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Japan’s Rich MMA History: The Ken Shamrock Interview, Part 4 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 Four of Seven: Pancrase Controversy

By William Colosimo |

William Colosimo: Matt Hume- I wanted to touch on him a little bit. How did you two meet?

Ken Shamrock: I was actually asked to go and see those guys when I was involved with Pancrase, to start recruiting for the U.S. for Pancrase- so I went out there and saw those guys and worked out with them a little bit, and I started teaching them the stuff that we were doing in Pancrase. So when I got down there, I saw that there was some talent there- definitely way behind the eight ball- but I said OK, I think these guys could definitely pick up and learn something so I went back and told Japan, “These guys- we could use these guys- no question.”

WC: On Jeff Osborne’s Fightworld VHS tapes- I think they were the December 1998 and January 1999 tapes- you were talking to Jeff about the Hume match and said that you had agreed to work that match- or maybe have an exhibition?

KS: Me and Matt?

WC: Yes.

KS: I talked to Matt and I said that we would go in with each other but I wouldn’t hurt him. I wouldn’t hurt him, because he had been so green. I did the same thing with Maurice Smith, in the tournament- I told Maurice “If you hit me, you knock me down, that’s great, I get it- but if I get you in a heel hook, and you spin and try to get out, you’re gonna hurt yourself.” So those were understandings I had with guys because I was so much better than they were. And I’m not going to go in there and abuse these guys. So I would go to them and make an agreement: “Listen, if I get you in this situation or this situation, it’s up to you- whatever you want to do- but I’m not going to go in there and beat you up.”

WC: You had three Pancrase matches with Funaki, I wanted to bring up the second one- from September 1994. I believe you had mentioned in the recent past that you always did a shoot with Funaki. I was curious about this match because it was coming up close to UFC 3, where you were planning to fight Royce. I know you wanted your revenge on Royce- but eight days before that UFC 3 tournament you took this fight with arguably Pancrase’s most dangerous fighter. Can you give me your thoughts on why you accepted that match?

KS: The same reason why I got involved with the Pancrase organization- when I went from prowrestling into the Pancrase organization. Because I just felt like I wanted to be challenged more. I wanted more- and, I saw this UFC- I saw the type of fighting that they wanted to do- no holds barred, bare knuckle, closed fist, anything goes, no time limit- I thought to myself “Man, that’s a challenge.” And so, it’s just the same thing I’ve done my whole career- I’ve always kinda stretched out and tried to get more, challenge myself more- and that’s why I did it. I’m not one to sit on my laurels and go “OK, I’m good here because I’m world champion.” No, I want to jump into the real thing. Pancrase, boom- I did that. I became a champion there. I pretty much dominated that for a while. Then I said “OK, well, here comes this UFC thing. This is a challenge, I’m going to take my chances there now, even though it could ruin my whole thing I’ve done here in Pancrase- but I want more. I want to try and go challenge myself some more.” And so, I went there, and I did that. I challenged myself- and, I was able to succeed at that. And just as I’m doing today- I’m challenging myself again. And I will succeed.

WC: You mentioned that you had gotten in trouble for saying things in the past that were too specific. Is there a concern with Pancrase, or the people involved with PWF-Gumi that there might be a lawsuit involved? Is that the issue?

KS: Yeah- it wouldn’t be with Fujiwara-Gumi because Fujiwara-Gumi was prowrestling. It was a hard-style prowrestling. But Pancrase was the real deal.

WC: One more Pancrase fight I wanted to bring up- Leon van Dijk- Bas Rutten’s training partner. That fight was interesting to me in that you fought in a way I guess I would describe as very open on the ground. You looked like your confidence was sky high. The inside heel hook you put on him is pretty legendary- was there any reason that that might have been cranked a little bit?

KS: Absolutely not, not on that situation. The reason why that one happened was because when I put that on, it was cross body- and he laid backwards. And when he laid backwards it had put more pressure on his heel, and I was sitting up and I went backwards- and it was just one of those things that happened. I would never try to hurt anybody on purpose, especially at the level that he was at. Like I told you, I even talked to Leon Dijk and Bas Rutten before that, and I made it really clear- I’m not gonna go in and beat this guy up- he’s a young kid, he doesn’t know anything- and so that was not my intention. You know, there were a few other ones in there where that was my intention- because I was trying to send a message. But Leon Dijk was just one of those ones in the line of that, and I was frustrated and angry about what was happening- but I wasn’t trying to take it out on him.

WC: Once the heel hook was banned in Pancrase, a number of fighters were using what I call a modified heel hook- basically a heel hook with different hand positioning. The palms of the hands were used to grab the heel and toes. What are your thoughts on that modified heel hook, or if you even believe it is a heel hook?

KS: Yeah, that’s ridiculous. If they banned heel hooks, that’s banned. I mean, how are you supposed to know? “Uh, wait a minute. That’s a heel hook.” But, whatever. I mean, it is what it is.

I’m not sure- I think I knew why they banned heel hooks- but, hey, whatever. Listen, history has a funny way of telling the truth. So, I always wait and see what happens. Like I’ve said, I’ve done nothing really that warranted for certain things to happen, and I believe history will be told, and that’s when things will come out the way they should.

WC: The Japanese crowd was different than the U.S. fight crowd. The fans were very silent- and when a fighter would make a move that was exciting, they would clap. By the early 1990’s with Pancrase being introduced, were the fans already getting educated on what the techniques were?

