Last night saw Viacom throw its hat back into the MMA reality television ring with the debut of Bellator's Fight Master. For months, Spike TV executives promised to deliver a series distinctive from The Ultimate Fighter, with a core concept revolving around 16 welterweights deciding their fate every step of the way, from picking their own coaches to picking their own opponents.
Wednesday's season opener followed the fate of five of those fighters, two of which -- 22-year-old Nick Barnes and Bellator tournament veteran Chris Lozano -- saddled up with our guest, Frank Shamrock. A former Strikeforce, WEC, and UFC champion, Shamrock will join us every Thursday to elaborate on the week's episode, share stories from the set and highlight some things we may have missed.
If you have any questions you'd like Shamrock to answer next week, please write them in the comments below. Remember that rec'd comments will get first priority. And with that said, let's get to it.
Al-Shatti: Over and over we're told this show isn't another TUF clone. Then right off the bat, you walk into a dimly lit set adorned with just a cage and four leather seats. What were your first impressions?
Shamrock: It had a pretty cool vibe to everything, but I had no idea what was really going to happen and how it was going to play out. They didn't really tell us everything that was going to happen, so a lot of it was just not knowing what was going on, which made it really fresh and interesting.
Al-Shatti: At that point, when fighters start selecting coaches, I think the assumption was that you'd be at an immediate disadvantage because of Greg and Randy's backgrounds.
Shamrock: I had that fear when I went into the show because I'm [retired]. I'm not in the cage, so how am I going to train people? When I got there, I kind of resigned [myself] to, hey, I'm probably going to get guys who either are huge fans because I have this iconic image, or the guys who are extremely technical and studied, and interested in getting that information.
You could see when they were making their selection, they had pretty much made up their minds. They had sort of their own idea about what they wanted or what they needed. It was very strange because I haven't seen young fighters for a long time. To watch them fight, and to talk to them right after, it was just a really charged and different moment.
Once I kind of put my ego aside and was like, ‘Hey, you choose me, you choose me. You don't, you don't. Who cares? We're doing a TV show.' Then it became easy. But yeah, Joe (Warren) and I were like -- Joe's so honest, he came out and said, ‘I just want someone to be on my team,' which is wonderful! (Laughs.) Because we're all thinking that inside, but no one said it except for Joe.
Al-Shatti: It seemed like, right away, you four really embraced the idea of ‘playing the game' and trying to one-up each other.
Shamrock: Well, I started from day one. I came right away and tried to be misdirective. I was trying to get new research. Plus they just fought, so they're easily influenced, highly emotional. They got all this stuff going on, and they're talking to us, and we're trying to get them to come with us. So I used everything I could come up with. I've got a few tricks when it comes to psychology and stuff.
Al-Shatti: And Eric Scallan was the first example of that? Asking point blank, ‘Are you afraid to get hit?'
Shamrock: I could tell, he was a guy that I couldn't do much for. I'd already made up my mind, then it was all about placing him. My mindset on that one, once I already knew I didn't want him or couldn't help him as much, I really just started looking to stick him and mess up another team.
That was the toughest part for me, especially because they just performed. They just fought their heart out. It's tough to be somewhat mean and rude to a couple of them. But you know, I was also trying to win the game and beat the other coaches, so that was my primary objective.
Al-Shatti: After that, very quickly, it seemed like the floodgates opened in terms of strategy, even during the fights.
Shamrock: I noticed that we could kind of do whatever we wanted. (Laughs.) So to help influence them and get in their ear, every opportunity I was yelling and trying to get their attention, being boisterous.
To me, I remember fighting and being really vulnerable in there, when you're just putting everything on the line. Sometimes it's something simple, or sometimes someone's voice gets through, and then you're like, ‘Oh, that made me feel better,' and then you have a little bit of trust in that. If I could get that going, I could probably convince you to be on my team over someone else's.
Al-Shatti: Then Nick Barnes walks up, and you're the first one to really stand and declare you wanted a guy. What did you see in Nick that prompted it?
Shamrock: My boys told me this kid had something special. That he was raw, and that he probably didn't have a lot of skill, and what he had was 100-percent natural. So I thought, man, that's the kind of kid that I was when I fought. I didn't know anything about fighting. I was just trying it to see where it'd go. A kid like that in a tournament like this, if he can stay healthy, I can have him win this thing. Even though he's undersized, even though he's the underdog, he'd be the type of guy who'd win it. So I just felt like I had to stand up and say it.
They all looked at me like I was crazy. They all kept looking at me like I crazy. But I could tell the key is, we're making a big impression. So I thought, hey, nothing makes a bigger impression than standing up for yourself. It totally worked.
Al-Shatti: It completely worked, and from then on the tone changed. All four of you became much more direct.
Shamrock: Once I stood up, the game got going and everybody started ratcheting it up. And Greg (Jackson) was surprisingly the most voracious competitor in that, because he had this whole passive-aggressive thing going on, which works really good.
It's so much fun to be competitive amongst champions and champion trainers. That kind of vibe, you could feel. It was just running in front of us, because we just wanted [our guys]. When you wanted a guy, when you really wanted a guy, you were just going nuts. Some of that got across and was very successful.
Al-Shatti: Then came Chris Lozano, who you actually told to go to Greg Jackson's camp. I thought there's no way this'll work, but somehow it did. Why go out on a limb like that?
Shamrock: Well I had gotten some inside information that Chris had trained there before with Greg, and that there was animosity or it didn't go well at the end of the relationship. So I knew that he probably wanted to go to Greg, but maybe couldn't, and I was just concerned he might go somewhere else. I just made it a big point to drive the idea, if possible, that I was the alternative. That was my strategy, and it worked! (Laughs.)
I think I was about 60/40 on it. I also knew we could really help him skill-wise, striking and psychology and stuff, so I knew we had a lot of assets he probably wanted. I felt pretty confident, but it was a gamble. Everything about that show is a gamble, for the fighters, for us. And that one happened to pay off.
Al-Shatti: So episode one comes to a close. Five fights in, you have two of the most coveted guys so far on your team. How are you feeling at that point, and what can we expect to see next week?
Shamrock: I felt pretty darn good. I basically got the guys I wanted. I felt like I had what they needed. Everybody was kind of winning moving forward, so I was just totally charged up. And that's when the game got going, in my opinion. The other coaches, once I landed the guys they wanted, making hard plays for them and getting that response back, that's when the game picked up.
You're going to see even more unique psychology coming out now, and even more pranks and amazing fights, which I think is the best part for me -- watching these young kids. Because there's nobody but us there, and they're just banging it out. It's so compelling to see them get up and make their case afterward.
Do you have a question for Frank Shamrock? Write it below in the comments and we'll ask him next week. 'Fight Master' airs every Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET. Portions of this interview have been abridged for concision.