By Mike Mooneyham

March 27, 2005

Ken Shamrock wasn’t quite sure what to think when a network branded him “the world’s most dangerous man” a decade ago. Ultimate Fighting Championship was in its infancy, and Shamrock was one of its most feared competitors.

A wrestler and shootfighter who honed his skills in Japan, Shamrock initially had some qualms about the moniker, concerned that it might put an even bigger bull’s-eye on his powerful back.

“At first I wasn’t too sure about it, but they did a good piece on me, showing the lighter side, with my kids and all. It worked out well,” Shamrock now says.

The handle stuck, and many still respectfully call the 41-year-old Shamrock the world’s most dangerous man.

“I guess some people do,” he laughs following an all-day workout in preparation for a nationally televised UFC contest on April 9.

Ken Shamrock

Ken Shamrock

The moniker isn’t just another fancy tag or catch phrase. Shamrock, one of the greatest fighters in the history of UFC – highly disciplined athletes who practice everything from jiu jitsu to sambo, from karate to kickboxing – as well as a former pro wrestling star, is a warrior who comes by the name honestly.

“I started young, and I didn’t get paid for it either,” he jokes. But his early life was far from funny.

Abandoned by his biological father and harshly disciplined by a stepfather, Shamrock (then Kenneth Wayne Kilpatrick) learned life’s lessons on the streets at an early age. He was 5 years old when his mother relocated the family from Macon, Ga., to Napa, Calif., where she remarried and where Shamrock “proceeded to get into all kinds of trouble.”

“It was more what me and my three brothers put my stepfather through,” admits Shamrock. “He was from the military, and the only way he knew how to deal with things was by discipline, and by hard discipline. It was harsh at times, but it wasn’t like we didn’t deserve it.”

Shamrock ran away when he was only 10, lived in an abandoned car a couple blocks from his house and began a journey of moving from juvenile halls to group homes. He was stabbed trying to defend himself behind a convenience store in what Shamrock calls “a mix-up,” sent to the hospital and fingerprinted.

“They took my fingerprints from some crimes that I did when I was younger, and that’s when they started processing me.” The wayward youth’s life, however, took a turn for the better when at 13 he was sent to the Shamrock Ranch for Boys, a home for troubled and misguided youngsters run by Bob Shamrock, who took the boy under his wing. taught him how to conquer his rage and eventually adopted him.

“He turned my life around,” says Shamrock. “I was fortunate enough to get placed in his home. He showed me a different light and how to deal with things. He showed me how to take my anger and put it into something positive. I learned a lot, and I was very fortunate to come across him.”

By the time he was 18, Shamrock had developed into a top-notch athlete, most notably in football and wrestling. Aware of his athleticism and his predisposition to fighting, Bob Shamrock pointed his son towards pro wrestling, which in turn led him to mixed martial arts.

Shamrock had been an avid follower of pro wrestling and made some calls for his son after he graduated from high school. “I wasn’t really doing much at the time,” says Ken, “just working as a bar bouncer and stuff.”

Shamrock would receive an invitation to Nelson Royal and Gene Anderson’s wrestling camp in Mooresville, N.C., where he excelled, turned pro and won a regional title within a year.

“My very first pro wrestling match in front of a crowd was with Nelson Royal, and we had a pretty good match. We worked out all the time in his ring, and I learned a lot from him. He was one of those guys who definitely liked it snug, and that worked out well for me.”

Shamrock, who began his career as Wayne Shamrock, adopted the ring name Vince Torrelli and took longtime Carolinas favorite “No. 1″ Paul Jones as his manager. It was a ring relationship only, says Shamrock, who never quite clicked with the Mid-Atlantic legend.

“It was different, because I really didn’t know how to take Paul Jones. I never really got to know him either, even though he was my manager. He played that role, but that was about it.”

