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Ken Shamrock's 6 best UFC fights

UFC Fighter Portrait Shoot
Ken Shamrock is a bonafide UFC legend
Scott Newman

Given he’s a bonafide UFC legend – in fact, in 2003 he was one of the first two fighters inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame along with Royce Gracie – Ken Shamrock’s UFC fights are surprisingly not all that memorable.

Granted, a lot of that has to do with the era he fought in – great fights back in the early days of the UFC were few and far between – but he also has some major blights on his record like his dull fights with Gracie, Dan Severn and Oleg Taktarov.

Shamrock didn’t become beloved and massively famous inside the UFC for nothing, though, and so here are his 6 most memorable UFC fights – memorable for the right reasons, at least!

#6: vs. Kimo Leopoldo, UFC 48, June 19th 2004

Shamrock's 2004 fight with Kimo was the last time he looked impressive
Shamrock's 2004 fight with Kimo was the last time he looked impressive

Shamrock’s UFC comeback in the early 2000s hardly went to plan, as he ended up losing three of his next four fights inside the Octagon following his unsuccessful attempt to wrest the UFC Light-Heavyweight title from his hated rival Tito Ortiz.

The lone win though was hugely memorable. It came against another old rival in Kimo Leopoldo, a man Shamrock had submitted some eight years earlier. Kimo had made his own comeback to the UFC in 2003 by submitting Tank Abbott, and was gunning for revenge over Shamrock, who he accused of quitting in the fight with Ortiz.

The two veterans headlined UFC 48 and it was Shamrock’s performance that largely saved what was a disappointing show. The fight began with a clinch war where some knees were exchanged, but it ended abruptly when Shamrock broke free to deliver a huge knee to Kimo’s jaw, knocking him senseless immediately.

It was probably the last time Shamrock looked impressive in his lengthy career, and it was such a good performance that Ken was seen showing the video of it to his students during his coaching stint on The Ultimate Fighter!

#5: vs. Patrick Smith, UFC 1, November 12th, 1993

Shamrock tapped out Patrick Smith in his UFC debut
Shamrock tapped out Patrick Smith in his UFC debut

Outside of eventual champion Royce Gracie, the skill level of the fighters who took part in the inaugural UFC event some 25 years ago was hardly that high, particularly on the ground – most of them were simply tough brawlers looking to prove themselves.

That wasn’t the case with Ken Shamrock, who had an extensive background in grappling dating back to his time in Japanese promotion Pancrase.

That advantage reared its head instantly in what was Shamrock’s UFC debut against kickboxer Patrick Smith. Smith was clearly looking to strike, but was never given a chance as Shamrock quickly bodylocked him and took him to the ground. Smith managed to find his way on top, but it didn’t really help him, as Ken quickly fell back into a heel hook, forcing the striker to tap out in pain.

Sure, the fight was a squash, but it was one of Shamrock’s best UFC outings simply because it showed the depth of knowledge in grappling that he had in comparison to the majority of his early opponents. Only Gracie had more – meaning when he tapped Shamrock with a choke in the semi-finals, it was the beginning of a major rivalry between the two.

#4: vs. Brian Johnston, Ultimate Ultimate II, December 7th, 1996

Shamrock destroyed Brian Johnston in his final UFC appearance before his WWF career
Shamrock destroyed Brian Johnston in his final UFC appearance before his WWF career

The premise behind 1996’s ‘Ultimate Ultimate’ tournament was a simple one – the UFC put together a tournament containing eight of the best fighters from the previous UFC shows – the likes of Ken Shamrock, Don Frye, Tank Abbott and Kimo Leopoldo – in order to find the ‘Ultimate Champion’.

Shamrock came into the tournament as a man on a mission as he’d lost his UFC Superfight title to Dan Severn in one of the worst fights in promotional history seven months prior, and at this stage, he looked more intimidating than ever, as he was readying up for his move to the WWF.

His opponent in the first round of the tournament was Brian Johnston, a tough kickboxer whose only UFC losses had come at the hands of Don Frye and Mark Coleman, but in the Frye fight, in particular, he’d been competitive. This should’ve been a tough fight for Ken, but he made it look anything but.

Shamrock took Johnston down early with a powerful takedown and from there he simply destroyed the kickboxer with strikes from the top, forcing him to tap out once Shamrock switched to using headbutts after around 5 minutes.

It was a seriously violent showing that suggested Ken could win the tournament – but unfortunately, he broke his hand during the beatdown and had to withdraw. It was the last fight Shamrock would have in the UFC for six years.

