As the first round of Bellator's Fight Master tournament rolls on, it's our guest, Frank Shamrock, who once again finds himself on the winning side. That's three out of four, in case you were keeping score.
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 talk to the coach.
Al-Shatti: You said early on that even though Nick Barnes is only 22 years old, he had a great fighter's mind, like a sponge. Can you elaborate a little on that? What moment led you believe that?
Shamrock: Nick just has that ability to see through things. When you're telling him things, he asks very simple, pointed questions. He reminded me very much of when I used to train B.J. Penn. You could tell him one simple thing, he'd have one simple answer, and then he'd immediately do it five minutes later.
The very first fight he had, to get into the house, Maurice Smith, one of our coaches, was showing him a technique, and he really hadn't had much experience with it. They showed him the technique, five minutes later he was trying it in a live match. That's the kind of machine you want out there fighting.
Al-Shatti: Nick went to tell his story about his cousins setting him on fire when he was 13 and burning his whole torso. It was really quite stunning. What was your reaction the first time you heard that?
Shamrock: I was just blown away by the whole story. To experience something like that as a young man, to step up to one of your family members and then to be horribly burned by it, and to come out of it, the whole thing to me was just a huge inspiration. He's a smiling kid, you know? It didn't feel like, when I was training him and doing all these things with him, that it had affected him in a negative way. It had almost made him stronger.
When you go through things like that in your life, it creates a different value on life, on family, on love. We saw right away, Nick has an old soul. He's been around a hard world, and he brings that in the cage. But he's not doing that outside, being a knucklehead. He saves it for that moment, and that may be more special to me.
Al-Shatti: On the other side, Greg Jackson seemed to be M.I.A. for a lot of Tim Welch's camp. You didn't really approve of it, and you mentioned that because these guys chose you, it made it your responsibility to be here. Meanwhile, Welch was plagued with doubt before the fight. Did Jackson's absence hurt him?
Shamrock: It's critical. Fighting is 90-percent mental. It's a lot of emotion. I really felt like Greg needed to be there for Tim, because he had a lot of skill but he was just looking for that little bit of confidence, that little bit of, ‘You can do this. I know you can.' That's why I thought Greg should've been there. That what Tim was asking him, ‘Are you going to be here for me?' And to be honest, I felt like he wasn't.
I just felt an overwhelming desire to be there for my guys, especially for the first few weeks, because that was a serious time. It was a new environment. You're asking them to have all this trust, you're asking them to follow your way, and if you're a real leader and you want to be a definitive figure, in my book, you'll be there.
Al-Shatti: Looking back on your experiences, who stands out in your mind as an example of someone you knew who handicapped themselves with their own doubt?
Shamrock: Well, my brother is the biggest example. He always went into these things with, ‘I'm going to win, but I don't know how.' It was always icy, a creep of doubt in there. He was fighting himself and his opponent, which made it a really hard fight. I mean, I watched Ken train in the gym. Ken was one of the greatest athletes I've ever seen. But when he got into a fight, it would be half of him. He was wrestling with a lot more in there than just beating his opponent.
Al-Shatti: Getting back to the fight, it all worked out for you once again. Barnes choked out Welch in the first. Take me back to that moment. You just beat Greg. How did it feel?
Shamrock: It was absolutely the best. I was nervous going into the whole thing because I don't have gyms, I don't train people anymore. I'm old, I'm retired. There was a lot of fear going into it. Could I still do this? Did I still have the passion? Had the sport moved on? But to see our guys fight like that, and to feel the confidence coming from them, it was just awesome. The whole thing was awesome.
Al-Shatti: I'd imagine the fact that it came against Greg probably made it a little sweeter.
Shamrock: (Laughs.) Well, I was dancing and rubbing it in. I doubt that helped at all. (Laughs.) You know, Greg had showed himself to be quite a competitor, so I looked for every opportunity to beat Greg, whether it was in the cage or out of the cage. I picked on his guys; I really made a solid effort to try to dishevel Greg Jackson's game, and I think I was successful in some areas.
Al-Shatti: Afterward Welch was so torn up. He said that people have no clue how hard this is mentally. Is that an aspect of the sport outsiders tend to overlook?
Shamrock: Oh yeah. It's something that is so hard to comprehend. Like, only Nick Barnes will know what it feels like to pull a family member out of a burning house, because only Nick Barnes did that. Only guys who fight for a living know what it's like to be hungry and beaten and tired, mentally, all the time. The average person has no understanding of what that is and what that could be. And then you're going to put all these guys in one house and not let them talk to anybody, make them stand around there all day long, the mental stress, the mental fatigue of that situation is almost unbearable.
Al-Shatti: Finally, the show ended with Joe Riggs's victory over Eric Scallan. The fight itself was one-sided, but the lead-up, with Joe struggling to cut weight, was incredibly dramatic. Joe said he has to cut 30 pounds every week. That's crazy. Was he in bad shape by the end of it?
Shamrock: Well the fights cycle through about every eight days, so he's cutting weight every eight days to make weight. It was basically his fulltime job to maintain his weight and keep his body in order.
When the show started, he looked terrible. We thought there's no way he's going to make this weight. That was kind of out assessment. After the first weight cut that he made, he kind of came back and he actually got stronger as the show went on, which I was very surprised at. I thought he would break down, both mentally and physically. The old Joe Riggs was a basketcase, a mental midget. Everything feel apart half of the time when he went into battle. But this is a new Joe Riggs, who has a new drive and a new energy, and we'll see if he can maintain it.
Jamesglory asks: Could you describe in greater detail the depth of your relationships with the guys in your team? It seems that you are showing a lot of genuine love for them. This does seem to set you apart from the other coaches, in this respect.
Shamrock: Sure. My first fighting team was my brother, and I learned that I came from a community where your team was your family. We functioned as a unit. You helped as many people as you could, because they would help you. So that's kind of the vibe I wanted for my gym. I think it's just a little different than how most people approach it. I really want to know if you're okay. I really want to know if you've got something you want to say or do, and I'll support it. I spent the first two or three days really earning their trust. Those first three days I proved it over and over -- if I said I was going to do it, I did it.
Jamesglory asks a follow-up: How are you balancing this love and encouragement against the intensity of the training/fighting? Please talk about the strength they are drawing from this and how it manifests in their performances overall. Great show again. God bless.
Shamrock: For me, it was about taking care of their minds, and then once we got the mind squared, we got trust and confidence, we got the particulars out of the way, then I felt like I should share my heart with these guys. If I was real with them, they would be real with me. And then once we got to that point, it was okay to be on each other. It was okay to do crazy stuff, because we knew we all were going to be one caring unit. It created a different dynamic. I didn't go in there thinking, ‘I've got to train these guys.' I wanted to mold these guys, and once I had them ready and molded, then I'll train them. I think I just had a different mindset going into the situation.
Do you have a question for Frank Shamrock? Write it in the comments below 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.