‘The World’s Most Dangerous Man’ Ken Shamrock is a legend in both mixed martial arts and professional wrestling. He helped MMA get off the ground and become a global sport that can draw over two million pay-per-view buys. Also, before Ronda Rousey and Brock Lesnar were a part of WWE, we had Ken Shamrock, who was one of the first fighters to crossover and have a successful WWE career.
SteelChair Mag had the good fortune to speak with Ken, and we took a stroll down memory lane by discussing his days in Japan, working with Owen Hart and The Rock, and we get his thoughts on whether Owen Hart should go into the WWE Hall of Fame. Ken gives his honest take on his career and so much more in this exclusive interview.
Being a legend in MMA, what were your thoughts on the Khabib and Conor McGregor post-fight brawl and the pre-fight trash talk? Did it cross the line?
People like Conor McGregor, me, Chael Sonnen, I mean; you could name a bunch of guys. That’s just how we prepared for fights and how we marketed fights, it’s our personality. Then you have guys like Khabib, Chuck Liddell, and Randy Couture that are not afraid of anything, they’re calm, and they just go about their business and get the job done. And that’s okay too.
But when you do things that are out of character like Conor McGregor throwing a chair at a bus and hurting fighters, and Khabib coming unglued and jumping out of the ring, that’s when people lose control of the boundaries. In the ‘no holds barred’ era, we were fighting with Senator McCain and trying to show everybody that we were a real sport. So to see something like that happen after all the battles we won, it’s a shame.
Before WWE, you performed at the Tokyo Dome in 1992 for PWFG against Don Nakaya Nielsen. People always talk about the difference between the American and Japanese audience. What was your experience like working for both of those audiences and did you ever have one you preferred performing for?
No, I didn’t. For me, the experience of both was just tremendous, and I’ve always believed that the more experience you have in different things, the more valuable you become. So for me to be able to be experienced in the world of Japan and also the world I live in was incredibly valuable for me.
Japanese crowds are tough, especially if you’re not from Japan, and then you go and fight in their arena. I saw people trying to overdo themselves because fans were quiet, and they thought fans thought their match was boring, so they would get tired trying to make their fights more exciting. Not knowing the culture and what is happening can cause people to make mistakes in the ring.
You worked with Minoru Suzuki when you were a part of Pancrase, the Japanese MMA promotion. How would you describe your relationship with him?
We were training partners, but when I came in, I didn’t know anything. I know he really took the time to help me and show me a lot of different things and put me with different people to further along my training a lot quicker. He even trusted me when we formed the Pancrase group by bringing me in as one of the big three, and making me one of the faces of this new company. So for him to do that after a few years of training, I’ll always be in debt to him.
It’s sad when they do these MMA Hall of Fames, and they forget about guys like Minoru Suzuki, who were competing before the UFC. Why aren’t they being recognized for their contributions to mixed martial arts beginning?
Your feud with Owen Hart in WWE was unique; as you started with the match that took place in the Dungeon and then you went on to do the Lion’s Den Match. How do you look back on that feud and what was it like working with Owen Hart?
Owen was a first class guy, in and out of the ring. He was a great person, and a great guy to work with in the ring. He’d go in and make sure he did his job to the highest level. So I always enjoyed working with him, especially when it came to the Dungeon and Lion’s Den matches because those were not ones where you bounce off the ropes and the ring was a little bouncy. We were hitting walls and going through walls, and getting slammed on hard pavement. It was rough. So to have someone like Owen Hart, who didn’t shy away from pain, was a real blessing for me because I did not have to hold back so much.
What was the Dungeon match like because that looked very painful?
It was (laughs). We just basically turned it into a fight, that’s all it was.
And the finish where Owen hits you with the weights, how did that feel because it looked very real?
I don’t remember (laughs). That’s how it felt; I don’t remember (laughs).