KS: Yeah, I believe that with the crowd, and the material, the information that they read and study- it’s different than the U.S. where people just go and watch, and scream and yell, they’re entertained, and they’re all having a good time- it just seemed like the culture in Japan was that they knew everything about the fighter, they knew their background, they knew what styles they had, what their favorite move was, and what their strengths and weaknesses were. They studied everybody’s skill levels- they even had these magazines that came out which would show strengths and weaknesses in a chart that they would hand out during the fights. So they were given information- while these people would go to the fights they would hand out these charts and different things to the fans so that they could be kept up to speed on what the matchup was, what the strengths and weaknesses were, and what somebody would be trying to attack and exploit during the fight.

They were very educated and very well versed on the fighters going into the ring, so it was amazing to watch the “oohs” and the “aahs” when something would happen- and the quietness is what really bothered a lot of fighters coming in from other countries, because they didn’t know what to expect or what to think. They were like “Wait a minute. Am I that boring? These guys aren’t cheering.” So they would start pushing themselves harder and they would blow themselves up- in our terms, get tired and push themselves too hard- and they would run out of juice and in the later rounds they would be so tired that they couldn’t move too well. So, it was definitely different to a lot of people coming from other countries when you heard the quietness, you could hear a pin drop- and that really bothered fighters in the ring because they felt like “Wow, these people are not getting into my fight”- which is not the case. They’re studying the fight and they wait for things to happen.

WC: The quietness must have been a huge advantage to you and your fighters in the sense that you could hear your corner razor sharp.

KS: It was a tremendous advantage, especially if you understood the quietness. If you understood what was going on then you would almost be able to focus- listen and hear your opponent’s breathing, his little twitches in movements- you could focus a little bit more on what he was doing. You could almost feel his movement. And then you could hear your corner very clearly. So, especially being comfortable in that atmosphere, it was a huge advantage to people who understood.

WC: Funaki was the main person that trained you in submission wrestling. You had also mentioned that when you first went over there, everyone was generally helpful and wanted to see you succeed. Other than Funaki, was there anybody else that you found that you were going to for training advice more than others?

KS: No, I think obviously I got help from Funaki- especially when we made the move to Fujiwara-Gumi. And then I very quickly became an actual teacher for some of the younger boys. I mean I was put in with Takahashi when he first came in, and I was rolling with him a whole lot and I was teaching him as he was coming up. So, I got put into that spot myself- along with Funaki- we were really the two guys, especially when I was there- it was mostly me because I was on the mat all the time with these guys. When I came in along with my guys, I was able to teach a lot of those guys that were coming up from Japan- while I was teaching the Lion’s Den guys.

WC: Suzuki- was he someone that you learned a lot from, or was he kind of off doing his own thing in the gym?

KS: You know what- we never really crossed paths, I don’t know why- but, we never really rolled with one another. I know he was pretty good at what he did but I was just bigger than him, and I was able to control him when I wanted to. For his weight and his size he was very clever- but his striking ability was very, very weak. I think that’s why he wasn’t able to- in my opinion- really transition from the Pancrase style into the MMA style. No holds barred style.

WC: From what I understand, Suzuki apparently had a bad neck problem or some other injuries that started rearing their head again- and that might have been around 1996 when he was losing a lot and took some time off. Do you know if he had any of those big injuries?

KS: Yeah, I don’t know- I know that they were definitely trying to protect him, with some of the things that I had to endure myself when working- or fighting him. It didn’t make me happy, but it is what it is. And again, it was just Suzuki that they ever came and talked to me about, when I was gonna fight him- about making sure that I didn’t hurt him.

WC: Do you think Suzuki knew that they came to you and asked you to be lenient?

KS: I knew he knew because he was there when they talked to me.

WC: Ah, well that would definitely settle that. I can understand where some anger would come in on an injury after the first fight, after he knew what the agreement was.

KS:Absolutely. Absolutely.

WC: Eventually your relationship with Pancrase broke down, whether they tried to negotiate Guy Mezger’s contract behind your back, not pay you monies owed, et cetera. It appeared that you were a really good fit in that company, and you seemed like a great representative- you helped bring Pancrase to the United States PPV, for instance. You were a fan favorite and a moneymaker for them- so why in the world would they shoot themselves in the foot business wise and purposely try to sabotage a good relationship?

KS: Why would UFC do that? Why would a lot of people that I’ve been involved with do that? I tell ya- it’s money, it’s power, and they forget where they came from. They forget the people that helped them out. And I can tell you- you look at history, history will tell you the same thing- a lot of people just forget how they got there and who got ‘em there, and when they do that, they believe they did that themselves and they cut themselves loose from the people who had made them successful. It may not happen overnight, but eventually it all falls down.

WC: So you left the organization. There was apparently some collateral damage- it looked like Vernon White and Frank Shamrock for whatever reason were no longer welcome, or were squeezed out. Did those guys want to stay in Pancrase?

KS: Yes. I don’t know what happened with Frank and why he was squeezed out. I don’t know what happened with Vernon, except for the fact that the only reason why Vernon was there was because I wanted him to be there- because he was getting beat all the time. I wanted to try and help him- I knew he had a rough childhood, he had some tough situations, and I wanted to help him. So I kept him involved. I sent him up there to Japan to stay for a while, and I wanted him to at least do the best he could- but as soon as I was gone, I guess they assumed that they didn’t need him around because he just wasn’t what they wanted there. Frank, I don’t know what happened with that.

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

Part Two of Seven: The Professional Wrestling Fujiwara-Gumi

Part Three of Seven: Pancrase

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

Visit Ken at

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