Ken Shamrock used to be the baddest man on the planet.
In the early days of mixed martial arts, it was tough to find anybody who inspired more fear than Shamrock. His muscled and ripped frame gave him the appearance of a cartoon character. His intensity was unequaled in the sport at the time, and his bag of submissions made him a very real threat to any opponent he faced during those early years.
But those early years were a long time ago, and Shamrock is no longer even a shell of the man he once was. If you look closely, you can still see a glimmer of the old intensity in his eyes, but that’s about it. His body began to fail him a long time ago, and the skills that once made him a terrifying opponent have been surpassed by more complete mixed martial artists.
Shamrock’s loss to Pedro Rizzo in the main event of Saturday’s Impact FC event was a sad affair for long-time fans of the sport. Jonathan Snowden sums up my feelings perfectly in a column over at Bloody Elbow: “It was a sad moment for the man who once inspired such fear and awe. Shamrock, wearing every one of his 46 years on his weathered face, was thrown to the wolves against Pedro Rizzo for Impact FC in Australia. Rizzo, one of the most successful and dangerous leg kickers of all time, wailed away on Shamrock's brittle bones. Each shot made the audience wince in empathy -- it didn't help that Ken looked like he wanted to cry with every blow.”
Shamrock’s inability to deal with something as basic as leg kicks should serve as an indication that he’s long past his due date, but Shamrock didn’t seem to get the message, even after a loss to another aging veteran who has zero hope of competing for an elite MMA promotion in the future.
"As long as the fans come and keep watching me, I'll keep getting beat up,” Shamrock said.
I understand why Ken Shamrock is fighting. The early years of mixed martial arts didn’t pay well enough to make anybody rich, and Shamrock isn’t known for being a good manager of money. Like so many other veterans from the early years, Shamrock hangs on and continues fighting for the hope of another payday -- not because he’s accumulating wealth, but because he needs the money to put food on the table.
In moments of vulnerability, Shamrock will tell you that he doesn’t want to fight, that he doesn’t enjoy losing a little piece of his legacy every time he steps in the cage. But he’ll also tell you that he has no choice, that fighting is the only thing he knows how to do and the only way to make a living. He’s paying the price for decisions made long ago, and he’s doing it front of our eyes.
It’s not an easy thing to watch.