Ken Shamrock knows what you’re thinking. The 55-year-old MMA and professional wrestling legend understands the stigma that comes with someone his age re-entering the world of sports entertainment.
After all, the history is there. It isn’t hard to think of at least a few examples of performers who held on for too long or came back for “one more match” only to leave a sour taste in fans’ mouths.
“When you’re 55 years old, you always know there’s this thought process going on in peoples’ heads, and rightfully so because of what we’re used to seeing,” Shamrock told Yahoo Sports. “People will say ‘I’m back and I feel great’ but it doesn’t translate in the ring. Wrestling has done themselves bad in that sense.”
One of the staples of WWE’s famed “Attitude Era,” Shamrock has thrust himself back into the professional wrestling scene with IMPACT Wrestling. Formerly known as TNA, IMPACT is looking to capitalize on a shifting industry landscape with a new TV deal with AXS and by bringing back Shamrock after a 15-year hiatus to help continue its push.
“I don’t want to take away from anything that they’re doing or were doing,” Shamrock said. “They brought me in and that’s a credit to them seeing an opportunity to raise awareness and turn peoples’ eyes toward IMPACT. They’ve done a lot of moves to help create this buzz and generate user interest. I’m just a piece of that. The things they’re doing are definitely making it happen. It really is getting people to turn and look. People will tune in because they want to see a washed-up guy fail or they’ll say ‘Ken Shamrock’s doing this again, let me watch it.’”
“It’s time. You’re not winning.”
Shamrock says his journey back to IMPACT and professional wrestling started nearly 18 months ago. After stepping away from competition as a fighter, Shamrock says he fell into a depression. Unable to see what exactly he was going through, the UFC Hall of Famer received a harsh truth from his wife.
“I’ve always felt like I wasn’t finished,” Shamrock said. “I felt like I wanted to do more. I’ve already accomplished everything, but I wanted to do more and it felt like I kept falling short. I came to this wall. I just couldn’t seem to recover, I kept having injuries, I wasn’t at my best. I couldn’t see because I was too close to it. I remember my wife saying ‘It’s time. You’re not winning.’
“I started training again after 9 or 10 months. I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. I didn’t like how I felt. I was depressed, so I went back to the gym and started training. I didn’t have to work, but I just felt depressed and bored. Eventually, people started telling me I looked good, at Comic Cons, other appearances.”
As Shamrock continued to train and work on himself — mentally and physically — an opportunity presented itself in wrestling. On somewhat of a whim, Shamrock took up the offer from Battle Championship Wrestling in Australia to make his return to the ring last November.
“I wasn’t sure about doing it, but I said OK, it’ll be fun, I’ll challenge myself,” Shamrock said. “I really didn’t know how well I was going to do because I was pretty beat up. I remember getting in the ring and I had a great match and felt great. Because I was so close to trying to figure out ways to win and driving myself in the gym, I couldn’t see that my body needed rest, it needed to recover. When I stepped away and allowed my body to recover, I became this superhero and felt awesome again.”
Less than a year later — after a few more stints with BCW, including a main-event match with fellow UFC Hall of Famer Dan Severn — Shamrock would pop up on IMPACT’s radar, and vice versa.
A social media spat with IMPACT’s Moose — former NFL player Quinn Ojinnaka — led to Shamrock making his return during the September 5 and 6 tapings in Las Vegas and eventually a pay-per-view match at “Bound For Glory” last month.
Thanks to a stunningly shredded physique and somewhat unique approach to his in-ring style, Shamrock was able to prove to the world what he had already learned halfway across the world — this was no nostalgia act.
“I had seen it on social media: ‘Oh I didn’t expect him to look like that. I didn’t expect him to do that well,’” Shamrock said. “There were a lot of expectations of me failing, people having that pre-determined outcome in their mind of what was going to happen. I had already wrestled in Australia and nobody had really seen me over there. It was exciting for me to say ‘No, no, no, this is a whole different ball game.’”
— IMPACT (@IMPACTWRESTLING) October 21, 2019
— Garrett Kidney (@garrettkidney) October 21, 2019
Wrestling is fun again
After more than a decade away from the squared circle, Shamrock wasn’t going to — and didn’t — come back to the same industry he walked away from.
Thanks to the rise of the independent circuit and alternative companies such as New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ring of Honor, IMPACT and All Elite Wrestling, there are more options than ever for talent to pick and choose their schedule and accommodations.
“When I did it, it seemed like you didn’t have any opportunity to live,” Shamrock said. “I was missing football games, dances. There were so many things I was missing because I was on such a regiment.
“Now, with the way that the independent circuits work, the freedom is making wrestling fun again. I’m not gone 20 days a month anymore. It’s fun because I get to have some input in the creative process for my character. I get to go put on matches with different people. If I want to wrestle somebody in another organization, I’m not stuck. I can negotiate and do what I want to do. I have freedom.”
Shamrock also gets to help raise the profile of his budding bare-knuckle boxing promotion, Valor.
“I’m not looking to be Hulk Hogan or The Rock, because I did that [as a legend] in the MMA world,” Shamrock said. “I want to be out there and entertain people while also building a promotion in Valor. We’re able to work together in those aspects. We can help promote one another. I couldn’t do that anywhere else.”
In Shamrock, IMPACT isn’t just getting a marquee name to draw new — or lapsed — fans, but also a veteran who can help shape the locker room and create a competitive culture to set the company up to compete for the long haul.
“I’ve never been one to use my words because I think words are cheap,” Shamrock said. “I want to show that this is a competitive organization and I’m here to compete. My demeanor when I walk in that locker room is to prepare to do battle. I’m focused, I don’t do a lot of playing around. I talk to people, sure, but there’s an intensity that I bring to the locker room, to the organization, that wasn’t there before.
“I’m not there just as a piece, I want to capture the belt. Everybody on our roster should think that way. Everyone should want to outdo the match before them. It should be a healthy, competitive locker room. It’s not about jealousy, not about being angry when people do a great job, you should be happy and want to do them one better.”
A shot in the arm
You don’t need to look far to see the kind of impact — pun intended — Shamrock could potentially have on the company. The ripple effect of Shamrock’s initial move from UFC to WWE (then WWF) is still felt today, as it helped open doors for stars such as Brock Lesnar, Jake Hager, Ronda Rousey and Cain Velasquez to move fluidly between combat sports and professional wrestling.
“People love to step out and challenge themselves, live life, take risks,” Shamrock said. “I did that back then. It was hard for people to see what I went through because there wasn’t social media back then. I was dealing with some nasty stuff. If I didn’t become successful in WWE, I wouldn’t be here right now. Nobody would remember me.
“Because I did that, it helped the success of the UFC because of the crossing over, the fanbase, the coverage in mainstream media from me being in WWE. It gave it a shot in the arm and people started recognizing it.”
Now, two decades later, Shamrock is ready to give that shot in the arm to IMPACT — and prove something to himself and the industry in the process.
“I put the wrestling world on notice. I’m doing it and I’m not embarrassing myself.”
More from Yahoo Sports: