on, I literally watched, looked, and understood that this guy was in trouble. There was nothing he could do to me. So, my confidence was sky high- and as you can see in the ring I wasn’t at all worried about anything, I went right in and took him right down.

WC: The fight was very quick- something like forty-six seconds. You got two submissions- the first was a rear naked choke (RNC), but the second- it didn’t seem like a figure four key lock, what was that exactly? Your hand was under his neck and you figure foured your arms. What was that move?

KS: Yeah that was a key lock, I just used his head to crank the arm. I just pulled his head along with the arm.

WC: Did your training for Don Nielson become any different, or was it just more intense?

KS: No, that’s when I understood- and I understood it early on because in our training I would roll with guys- me, Suzuki, Funaki, different guys- we would have fun. We would go after one another in the gym and really do the submissions- and the submissions were real. That’s what was so exciting to me, was that even though in some of those organizations it was set up and they were put into a work form- when we would roll in the gym, we did it for real. I remember them bringing in young guys from other countries, they would throw me in against them and say “OK, let’s see where you stand.” Like I said, I did it with Koslowski one time where we were going to see who was going to go over. We went in there- I shot, took him down, submitted him within fifteen seconds. He said “Wait a minute, I haven’t been shot on in years- I’m a Greco-Roman guy, let’s do it again.” So I looked at Sammy and said “We can do this as many times as he wants.” And so I took him down and submitted him again, I got up and said “What, you want to do it again?” and he said “No, no, no- that’s OK.” That’s what was exciting to me- that it was real.

WC: Did you normally train any standup in Japan at that time, and were you training more standup for Nielson?

KS: Actually, I learned early on that in order to be good at this event that I was getting into now- I understood that I had to know how to strike. I had to know how to kick, elbow, knee, punch- I needed to learn how to do that because that was fifty percent of the fight. So I took that serious, and I started doing muay thai- I even took a muay thai fight...

WC: ...Frank Lobman.

KS: Yes. Just so it would push me more to learn standup and to fight guys that are world class fighters to see where it is that I’m at, and how much more I need to learn. And so, I wasn’t afraid of that. I wanted to learn, and I knew sometimes you had to take an ass kicking to learn that. I didn’t shy away from that. I really studied the muay thai, and actually got pretty dang good at it.

WC: Once the Nielson match was done- did that seal the deal for you concerning wanting to make the jump from entertainment to the full shoot?

KS: Well, whether that match happened or not, my personality is that- that’s how I got to Pancrase. I started prowresting. I played football and that came to an end. I needed more challenge, I needed more of the aggressiveness, and I kept searching it out. I started in prowrestling, that was fun- but it just didn’t fill that void. Then I saw the UWF video and I said “Wow, I want to try that.” I did that and that filled it for a moment, but it wasn’t everything. Then- when I got an opportunity to do the shoot-style, because I was already doing it in practice- and I was probably one of the best guys there after six months, yet I was still going in and doing jobs. So I thought to myself “Man, I wish I could do this for real.” And then all of a sudden I got approached by Funaki and Suzuki about a shoot-style and then I was like “Dude, before any of that stuff- you know what, this is what I want to do. This is what I want to be.” And it had nothing to do with Sammy Soranaka, or Fujiwara, or anybody- whether I liked them or didn’t like them. It was about me doing what I wanted to do, what I loved to do.

WC: Coming up to the close on PWF-Gumi: the December 1992 show was the last one that would feature any of the future Pancrase fighters- Funaki, Suzuki, Fuke, Takahashi, and Yanagisawa. How did Funaki and Suzuki go about notifying Fujiwara they were leaving, or did he know that it might have been coming?

KS: I don’t know, I just know that a lot of people were unhappy about the direction we were going- including myself. I believe that we had an opportunity to change the direction of the entertainment industry, and we had something real special, that we could challenge the world- that we were the best fighters in the world and that we could challenge anybody that we wanted to, like the UFC did. We were on the front side of that looking and going- hey, why are we still doing this stuff when we can create something that we believe would be the bestlegitimate fighting organization in the world- and we can prove it? We can bring in muay thai fighters, we can bring in prowrestlers, sumos- whoever we wanted to bring in- we can bring them in and we can compete against anybody in the world and our style will stand above it all. And that’s the vision I really believe Funaki and Suzuki had- when they went with the Pancrase organization was to prove that this style- that whoever developed- I don’t know who’s taking credit for it- but whoever developed this style that they had over in Japan which eventually went into the Pancrase organization- that this style was legitimately the best in the world.

WC: A lot of what you just said makes me feel that’s why certain things happened- it was supposed to be the best style in the world, and maybe that’s why what happened, happened with the two Suzuki matches in Pancrase. But I’ll get to that in a little bit.

After the exodus of future Pancrase fighters, you stayed around for two more months. In January 1993 you had your rematch with Fujiwara, and February 1993 you fought Mark Ashford-Smith, and then you were done. Why did you stay a couple extra months after all the other Pancrase guys left?

KS: Well, I felt I owed it to Sammy, and I owed it to Fujiwara- I got introduced to Sammy, and he got me involved in it. I had even told Sammy “Man, I want to do this. I want to legitimately do it. I feel myself itching.” They basically said give us a couple more months to get what they needed to get done, and then I was gonna move into the Funaki organization. But, it was hard for me because I really believed that Sammy gave me that opportunity, and I really appreciated it. But, I had to grow- I needed more. I couldn’t keep doing this style and putting other people over when my inner self was exploding to get real.

