“Shamrock: The World’s Most Dangerous Man” is a deep dive into the life, ups, and downs of Ken Shamrock from his earliest memory to his time on Impact now. There is also the story of the rise of MMA and the different early organizations like Pancrase and UFC. It traces the evolution of the sport and Shamrock places in it as one of its first biggest draws. Jonathan Snowden, the author, is not afraid to go deep into the life of the man, no matter how dark and crazy it goes.
Before starting this book, my only knowledge of Shamrock was his stint in the WWF in the late ’90s, how he was at the beginning of NWA TNA, when he came back to Impact in 2019, how he had an MMA career with Pancrase and the UFC, and that he was a real-life badass. My previous knowledge does not even come close to who the man is.
Born Kenneth Wayne Kilpatrick, he came from a broken home, and he ran away before he was 15 years old. He was going from foster home to foster home until he found his place in Bob Shamrock’s Boys Home. There he found a way of life and how to canalize his anger with sports. He eventually was adopted by Bob Shamrock, which is why he goes by the name Ken Shamrock. Bob was the first one that saw Ken’s potential for pro wrestling and sent him to train with Buzz Sawyer. He wrestled shows in the US until he had a tryout for the UWF in Japan, and started wrestling there.
UWF was a shoot style promotion, and in this book you can see the story of shoot wrestling in Japan and how it got broken up in different organizations, from Rings to Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi. This all adds up to the eventual creation of Pancrase, an organization created to present real fights before the concept of MMA was created. The pre-MMA and UFC world is fascinating due to the backstage drama and the eventual asking of wrestlers to drop fights to promote new talent. Ken’s side of the story is that he only regretted dropping one match to Minoru Suzuki. Japanese shoot wrestling stories are told with all of the craziness you can imagine from the torture of young lions and the various crazy personalities. If you are a fan of Minoru Suzuki or Masakatsu Funaki, you will either confirm or learn new things about them.
The story of Ken’s Lion’s Den, his training group, is told throughout the group. A lot of the descriptions of Ken’s tryouts sound similar to Stu Hart’s dungeon, from the torture of new students to the point that they are still hurting days later, and how this was used to weed out the ones that wanted it the most. This type of training was also to take the fighters to the edge of pain, a pain they won’t experience in a ring, which helps in their fortitude. It shows the Lion’s Den as a group that was very successful at the beginning with a big swath of fighters going to Japan and eventually to the UFC, but they are a tight group that was broken up eventually due to backstage politics, the partying, costs, and the quality of training going down.
Shamrock’s stint in the WWF is told completely and is a must-read for any wrestling fan, but what I found more interesting than his wrestling stories are his MMA stories. Shamrock clearly took some skills from pro wrestling to better up his MMA appearances with interviews and stories which made a lot of his fights the stuff of legends and box office draws. I’m not an MMA guy, but I found the stories of his fights with Royce Gracie, Dan Severn, Tito Ortiz, Kimbo Slice, and while not a fight that happened in the ring, with Frank Shamrock, the stuff of legends that gives credence to the line “truth is often stranger than fiction”.
These feuds have elements of pro wrestling storytelling, be it the guy that Shamrock can’t defeat or the opponent that never wants to face him, and these feuds even crossed the lines from MMA into pro wrestling, some getting too personal, like his troubles with Frank Shamrock. It is a roller coaster ride from fight to fight with some great promos thrown around, which is augmented thanks to Snowden’s crazy amount of research.
Again, I’m not an MMA guy at all, but the proto MMA world in Japan and the US, the UFC and its early troubles, the eventual public acceptance, and the meteoric rise of UFC and MMA in the US is a fascinating story where Shamrock is in the middle of it. I can clearly see why Shamrock is important to the MMA world and why he was so successful thanks to this book. I would even argue that the evolution of the sport and his age is what prevented Shamrock from being successful in the ring in his late 30s and 40s. It is a world that he helped bring to the forefront but it went another way, and that’s okay, that is how life goes. I have to admit that by the end, reading Shamrock’s last fights, I was kind of heartbroken. At least, from what I gather, he is still respected and is identified as one of the founding fathers to bring it to the mainstream.
The book is simply fascinating. Not only do you get the life of Ken Shamrock full of honesty from an author that is not afraid to open up his subject life wide open for all to see, you get the story of the beginning and rise of MMA, the beginning of Japanese shoot wrestling organizations, and you get to see an in-depth account of one of the players in the Attitude Era, a perspective that has not been covered to death, which is not something that can be said a lot of about this time in pro wrestling.
This is all told with an amazing amount of research. Snowden interviewed Shamrock for the book alongside hundreds of interviews that tell his whole life story, including his wife, children, former Lion’s Dens fighters, pro wrestlers, and people involved in the MMA world. You can also see the amount of research from books, magazine articles, and interviews, one notable source being the Wrestling Observer, that are used as a reference.
Even if you don’t know the man, I recommend picking up “Shamrock: The World’s Most Dangerous Man”. It is a perfect read for quarantine days, it is easy to read and pick up, and there is not a dull moment in it. You will learn a lot about fighting and pro wrestling history from a man that was in the middle of it all competing at a high level.