Frank Shamrock’s impact on the sport of mixed martial arts cannot be overstated.

The Good Men Project / July 3, 2014

by Cameron Conaway

In the MMA community Frank Shamrock isn’t just considered a former champion; he’s considered a pioneer. Many (self included) believe him to be the first prototype for what a complete mixed martial artist should be. He could put his opponents away with punches and kicks and knees, yet he was a lethal grappler capable of ending fights with ankle locks. And he was one of the first MMA fighters to truly be an MMA athlete; he revolutionized how all martial artists train through his willingness to cross-train and his own personal study of the strength & conditioning field.

As I did uphill wind sprints or shadowboxed out in the abandoned farms of State College, Pennsylvania, Frank Shamrock was the pinnacle I hoped to reach. Needless to say, I was inspired by him long before I knew about his story of struggle, of bouncing in and out of juvenile detention centers, of not feeling loved or wanted in this world even when he was a young man. Our parallels run deep: My book, Caged, was released in 2011. His book, Uncaged, was released a year later.

It’s an honor to interview him and glean insights from what he’s learned over the years.

Take us to your life’s most difficult moment. What did you learn from it and how specifically did you learn from it?

My most difficult moments were as a child and as a young man, being incarcerated and not really understanding social graces and social interactions, because I didn’t really grow up with that. Trying to function in a world of criminality and dishonesty, and trying to be a human being in a very un-human place. What I learned about that… I learned to use my mind. I learned to create the places I wanted to be in my mind, and then subsequently I learned to visualize, produce and create the things I wanted in my mind, my life. That skill set… to be able to visualize and create, to be able to see through and withstand any pain and fear… that’s been tremendously helpful in all of my success. I reinforce that daily by meditation, hiking, and keeping my mind clear… because it’s easy to get crowed with negativity and other things.

It’s clear what you achieved as a mixed martial artist, but what do you feel is your greatest achievement for mixed martial artists?

I hope I’m remembered for legitimizing the sport, making great efforts to legitimize the sport–both in professionalism and athleticism–but also in spirituality and bringing the “martial arts” into mixed martial arts, which when I came into the sport was severely lacking. It was a sport of tough guys, a sport of bar-room brawlers. I’d like to think that I ushered in an era of professionalism. I’d like to be remembered for that.

When was the last time you cried?

I cried yesterday. During a family comedy called “Daddy Daycare” with Eddie Murphy. My daughter and I watched it. Funny enough I cried when they got their permits and got everything up to speed and really accomplished the impossible for a really good cause. Sitting next to my daughter that just… that just really made me cry.

What words do you wish a man had said to you when you were a 12-year-old boy?

Hmm… You know I think the words I would have really enjoyed hearing at that time–12 was a really tough time for me–was just that… “It’s going to be okay. Whatever you set your mind to you will accomplish.” It took me another twenty years to believe that. To really truly believe that. I would have loved to have been told that at 12.

You’re a fly on the wall at a community gathering in your hometown of San Jose. What are two things you hope people say about you?

I hope in San Jose they remember me as somebody who made a difference, who stood for something, who risked it. Everybody has a dream, everybody has a wish, but very few people risk everything to go for it. I hope that San Jose realizes that that’s what I did. I’d like to be remembered as a guy who lived with that mentality and who encouraged others to follow through with their own dreams as well.