News Column

Strikeforce's Frank Shamrock Becomes the Face of MMA -- Again

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UFC's original star emerges to lead Strikeforce on the national stage. For Shamrock, the consummate showman, it's all business this Saturday night, on a national stage. On the precipice of his fight with Nick Diaz, Shamrock spoke to HispanicBusiness.com.

A contingent of nervous CBS executives was frantically pacing behind closed doors and the men in suits were about to panic. The opponent for the network's mixed martial arts cash-cow, Kimbo Slice, injured himself two hours before the fight, leaving Slice without a challenger, and CBS without a main event for its fall primetime network MMA show.

After a disastrous rating for the network's summer "Saturday Night Fights" card, the show needed to deliver in the ratings or else. In essence, the future off MMA on primetime network TV hung on the success of the show.

One of then men in the tension-filled room that afternoon was Frank Shamrock, a mixed martial arts legend, who was also CBS' color commentator for the network's first two shows. After about an hour of batting around ideas for how to save the show, Shamrock raised his hand and said, "I'll fight Kimbo."

There were chuckles. Nobody really believed him. Frank said it again. The laughter faded. Now it was getting intriguing.

Jumping from the broadcast booth into the cage to fight a man that weighed 50 pounds more than him would have been ratings gold, the kind of real-life cartoon drama that even the WWE's Vince McMahon would be envious of.

But that's also the kind of stuff that the 36-year-old Shamrock loves.

He's the sport's most charismatic star. He's fearless. And ultimately, he's a showman.

"What Race Are You?"
When you are born with the name Frank Alisio Juarez, you'd think you'd know you are Hispanic. But it never dawned on young Frank, who grew up poor largely on the streets in Santa Monica. His white mother and stepfather raised him after his birth dad abandoned the home. His reality check came when he was 11 years old, when his fists landed him in Juvenile Hall, and the guards asked him, "What race are you?"

A skinny Frank was about to learn not only that he was Mexican-American, but that fighting would be his ticket out of poverty and into history.

At age 11, he was declared a ward of the state of California. He bounced around in various foster homes. It looked like his Frank's fate was sealed: just another poor, reckless kid who gets in trouble and winds up prison, or worse.

But at the age of 13, Frank found his savior in the form of a man named Bob Shamrock, who ran a group home for troubled teens. The elder Shamrock instilled values and a sense of pride in him. The group home was where he also met an older teen named Kenneth Wayne Kilpatrick. The two would eventually bond with each other and the elder Shamrock. Bob Shamrock adopted them and they became Frank and Ken Shamrock, two of the greatest mixed martial artists in the history of the sport.

It's Showtime
It's the day before the fight and Frank Shamrock is hunkering down.

His latest blog posting on FrankShamrock.com reads, "its time to get serious. i am taking off to the hotel and getting ready to cut some weight. i was 185.2 when i got up so its nothing of a cut. looking forwrd to that BARBQ after. nick is gonna die. i love this sport. see you all at the weigh ins. frank "

Shamrock headlines Strikeforce's first solely promoted event on Showtime cable television Saturday night. The San Jose mixed martial arts company has enjoyed great success since it launched in San Jose in 1995. In 2006 Strikeforce staged the first sanctioned mixed martial arts event in California history.

But earlier this year the company acquired the assets of Pro Elite for $3 million. The purchase, which included the contracts of many of Pro Elite's fighters, was a huge coup for Scott Coker, the entrepreneurial founder and CEO of Strikeforce.

Coker and Strikeforce also worked out agreements with Showtime and CBS to air Strikeforce cards. While the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is still the most recognized mixed martial arts brand, Strikeforce has emerged as bona fide competitor.

"This is a major step forward for us," said Mike Afromowitz, Strikeforce's communications director. "This is our biggest event as a true national brand. This is going to be an amazing experience."

Shamrock will compete against another Mexican-American, Nick Diaz. The 25-year-old is a star on the rise, a powerhouse puncher in the cage, and medicinal marijuana activist in his private life. Diaz poses a legitimate threat to the 36-year-old Shamrock.

Diaz grew up without his biological father on the streets of Stockton California. Diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, Diaz is an avowed user of medicinal marijuana, and even claims he knows how to pass drug tests.

Shamrock doesn't like Diaz's flagrant display of his personal choices.

"I don't think medicinal marijuana and mixed martial arts go hand in hand," Shamrock said. "I want to be a good person because I know it's important. That's why Nick's flippant way of combining things is so wrong. Some little kid somewhere is saying let's go smoke some pot and then go wrestle and that's the wrong direction."

