Frank Shamrock has insisted many times that he was done with the sport.
Four years ago, when Spike TV produced the critically acclaimed documentary, "Bound by Blood," on him and his unique and troubled relationship with adopted brother and teacher Ken Shamrock, many thought for sure was to lead to a fight. But at the time, Frank insisted, even though he spent years trying to make that fight, that he was done fighting and he wasn't that guy anymore.
A few years ago, when Bellator started pulling big ratings for nostalgia fights, he was contacted again for a fight with Tito Ortiz, a return match from what many considered the greatest fight in the pre-Zuffa history of the UFC. At the time, he said he considered it, but Ortiz had no interest, saying a title fight with then-champion Liam McGeary was more important than rematch a loss from more than 15 years earlier. And once again, Shamrock said the window had closed.
Out of nowhere, the window opened again. Dan Henderson suffered a neck injury and the Rizin promotion called him about doing a grappling match on Oct. 15 in Fukuoka, Japan, against Kazushi Sakuraba. Never fighting Sakuraba was one of the biggest disappointments of Shamrock's career.
Coming off his run as the undersized UFC champion, a 192-pounder fighting against people who cut to make 200 from 1997 to 1999, and being the biggest star in the company, Shamrock left the promotion and retired for the first time. Sakuraba, fighting for the Pride promotion in Japan, became similar, a 185-190 pounder fighting and beating guys who would cut to make 205 pounds. When Shamrock bowed out, Sakuraba was considered the best fighter in the world at under 200 pounds after his 90 minute win over Royce Gracie. That was a fight that motivated Shamrock.
"We got deep into contracts," he said about the missed opportunity in the early 2000s. "The reason I went to Japan was I thought for sure we were going to close that contract. At the time Sakuraba was the most valuable and biggest star in Japan. I knew there was lot of risk."
"My contract was never an equal affair contract and I never signed it. It was one of my regrets. I wished we could have come to terms on that because I just wanted to fight Sakuraba. I didn't want to fight anyone else. I didn't care about the Pride championship or the Pride tournament."
For years he thought about it.
"It didn't happen," he said on the MMA Hour recently. "I still dreamed about it every once in a while, but I honestly believed it would never happen. But to me, the dream has come true."
"Honestly, absolutely out of nowhere," Shamrock said about if he had any inkling such a call would ever come. "I was producing television, launching brands, doing crazy stuff, doing my charity work when I got a call. I've been waiting for that call for 18 years. I'll tell you my age. I'm 44 years old. I started in this sport when I was 21 and I helped bring it to network television and the one thing I missed was wrestling or fighting Sakuraba."
He missed the idea of doing it so much that while he's turned down all kinds of offers to fight since his 2009 career-ending loss to Nick Diaz, at a time when his body was breaking down too much to train at the level he wanted.
"I'd said no to every person, and everybody, for every amount, but I'd wrestle Sakuraba for free. I immediately said yes, but I had to test my body because I haven't worked out in seven or eight years."
After a week of two-a-days, cardio in the morning, and grappling at night, he confirmed the date with Rizin officials and the match was announced at a press conference.
"I'm always getting paid, but the truth is, if they called me and asked me to wrestle Sakuraba, I'd have done it for free."
"He's of the same lineage," said Shamrock. "My teacher was taught by his teacher. We literally have the same style and I've never faced that person. and I've always wanted to test myself against myself because my style always crushed everybody and I always needed to feel that."
Both men's submission skill in a roundabout way came from a place neither ever went, a gym, and the word gym makes it sound more sophisticated than it was, a place in Wigan, England called Billy Riley's Snake Pit. As legend had it, in the 1930s through the 1960s, it was the home of the most brutal submission wrestlers in the world, taught a style now called catch wrestling.
Ken Shamrock and Masakatsu Funaki, who taught Frank Shamrock, learned from Karl Gotch, a pro wrestler who wrestled in the 1948 Olympics and then headed to England where he was told the toughest real wrestlers were, only to find he was getting submitted left and right. Gotch, humbled, stayed there for years to learn the style, and got so good at it that in Japan he was considered "The God of wrestling."
Sakuraba was taught by Japanese wrestlers also trained by Gotch, as well as by Billy Robinson, another pro wrestler who was reputedly the toughest Snake Pit wrestler of the 60s.
The two will be doing a 10-minute grappling match, with no judges. They agreed that all submission holds would be legal except heel hooks.
"We're too old to do heel hooks on each other," he said. "The first guy to get somebody to tap wins the game, just like old school, say uncle."
The Rizin show will air in the U.S. live on Fite TV.
"I'm doing 15 minutes super hard continuous flow and chains," he said. "Unless Sakuraba has suddenly become the most cardiovascular and strongest man on the planet, I'm going to destroy him."
These are rules Shamrock hasn't fought under since a 1997 win over Dan Henderson in less than one minute. Sakuraba has done grappling matches in 2014 against Renzo Gracie, and last year did a tag team grappling match.
Either there is a submission, or the fight will be a draw. He's got no qualms that when he finally meets Sakuraba, it won't be a full MMA bout.
"I don't want to get punched in the head anymore," he said. "I spent a couple of thousand dollars on the nose and teeth and everything's been readjusted, so I don't want anybody hitting me."
It also bookends Shamrock's career. His first fight was in 1994, in Japan, against another legend, Bas Rutten. His first 18 fights were in Japan. But he hasn't fought in Japan since a 2000 match at the Tokyo Dome.
Shamrock also wants to bring "The Alliance" back together, a group of himself, Maurice Smith and Tsuyoshi Kosaka. In 1997, the three became teammates, in the days before such things as MMA camps and cross-training really existed. It was three fighters with different backgrounds teaching each other, with Shamrock teaching the catch wrestling submissions game, Smith teaching the kickboxing and Kosaka teaching the judo. In doing so, by his late 90s peak, Shamrock became one of the first well-rounded fighters in a world of fighters who were usually good or great at one thing, and tried to use their specific specialty to win the fight rather than be adept at a variety of styles.
"Maurice Smith is in the corner," he said. "I'm trying to get T.K., but he's broadcasting that night. I wanted to bring the old Alliance back together. We're trying to work to get him in the corner."