#3: vs. Tito Ortiz, UFC 40, November 22nd, 2002

Shamrock went to war with bitter rival Tito Ortiz at UFC 40
Shamrock went to war with bitter rival Tito Ortiz at UFC 40

The result wasn’t the one that Shamrock was looking for, but his first fight with Tito Ortiz – Shamrock’s first in the UFC since his 1996 departure for the WWF – was the only time he looked competitive with the ‘Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ in any of their three fights.

The fight also drew a massive buyrate for the time period – 100,000 buys – and the legend goes that it was the PPV that stopped the Fertitta brothers from selling the promotion.

It was of course set up over years of animosity, stemming from Ortiz beating two of Shamrock’s prize students – Guy Mezger and Jerry Bohlander – in the late 1990’s while Shamrock was in the midst of his WWF run. After beating Mezger, Ortiz flipped Shamrock off and a rivalry was born. Top contender Chuck Liddell even stepped aside to let Ken have his shot at Ortiz, such was the size of the grudge.

Shamrock actually started off relatively brightly, as he dropped Ortiz to a knee during a wild exchange of punches, but he soon succumbed to Tito’s powerful takedowns and ground-and-pound game. Despite taking a hellacious beating though, he was able to escape to his feet on numerous occasions, and only gave up the ghost when his corner stopped the fight after the third round.

Shamrock had lost the fight, but he’d also gained some semblance of respect from Ortiz, and the fight was hugely memorable and can be argued to have saved the UFC.

#2: vs. Kimo Leopoldo, UFC 8, February 16th, 1996

Shamrock submitted legendary brawler Kimo at UFC 8
Shamrock submitted legendary brawler Kimo at UFC 8

When Shamrock won the UFC’s new ‘Superfight’ title by beating Dan Severn at UFC 6, the idea was that he’d defend against the best that the promotion had to offer. Oleg Taktarov was first, at UFC 7, but the fight was anything but memorable – a dull, drawn-out affair that was considered a draw, although Shamrock would’ve won a decision had today’s judging system been involved.

Far better though was his second defense against Kimo Leopoldo. Kimo had only had one UFC fight to that point, but it’d been one of the wildest brawls in UFC history as he’d become the first man to really push Royce Gracie before finally succumbing to an armbar after just under five minutes.

It was clear that the Hawaiian tough man was going to take the fight to Shamrock, and Ken obliged as both men went toe-to-toe standing before exchanging positions – and headbutts – on the ground. When Kimo got on top it looked like he might be about to pull out an upset, but Shamrock rolled into a kneebar and forced him to tap out at 4:24 – 16 seconds quicker than his old rival Gracie had taken to submit the street fighter.

It was a super-impressive showing as Shamrock showed that he had both the ground skill – and the sheer toughness – to deal with one of the UFC’s most notorious brawlers.

#1: vs. Dan Severn, UFC 6, July 14th, 1995

Shamrock's best win came over Dan Severn at UFC 6
Shamrock's best win came over Dan Severn at UFC 6

The UFC’s first attempt at putting together a ‘Superfight’ went wildly wrong – the much-anticipated rematch between Shamrock and Royce Gracie at UFC 5 turned into a damp squib, as Ken decided to prove he could survive in Royce’s legendary guard, while Royce simply turned the fight into a war of attrition. It went for 36 boring minutes before being declared a draw.

Gracie left the UFC after that fight and so the promotion decided to put together another ‘Superfight’ – this time for a new Superfight championship – at UFC 6. This time it pitted Shamrock against UFC 5’s tournament winner Dan ‘The Beast’ Severn.

Severn had torn through the competition at UFC 5 with his phenomenal strength and amateur wrestling game, and although he didn’t show much in the way of striking, it didn’t really matter – he could seemingly take anyone down and had the strength to force his way into catching submissions on the ground. For all intents and purposes, it looked like Shamrock was in trouble.

Incredibly, it was Severn who found himself in trouble. Shamrock had always been renowned for his brute strength but this was the first time he really showed it in the UFC, as he was able to muscle Severn out of takedown attempts – incredible given the difference in their wrestling backgrounds – and then caught him in a guillotine choke.

Seconds later Shamrock forced him to his knees, tightened the choke, and ‘The Beast’ was forced to tap out. The fight lasted just over two minutes, and was clearly the best showing Shamrock ever had in the UFC. By winning the Superfight title, Shamrock had finally become what the UFC wanted him to be – the top fighter in the promotion.

Edited by Arvind Sriram

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