WELCOME TO PRO WRESTLING

While smaller and not yet known as the ultimate fighting machine, Shamrock was regarded as a tough customer who could handle himself inside the ring, and quickly gained respect among his peers. That respect, however, didn’t extend to Jerry Saggs (Saganovich) and Brian Knobbs (Yandrisovitz), a brawling, trash-talking pair aptly billed as the Nasty Boys, who also were getting their feet wet in South Atlantic Pro Wrestling. An incident with the duo nearly cost Shamrock his career before it had a chance to get off the ground.

“We were in a nightclub in Charlotte, and all the boys were getting pretty drunk,” Shamrock recalls. “I was sitting with a friend and his fiance, and one of the Nasty Boys reached over and made an inappropriate gesture. They did it again. My friend was getting upset, but he was a small guy and what was he going to do?”

Shamrock, who told the wrestlers that enough was enough and sternly warned them to back off, had to be restrained when one of the Nasty Boys pushed him. “They disappeared, but I didn’t let it lie because I thought that was just totally punkish of them. I knew where they were staying, so I went after them at their hotel.”

Shamrock shoved his way in when Saggs opened the door. “I had a few choice words and told them they had a lot of nerve.” Shamrock remembers seeing Knobbs lying on the bed and appearing to be passed out. It’s the last thing he recalls from the incident.

“Rumor has it that I got clubbed from behind with a steel phone, and then they put the boots to me.”

Shamrock was pummeled into a bloody mess, and several other wrestlers who were staying at the hotel had to talk the Nasty Boys out of throwing the unconscious wrestler off the balcony to the cement walk below.

The encounter left a bitter taste in Shamrock’s mouth for the next several years – until he eventually crossed paths with the pair at an airport while on tour with the WWF. By then Shamrock had established himself in the wrestling world and the martial arts universe, and his reputation was known far and wide as a legitimate shooter.

According to Shamrock, the meeting was a “non-event,” with his former assailants begging off.

“You talk about the biggest wimps you have ever seen,” says Shamrock. “Knobbs ran when he saw me. The other one (Saggs) thought he’d be funny and walked up next to me at the counter. I was with Billy Gunn, and everyone knew the story because they bragged about how they beat me up.

“I looked at Saggs and said, ‘You know what? I’m going to kill you.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Chill out, man, that was a long time ago.’ I said, for you it was, but it feels like it just happened and I haven’t forgotten about it.”

Well-versed at protecting his pride with fists, Shamrock was pulled away by Gunn and sat down next to an airport gate in an attempt to cool off. Unaware that Shamrock was still around, Saggs addressed some other wrestlers. “What’s up with Shamrock? He needs to take a chill pill,” Saggs told them.

“He didn’t see me sitting there,” says Shamrock, “and I jumped up, pulled him around and told him I was going to knock him out right there. He turned his shoulders away from me, and said, ‘If you hit me, it’s a felony offense.’ At that point and time all the anger left my body. He was totally sickening. But all the boys saw it. All the bragging about how he whipped my (behind) once … It was kind of satisfying at that point. I think I got the last laugh.”

ULTIMATE FIGHTING MACHINE

Shamrock’s big break came when he discovered mixed martial arts in Japan in the early ’90s, thanks to a recommendation by wrestler Dean Malenko (Dean Simon), and made the decision to go in that direction. Pioneering the way for other American fighters to compete on the Japanese Pancrase circuit, he became the first American to defeat the Japanese champions. As a result of his success in Pancrase and his work with the Pride promotion, Shamrock was revered in Japan and became a mixed martial arts hero worldwide.

Shamrock participated in the inaugural UFC event in November 1993. It marked the beginning of a long and successful relationship for both parties. Shamrock would be one of the first two men inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame 10 years later.

Shamrock made his second foray into pro wrestling in 1997 and was voted Rookie of the Year by the World Wrestling Federation. The 6-1, 205-pounder, who had mat skills, ring presence and liked being in front of large crowds, took to the big leagues like a duck to water. “When the lights and cameras turned on and the fans started cheering, I stepped up,” says Shamrock, who went on to win the King of the Ring, the WWF tag-team title with Boss Man (the late Ray Trayler) and the Intercontinental title.