At a recent press conference to hype the fight, Diaz greeted Shamrock with a middle finger.

"Frank can talk all he wants, but I'm going to beat him up," Diaz said at the press conference. "Let's see how much he fights back.''

Shamrock, who has a stage presence unmatched by anybody in mixed martial arts, fired back later.

"I want to thank Nick Diaz for the opportunity and just warn him that when I punch his head and he lands in the second row he'll need someone to catch him," Shamrock boomed.
In a candid interview with HispanicBusiness.com, Shamrock opened up about his return to glory and how he's bouncing back after suffering a broken arm in his last fight a year ago.

While Shamrock clearly relishes the spotlight, behind the scenes he's a man who values who place in life.

"I feel I have a tremendous responsibility not only to our youth, but our entire race," Shamrock said. "I never got into the sport to be a star or celebrity. I got into the sport to be really good and take pride in our work. A lot of people look up to me."

Long before UFC became a household word, Shamrock was its biggest star. In 1997 he became first UFC middleweight champion and holds impressive victories over big names such Tito Ortiz and Bas Rutten. He has won virtually every honor and distinction among his peers, including "Fighter of the Decade" in the 1990s by the Wrestling Observer and "Best Full Contact Fighter", by Black Belt Magazine, in 1998.

Shamrock retired from the sport at the height of his popularity after a stunning tapout victory over Ortiz in 1999. For reasons that are largely still a mystery, fell out of favor with the UFC's Dana White and vowed never to return to the company.

He returned to fight in Japan in 2000 and hooked up with Strikeforce in 2006. Since his return, Shamrock has appeared in two out three of the largest live crowds to ever watch an MMA event in North America, both at San Jose's HP Pavilion, against Phil Baroni and Cung Le.

Shamrock broke his right arm in a fight against Le in 2008. The Vietnamese-American, who specializes in san shou kickboxing broke shamrock's arm with a series of kicks. The fight was stopped because Shamrock could not continue.

While it was a stinging loss, Shamrock knows he brought it on himself. He chose to fight Le stand-up style, rather than wrestle, which is Shamrock's specialty and not Le's strength.

"After 15 years it's hard to get up in the morning and still challenge myself," Shamrock said. "The challenge for me was to beat him at his own game. But I can't take those chances anymore."

Shamrock said he came the realization weeks after the fight when he was having difficulty trying to feed his baby daughter a bottle while his arm was wrapped in a cast.

When he steps into the cage Saturday night, Shamrock will take with him a reminder of the Le fight. He has a steel plate and six screws holding his ulna together.

"I'd like to think it gives me an advantage," he said, "but I don't think it does."

Shamrock looks forward to competing against a younger opponent, especially in San Jose, where he resides.

"To be main event in this arena and be main eventing on Showtime, it's huge," Shamrock told HispanicBusiness.com "I look at it as the rebirth of mixed martial arts."

Who's Next?
Whatever happens Saturday night, Shamrock's future is set. He'll always be able to command top dollars as a fighter. And his charisma can take him just about anywhere.

He's starring in an action-adventure film to be released later this year. He gives motivational speeches to young people. He is CEO of Frank Shamrock Inc., an asset management and integrated multimedia company focused on creating, branding and managing intellectual properties.

And he will remain the color commentator for CBS and Showtime events.

So whatever happened that night last fall when CBS was considering allowing Shamrock to take off the suit and tie and step into the cage? Well MMA fans know what happened. CBS executives thought it would be a bit too pro wrestling-like to have the announcer step into the ring, and likely beat Slice, Pro Elite's biggest star at the time.

Instead, they tapped an unknown Seth Petruzelli, who knocked out the bigger, but not badder, Slice in 14 seconds.

For Shamrock, whose career has been marked by overcoming incredible obstacles to achieve success both as an athlete and a businessman, it was only appropriate that he would make this live call during the broadcast, just after the shocking upset.

"This is what mixed martial arts is all about. If you have a dream. If you are willing to step into a cage and fight for your life you can be anything you want."

No one knows the meaning of that message better than Frank Shamrock.

The Fight:
Frank Shamrock vs. Nick Diaz
Saturday, April, 11, San Jose's HP Pavilion
10 p.m. PST and EST on Showtime
Fans can also purchase the live Web cast simultaneously with the live Showtime telecast beginning at 10 p.m. Online participants can control their own viewing experience through multiple camera angles with corresponding audio tracks, as well as interact with fellow users, view user-generated photos and download select music tracks.