Yes, I'll be watching Ken Shamrock-Kimbo Slice this Friday night, but here's why I'd rather watch Ken Shamrock running around in vale tudo shorts with a grenade launcher on cable television.
Shamrock taking on Kimbo was pure carnival matchmaking when it was first concocted by EliteXC nearly seven years ago. In 2015, for the main event of a Bellator MMA tentpole event, it's a cynical, possibly nihilistic bait-and-switch of the highest order.
The 51-year-old Shamrock is somehow only a +220 underdog at the moment for his Bellator 138 headliner in St. Louis. That line is certainly a reflection of the betting public taking a dubious stance on the 41-year-old Kimbo, who hasn't fought MMA in five years and has spent most of that time hanging on porn sets and clobbering cans in the boxing ring. However, that line also ignores how truly far gone Shamrock is.
“The World's Most Dangerous Man” hasn't fought in nearly five years himself and he certainly hasn't been dangerous in about 13 or so. It's been more than seven years since glorified British bouncer Robert “Buzz” Berry -- a man more famous for having “Cage” and “Rage” tattooed on his opposing biceps in honor of his homestay promotion -- crumpled him in the first round. The last time Shamrock fought, he hurt his knee and got pounded out by career King of the Cage brawler Mike Bourke, who turned 42 the day he beat Shammy in South Africa.
Shamrock still has his tough guy cowboy walk, but now he shuffles around like a senior citizen on a bum leg. He thought he was having a heart attack in a pro MMA fight 15 years ago. His pro-wrestling heyday came during the most violent era of World Wrestling Entertainment, where he took bazillions of steel chair shots to the head, some so infamous that he appears on the victim's end of any “Top 10 Gnarliest Chair Shots Ever” list you see on a pro-wrestling site. He might as well be 151 years old.
There's little to say for his bout with Kimbo itself. Bellator and Viacom are hoping they can get a massive late ratings peak for a fight that's likely to be measured in seconds, with no moment for the viewer to even tune out. The five to six million folks who tuned in to Spike to see Kimbo's fight with Houston Alexander in the UFC five years ago? Viacom wants them back. In the process, Bellator gets to show off Patricio Freire, Michael Chandler, Daniel Straus and hell, even Bobby Lashley. It's Fight Promotion 101, albeit more morbid than usual.
Shamrock is playing a role, but if he's going to play a role on cable TV, do it for real. I want to remember he was a champion. Or at the very least, when he starred in “Champions.”
If you've actually seen 1998 cinematic tour-de-force “Champions,” you have an unnatural interest in the silver screen flirtations of MMA fighters or you stumbled across it one night on Cinemax while investigating softcore pornography. In spite of over 20 years in the public spotlight, Shamrock hasn't done a ton of acting. In fact, outside of 2014's “The Bunker” -- a low-budget, historically inaccurate Vietnam flick also co-starring former WEC featherweight champion Mike Thomas Brown -- “Champions” is Shamrock's only true starring role. Unsurprisingly, Shamrock does a much better job portraying a psychologically tormented no holds barred fighter than he does playing a psychologically tormented Army ranger. This role gives Shamrock just enough to chew on dramatically and in turn, we're rewarded with a brilliant example of martial arts action schlock.
The film was written by career producers Peter McAlevey and George Francisco, Columbia University alumni and best friends. According to IMDB, it is the only script that the late McAlevey ever wrote, and one of only three Francisco wrote and his only prior to 2013. How did a “Bloodsport” knockoff infused with topical mid-90's “human cockfighting” political elements become their passion project? You might think that they had grand dreams for this film, but it seemed designed for late-night cable from the outset, as McAlevey and Francisco chose Peter Gathings Bunche to direct. An Emerson College graduate just like Sherdog.com's own Jack Encarnacao, Bunche's primary directing credits prior to “Champions” were (and arguably still are) episodes of Cinemax's “Erotic Confessions.” In fact, many of the women who appear in the film had been previously cast in episodes of “Erotic Confessions” than Bunche directed.
The inspiration for “Champions” is as subtle as a “ripped from the headlines” episode of “Law and Order.” We open up with Louis Mandylor, who would go on to feature in CBS' “Martial Law” and the “My Big Fat Greek” franchise, choking out a flabby guy with blue Manic Panic in his hair in front of some janitors. Seriously, there's four or five janitors watching them, that's it. Mandylor, who is Greek-Australian but looks and sounds like a combination of Al Iaquinta and Andrew “Dice” Clay in this movie, chokes The Blue Meanie so hard he bleeds from the nose and mouth. Fade out to Novato, Calif., five years later and Diceaquinta appears to be a Shaolin monk or wing chun master, running a McDojo for kids while a shameless rip of John Williams' “Terminator” theme plays in the background.
Let the re-imagining of MMA history begin: the sport known as “terminal combat” has been outlawed by politicians and now the sport has been forced underground, into shady basement dojos where the emphasis is now on fighting to the death, for some reason. Actually, it's suggested the “reason” is illicit VHS snuff tape sales. Were the contestants this suicidal when the sport was legal? A news broadcast shows us the political power broker behind the prohibition of terminal combat and hey, would you look at that, it's the Republican senator from Arizona, John McCain. Wait, I mean “Harrison Able,” portrayed by the deceased Harrison Young. Seriously though, they didn't even change the state, party or chamber of legislature. It takes six minutes before the phrase “human cockfight” is used.
Al the Dice Man, named Billy Rockman in the film despite the fact I'll joke about his handle throughout, has his home invaded by his younger brother Ray, who has a grainy VHS tape of him tuning some guy up in the newer, deadlier terminal combat circuit. It turns out “Ragin' Bill” used to be the terminal combat champion of the universe and now baby bro wants to walk in his shoes. Subsequently, little brother messes up an opponent in the gym and his trainer tells him that he “grapples like a Gracie.” That's exactly the kind of thing that would piss Ken Shamrock off to hear, which is probably why Shamrock literally kills him in the very next scene.
It turns out Lil' Rockman was being set up by his own coach and unscrupulous promoter Max Brito, portrayed by Danny Trejo with no mustache. However, you know Trejo is still a bad apple, because he wears gaudy 90's silk Versace shirts and is always chomping on an unlit cigar. Twelve minutes into the movie, we're at the Terminal Combat Regional Semifinals in Denver -- site of the first UFC, obviously -- and Shamrock's character, known simply as The King, is here to hold court over this parking lot they've chosen as a venue. Little Ray Rockman tries to usual barrage of roundhouse kicks to the head, but The King is the first person in the entire movie to put his hands up in any way whatsoever, so he blocks all of them, then drops Dice Man's brother with a single right cross. The poor kid falls to his knees and Shamrock gives him a one-punch fatality while screaming like a psychopath.
Naturally, it's all part of Brazilian Danny Trejo's devious plot to draw Sifu Bill Iaquinta out of retirement and into his homicidal kumite facsimile. Trejo actually ends a business phone call between the two with “Bill, really sorry about your brother ... HAHAHA!” before hanging up. He also tells Rockaquinta to “be ready to travel tomorrow,” giving him no time to prepare for a literally lethal fighting tournament after five years away from competition. Even better: Rockman goes to his gym and starts busting out katas in order to prepare.
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