Today, WWE embrace MMA a lot more than they did back in 1998, so the Lion’s Den match was something very different, and perhaps the first real taste of MMA in WWE. How did that idea come about and what did you think of that match?
I think Vince thought they should build something for my character because I was getting over. So Vince came up with this cage, and they even asked me for my thoughts on it, and I told them to make it at an angle. I did a movie one time where I was inside this cage, and the referees were standing on top of the cage. So I told them that, and I thought it had a movie feel to it. Two guys walk in, one guy walks out, and the referees are just there to make sure we fight. Also, the cage was at an angle, so if you tried climbing out, the guys at the top would push them back down.
It was a lot of fun because I felt in my element. The cage was kind of who I was, and I just felt comfortable in it.
There has been a lot of talk about Owen Hart going in the Hall of Fame over the years. This year, Mark Henry broke down in tears pleading with Martha Hart to let him join the WWE Hall of Fame. You worked with him and knew the Hart family, are you hoping he goes in one day?
It’s a tough go with everything going on, but the fans didn’t do that to him. The fans didn’t have that accident happen. The Hall of Fame is an opportunity for the fans to celebrate Owen, it has nothing to do with Vince and WWE. It’s for Owen, and for his peers and fans to celebrate his greatness. It’s an opportunity for someone to live forever because they impacted so many people.
Another great feud of yours was with a little superstar by the name of The Rock. In 1998, did you think he was going to become a huge star?
I didn’t because when I first came in, he was struggling. He was doing his Rocky character, and for whatever reason, he wasn’t catching people. But as soon as he broke away from these teams and started pulling the mike out and started talking, then you got to see his personality, and that’s when he started to take off.
He was a great worker too. I put him in the same category as Owen Hart, just a great person, in and out of the ring. He came in and did his job at the highest level and was not happy if it did not go well. He always tried to get better, and I was fortunate to work with a lot of people with that same mentality, and it really helped me understand the value of being a professional.
A lot of fans talk about these matches, but is there anything you’re particularly proud of?
To be an elite player in two sports is very difficult. You see a lot of people today trying to crossover, and it’s not easy. When I first came in, I didn’t do tags, I came in as a singles guy and had to carry my own match. It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s very difficult. And also taking the ‘World’s Most Dangerous Man’ character and plug it into professional wrestling and have it be successful at a very high level.
Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey are two of the biggest stars in WWE today. Both of them are also huge UFC stars. What do you think is the biggest difference for MMA stars transitioning to wrestling today compared to when you did it in the nineties?
When I did it, there was no platform for it. The fact is, when I first did it there was this thought of being a traitor because that stuff was fake, and I’m lowering myself by doing it. I got a lot of heat from the fans and from my own Lion’s Den team, people thought it was sickening. But then when the ‘Attitude Era’ came, it became cool. Until I went and opened the doors, what they didn’t understand was, it’s not fake. It’s entertainment, but people still get hurt, and it’s still a rough business.
You’ve mentioned in other interviews that WWE seems to have a problem with you because they will not reach out to you. Do you hope that one day you can go back and maybe make an appearance and go in the WWE Hall of Fame?
I would definitely like to be recognised for my accomplishments there. If you look at pro wrestling before Ken Shamrock, there was only a handful of submission holds. Then after Ken Shamrock, there is a hundred different armbars, leglocks, and transitions into submissions because I brought them in. I showed people that this shoot style can work in pro wrestling, and after my time, the game changed completely. If I made that much of a difference, I would love them to acknowledge that.
Just one final question Ken, what was your relationship like with Vince McMahon during your time in WWE?
My relationship with Vince was fine. With any business, you’re going to have differences, and I’ve always known Vince to be one of those guys where it’s just business. He has a job to do. It’s entertainment, and entertainment is a rough business. To stay in the position that he has been in for so long, you need to have some aggression. So I’ve never had an issue with Vince. We’ve had our differences with contracts and stuff, but other than that, I don’t understand why I have not gone back. Someday, maybe, we’ll we find out.