“I thought my time there was definitely a good time,” says Shamrock, who traveled mostly with Boss Man, Gunn (Monty Sopp) and Road Dogg (Brian James). “I learned a lot in the short time I was there. I enjoyed it immensely.”

He left the WWF in 2000 and returned to his first love, mixed martial arts fighting, in Japan. A serious knee injury, however, curtailed his career and forced him to do some serious soul-searching. “It was kind of stupid not to get it fixed,” he says of the torn anterior cruciate ligament. “I had two fights and lost both of them. I finally said that’s it. I couldn’t shoot.”

He also had a falling out at the time with his dad, although he says things are now great between the two.

“It happens in all families. You have those down times, but you end up mending the fences. Things have been great for some time now. You just look to the future,” says Shamrock, who adds that Bob Shamrock remains the biggest influence in his life.

The injury also forced him to do more standup fighting. “That’s how I learned my standup so well – that’s all I did. It was just standup punching.” As far as fighting on the ground or standing up, Shamrock says it makes no difference to him. “If we go to the ground, then I’ll work on the ground. If we stand up, I’ll work standing up. I’ve gotten pretty good at both parts.”

OLD LION STILL HAS TEETH

Life is good for the modern-day gladiator, who once turned down an offer to play fullback for the San Diego Chargers because he preferred to play defense and “hit people.” He has a good stable of fighters in his Lion’s Den in San Diego and recently purchased five acres in the mountains near Susanville, Calif., 85 miles northwest of Reno, Nev., for a new training facility.

Shamrock is on his second marriage to an old high school friend he has known for almost 28 years. “She had gotten married, and I had gotten married, and we kind of went our separate ways. We never dated. She was a freshman when I was a senior. She was 10 and I was 13 when I first met her. I always felt she was too young. Our first marriages didn’t work for either one of us. She was married for nearly 16 years, and I was married for almost 13. Our paths crossed again, and here we are.”

“Things are going well,” adds the street fighter-turned-father, who has seven children and one grandchild. “I’m happy, training is going well and everything is great. I still have that desire you need to compete.”

With UFC classics against the likes of Royce Gracie, Dan Severn, Oleg Taktarov and Tito Ortiz under his belt, the martial arts pioneer is looking forward to new challenges. His last pro wrestling appearance was a run-in at a TNA show last year. While he’s content with his present UFC status, he won’t rule out an eventual return to pro wrestling. “I don’t ever say never, because things always change.”

If he did return, the money matchup would be with Kurt Angle, another master of the ankle lock submission. “He’s an Olympic wrestler; I’m a world champion in submission. I think it would be a great little sell.” Shamrock will again be in the spotlight when he gets into the octagon with Rich Franklin as part of Spike TV’s live telecast of the final episode of The Ultimate Fighter reality show 9-11:30 p.m. April 9 in Las Vegas. Shamrock, (26-8-2 in mixed martial arts), is coming off a first-round knockout of Kimo last June in Las Vegas. Franklin (18-1-0), an unassuming 30-year-old high school math teacher from Cincinnati, defeated highly rated Jorge Rivera by tap out from a powerful arm bar in his last fight last October in Atlantic City, N.J.

Due to Shamrock’s age, Franklin is a favorite going into the fight. “It’s always going to be that way with me. You’re always going to have that doubt, but come fight time usually the odds change a little bit,” says Shamrock.

Don’t let the age fool you. Ken Shamrock is as dangerous a man as ever.

Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at (843) 937-5517 or by e-mail at mooneyham@postandcourier.com. He is the co-author of the New York Times best-seller “Sex, Lies and Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment.” For wrestling updates during the week, call The Post and Courier Info Line at 937-6000, ext. 3090.