Eights weeks ago, 32 promising welterweights entered the Fight Master warehouse with no idea what to expect, each one hoping to prove themselves under the watchful eye of four coaches they'd never met. Now, after Wednesday night's episode, only eight men remain, and the tournament's quarterfinals await.
A former Strikeforce, WEC, and UFC champion, coach Frank Shamrock will join us every Thursday to elaborate on the week's Fight Master 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: Before we start, I have to ask. At Monday's Bellator press conference Rampage Jackson mentioned he'd like to fight you. Is that something you'd be interested in?
Shamrock: Wait, did he? No! I'm retired, I'm not going to fight somebody! Isn't he like, way bigger than me? I'll play him in a game of golf and a game of chess, and after I beat him in both, we'll just considering it me winning the fight. (Laughs.)
Al-Shatti: Point taken. So since this was the first week we weren't privilege to any Shamrock in the episode, I'd like to talk about a few behind-the-scene aspects I've been curious about. Where are you guys when Team Shamrock isn't involved in a fight?
Shamrock: It's the weirdest thing. They have all of us go to our respective school and just kind of hang out, so you don't know what's going on. All you hear is yells and groans, and then every once in a while you hear a cheer. But nobody really knows what's going on during the fight until afterwards. It's very much a weird moment. You just kind of see the coaches walk by with their fighter, and sometimes they're beat up, sometimes they're not. You kind of make your own assessment as to who won and who didn't.
Al-Shatti: Wait, the rest of the team isn't allowed to watch its own fighter?
Shamrock: Nope, just coaches. The rest of the team, they're sitting around, guys are freaking out. All you hear is grunting and yelling, and then the door opens, and if your boy either won or lost, then we're either celebrating or not. It's so surreal. I think they were trying to capture what really happened in that moment. No ones knows, you walk in, and it's, ‘Hey! I won!' or ‘I lost.'
Al-Shatti: The cage is in center of the house, right? So no one is even allowed to watch from the balcony? What was that like for your team?
Shamrock: When our guys fought, the rest of the guys just sat in the gym and waited. It's very much a ‘go out on your own, do your thing, come back and just kind of share.'
Sitting there and waiting is the hardest part. Even waiting for the other team's results and waiting to watch them walk by, it's just not real. You can hear it. You just hear all the, ‘Aggghhh,' all the crazy stuff going on. There's nothing you can do. You don't know what's going on. It was tough.
Al-Shatti: So even afterward, the coaches and fighters weren't able to watch and study each other's fights at all?
Shamrock: Afterward everybody got to watch everybody's fights. But live in the moment, we just kind of heard it.
Al-Shatti: Wow, that's wild. So getting back to this week, Joe Warren's man, Evan Cutts, really surprised some folks by beating Cristiano Souza. Were you surprised by that outcome, and were you happy to see Souza gone from the competition?
Shamrock: Hmmm... yeah, I kind of was. Evan has got a goofy style and his striking is a little off. He's got great attrition and great submission set-ups, but he's kind of everywhere. I thought he was dangerous, but not as dangerous as Souza, so I was happy to see him move forward. I thought that might be a great match-up for one of my guys.
But yes, I was very surprised. Very, very surprised. It showed how tough Evan Cutts was. I wouldn't have picked that one.
Al-Shatti: For this week's second fight, A.J. Matthews shocked people by selecting Eric Bradley as his opponent. What did you think of that decision?
Shamrock: A.J. wanted to make a statement, stand up and say, ‘That's the guy that I am. I want a tough guy.' It definitely backfired. He didn't have the wrestling chops to mess with Bradley.
If I was Randy [Couture], I would've tried to dissuade him. I don't know if he did. A.J. is also one of those walk-your-own-line kind of guys, so he may have just made up his mind and that was it. But I definitely would've tried to talk him out of it.
Al-Shatti: Bradley was only ranked No. 7, but after watching him dominant Matthews, do you think the coaches underrated him?
Shamrock: Yeah, totally. He kind of got pushed down there while we were moving the pieces around. It took us a long time to get a top-4, but he should've been ranked higher. I certainly didn't overlook him. I knew what his wrestling skillset was, but he didn't choose me so there wasn't much I could do.
Al-Shatti: So next week we're heading into the second round, and you're the only coach with three fighters to make it through. Looking back, at that stage of the game, which guy of yours did you most believe had the chance to win this whole thing?
Shamrock: At that point I was on top of the world with all those wins. (Laughs.) I really felt like Chris Lozano was the best guy on my team and had the best chance of winning. If he didn't make it, I really thought that Nick Barnes could win this thing as well. But man, I felt great after all those wins.
Al-Shatti: (Laughs.) So on the flip side, which opposing fighter other than Joe Riggs were you most worried about?
Shamrock: Mike Bronzoulis. I totally underestimated him.
Al-Shatti: Wow, really? I didn't expect that answer.
Shamrock: He just seemed like a big meathead to me. And then as the competition wore on, I saw him fight and make adjustments. I noticed that he was getting stronger as a lot of guys were getting weaker. That was one of the things that stuck out to me. It's not supposed to work that way.
I think it shows a lot about where his mindset was. He seems to be very proud of his heritage and just being a warrior. Where a lot of people came here disconnected from what their dreams were, even if they were pursuing them, I think this was the ideal environment for him. He's a Greek warrior, and he's just been waiting for the chance. It was just one of those perfect storms where he's the only guy getting stronger, the only guy getting bigger through the whole thing. He thrives in that environment for some reason.
Jamesglory asks: Going back to the Greg Jackson issue, is it just a coincidence that Coach Jackson was MIA for Tim Welch's fight, yet was there fully involved and emotionally invested when Joe Riggs fought? Jackson has often and openly stated his love for ‘winning and winners,' and Tim Welch, was not the No. 1 seed, nor the favorite, nor was he expected to win the whole competition; whereas, Riggs is all of the above. Is that just a strange coincidence? Or blatant favoritism?
Shamrock: It's a strange coincidence. In Greg's defense, he had to run off to be in a million corners during this production, and I just think Welch was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Frankly, he picked the wrong coach. He needed somebody there, especially during the beginning, that was going to really back up his psyche along with some techniques. Me or even Randy. He was asking, ‘I need a coach here. I need somebody here.' And he didn't get what he asked for. I think Greg let him down. I don't think he did it on purpose, I don't think he showed favoritism, but because of life circumstances, Tim got left to the side.
chrispagliuca asks: What did you learn about life/fighting during your time spent coaching these guys?
Shamrock: I learned that, first off, my martial arts journey was not done -- because I thought it was. And then the I learned and relearned was how powerful it is to share a vision, a shared dream with other men, and have them all work towards the same cause. I had forgotten how powerful that it is, as a motivator, as an energy, to be a part of that whole experience. These boys are in there struggling. To lead that, it made me feel alive as a human being like I haven't in a long, long time.
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.