WC: And with what you just said, how they needed a couple months to get things in order- that makes sense with your next match, the January 1993 rematch with Fujiwara. You had mentioned in your second book that it was worked, and back in Fighting Sports Newsletter in early 1997 you mentioned that the match had very limited striking. It makes sense for you to lose this match because Fujiwara looks like he has the strongest style- he beat you after you beat Nielson- so he kind of gets credit on that for his Nielson fight- and he beats you in the rematch- so he’s wrapping up loose ends here, now that you and the rest of the crew are leaving.

When we bring up Sammy Soranaka- I’m able to find limited information on him. It looks like he might have been related through marriage to Karl Gotch, and then he was living out of Tampa, Florida- and he may have passed on around May of 1992 when PWF-Gumi was still going with the Pancrase guys. Did he pass on in that spring of 1992?

KS: Yeah, and it was quite sudden. Nobody expected it. It was a tremendous loss because he was the one that really held things together, he was level headed, had the connection to the U.S., and a really tremendous guy.

WC: With Soranaka based out of Florida- was his job basically the booker on the U.S. side for the UWF and PWF-Gumi?

KS: Yes, he was- and I remember Malenko was the one who introduced me to him through a videotape I saw and then I went to do the tryout in Miami and he was very, very impressed with me. He took me out shortly after that to Japan, and I did a tryout out there and he was even more impressed once I did the tryout in Japan and thirty or so days later I had an actual fight in the ring- and that was pretty quick, man! (Laughter) And then since that time, you’ve seen what my career was like after that- it just kinda flew through.

WC: It sounds like the Pancrase transition might have been coming on for a while because Soranaka had passed on around May 1992 and then Funaki and Suzuki had left after the December 1992 show. Were you definitely talking to Soranaka, not Fujiwara about leaving- was it really that many months that Funaki and Suzuki were planning this?

KS: No, it was going on for quite some time. I think they realized after we started the Fujiwara-Gumi thing and that we were having to put Fujiwara over quite a bit. It just felt like- nothing against them or what they were doing or trying to build because they gave us a tremendous opportunity- but, how long do you keep doing jobs for people and allowing them to continue to keep taking advantage because you’re under their thumb and you have to keep putting them over because they’re in charge? I mean, how long do you go with that? How long do you take that? And when you realize... that listen. I’ve got to start looking out for me, I’ve got to start looking out for what’s best for my future- not what’s best for their future.

WC: Your last match there: February 1993 vs Mark Ashford-Smith in Miami, Florida. Can you tell me how that went?

KS: I really don’t remember. I know I won- I think I won that match?

WC: You did, yes.

KS: I don’t recall- I was looking forward.

WC: Was there any kind of resentment from the prowrestling community in general towards Funaki and Suzuki- or maybe even you- for leaving PWF-Gumi and going your own way?

KS: I think so. When I first got involved with the UWF it was one unit- there was just one organization. I remember I got into it and I really enjoyed that style. But then, after I was there for two shows, I end up sitting home for a couple months because something happened and Maeda, Takada, and Fujiwara split into three different groups. I kind of went with what I knew, which was Sammy Soranaka- he’s the one that brought me in. So, I went with him to Fujiwara-Gumi. We started doing shows with Fujiwara-Gumi and then Funaki and Suzuki came to talk to me and say “Hey, we’re thinking about building a new organization, and it’s going to be a shoot. It’s hardcore-style.” And of course that lit me up because, like I’ve said- I think most people know my personality now- I love that challenge. The more extreme the better. I’ve never changed that my whole time, that’s who I am- I’ve done that my whole career, I’ve always stepped up to the next challenge that was even more of a challenge. This was part of that beginning, of me being me- where they came to me, they spoke to me, the only one they wanted to bring was me, they didn’t want to bring anybody else- so they were going to start a new thing and bring in young boys, and they wanted me to help them. So, I made that change with Funaki and Suzuki.

I don’t regret it, the only thing I regret is I wish it would have been a smoother transition, and that the people like Soranaka- I wish he would have understood who I was, and that this was what was going to make me happy- and not staying in that soft-style. I appreciate everything he did for me but I needed to be me- and by going into the shoot-style, it was something that I really was looking forward to. I tried to explain it to him, I think he understood to a point, but it didn’t make it any easier when I had to leave. So when I did leave there was definitely some resentment towards me- I’m sure by some of the fans, and definitely by the Fujiwara organization itself. But, after we got in to do our first show with Pancrase, and probably six months after we got started- all those people that were a little bit disappointed in what we were doing understood that we weren’t competing with them. We weren’t trying to outdo them and we weren’t trying to grab what they built and steal it. We were going out and doing something completely different than what they were doing. We wanted realness. We wanted to be able to go in and fight for real, and not have to go in there and lay down for people- even though that was part of the program. So, after we got started I think people understood like “OK. I get it now. It wasn’t anything to do with personalities or trying to screw or stab somebody in the back- it was that they were creating something new.” It had nothing to do with what they were doing. So once we got started you see Pancrase become the best, and the favorite of Japan.


Part One of Seven: An Introduction to the Hard-style Pro Wrestling

Sunday - Part Three of Seven: Pancrase

Monday - Part Four of Seven: Pancrase Controversy

Tuesday - Part Five of Seven: Creating The Lion’s Den and Entering the First UFC

Wednesday - Part Six of Seven: UFC 2, UFC 3, and the Machado Family

Thursday - Part Seven of Seven: The Russian Bear and The Hammer

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William Colosimo is a very part time writer who is always interested in interviewing fighters from either a submission wrestling lineage or the no holds barred era of fighting

Ken Shamrock is looking to reacquire all old Lion’s Den video footage- recordings of tryouts, gym fights, etcetera. If anything is in your possession, please feel free to contact him at