Itís All Go at the Lionís Den
Bob & Ken Shamrock after Ken's battle with Olag Taktarov at UFC 7
© Marc Wickert
special thanks to Tonya Shamrock
Bob and Ken Shamrock first met when Ken arrived on Bobís doorstep in October, 1979.
Today the two men are still together, living in Despero with Kenís wife Tonya and their family. "Iím going pretty good. Kenís working hard and Iím sitting, watching him, which suits me fine. I did all my work when I was younger, so now I can sit back and watch him," says Bob.
As a boy, Bob Shamrock first became involved in helping others when he volunteered his time at a mission in downtown Los Angeles. After school each day, Bob used to go to the mission and serve meals to the homeless, and entertain them by playing the piano.
Born February 11, 1964, Ken Shamrock (then Ken Wayne Nance) was 15 years old when he arrived at Bobís mansion in Susanville. "The probation officer from Napa County brought Ken in with two other boys. He was the smallest one. The two other boys were about 17. They came in after theyíd been driving for a couple of hundred miles, so I said, ĎAre you guys hungry? Do you want something to eat and drink? The bathroomís over there.í
"I just watched Kenís eyes, because this was my home. It wasnít some business place where I came on from 8 til 5. It was my home. And the house was really big, and well decorated with antique furniture, Austrian-swag drapes; we ate well, we had a swimming pool, and all those kinds of things. It was a lot different to the other group homes he had been in."
Bob and his wife, Dee Dee, had been taking in troubled youths since 1970. "It started out with one foster kid in August. And then they wanted me to come down at Christmas to the Riverside County Court to interview another kid. So I came home on Christmas Eve with three more boys. We had only planned having one kid, but we ended up having Christmas for four kids. Thatís how it got started and it grew from there. It grew to where we had 18 boys at a time. It was great and I miss those days."
Bob and Dee Dee promoted sports in the community and at the Susanville High School. Their house was situated on a ranch and had Arabian horses, a full gym, basketball courts, swimming pool and tennis courts. "Weíd have the football team and their cheerleaders out at the ranch when the season was over, and the same with the wrestling, baseball and basketball teams.
"What we were trying to do was get the kids interested in sports. Now if any of them werenít interested in sport - we had a couple who were interested in art, so we sent them up to the local community college to take art lessons. And we had a couple of guys who liked music, so weíd buy them a guitar and theyíd have lessons. We had a grand piano in the house because my wife and I both played the piano and sang. We took them to see different groups like Deep Purple and Cinderella. We tried to get them all interested in outside activities, and the biggest one was sports.
"Thatís what we did with Ken because he came to me as a fighter. We got him involved in football and wrestling. And if the kids made the team for their class, weíd get them gym membership in town. We did lots of activities to try keeping the kids busy and to provide outlets. Thatís the problem with a lot of kids these days: They donít have the outlets to get their energy out and their aggression down."
Bob says that if the kids got mad with each other, heíd let them put on gloves and box in the backyard to sort things out. The only rule imposed for these matches was that Bob had to be there at the time.
"Ken winded up being the house champion in boxing and wrestling. He had a way about him that just drew me to him: his own way of looking at things that was upright and honest. It wasnít always kosher or exactly right, but thatís the way he thought and basically it was fair. Sometimes you had to show him there was another side to the story, but he always tried to do the right thing. By no means was he perfect, but weíd sit down and I could reason with him."
When Ken turned 18 in February, 1982, Bob legally adopted him and Ken changed his last name to Shamrock. Later, Kenís younger brother Frank also changed his surname to Shamrock out of respect for the man who had done so much to help him.
Bob says it was an incredible feeling, knowing that two boys heíd done so much for, had gone on to be world champions in Mixed Martial Arts. "And so many kids who went through my program, maybe they didnít become world champions, but they became upright citizens and they have their own families. A lot of kids didnít appreciate what we were trying to teach them until they had their own families. And theyíve come back and said, ĎHey Bob, now I know what you were talking about.í So there are a lot of kids who have done well besides Ken and Frank."
Bob, youíre no longer living in San Diego?
And youíve moved to Susanville, California, for the new Lionís Den?
"Yeah. We moved to Despero in April. Itís a beautiful spot, and a good place to have fighters, because there arenít the things to distract them. Fighters are usually distracted easily. Itís a strong community and itís good, because weíll know what theyíre doing. You know what I mean by that."
Harper Valley PTA.
"Exactly. I lived in Susanville before and I knew what all the kids did. And having lived there, I knew all the kidsí older brothers and sisters, so theyíd be saying, ĎBob, did you know what so-and-so was doing?í But itís a good community and a lot of the fighters are young. They need a bit of direction to become better fighters.
"Another thing is a lot of these young guys need somebody they can talk to. Things happen and they donít know how to handle it. Usually guys who are fighters have a certain amount of aggression in the first place to get them into that game. And so, if you can direct the aggression in the proper way at the proper time and place, itís a whole different ballgame.
"For a lot of companies that manage these fighters, the guys are just a piece of meat. Iím not saying that all the companies see them that way, but there are quite a few. They donít care if the fighters get hurt physically or emotionally, so thatís where I can come into the picture, or where Ken comes into the picture, because all Kenís fighters become his family. He takes a direct interest in what goes on. Theyíre not a piece of meat.
"Weíre not going to set them up where itís too great a challenge for them to deal with. Weíre going to move them progressively, train them in the Lionís Den gym, and give them some amateur bouts first."
Bob, you said Ken was in incredible shape for his bout against Rich Franklin at the Ultimate Fighter show.
"Yes. He was incredibly tight, and working hard. He was training five rounds, with four different fighters coming in. Heís still in incredible shape and looks great. Youíd never know heís 41. Iíd have died to have had a body like his when I was 21.
"But an amazing thing about Ken is that heís always trying to help people. Thatís the kind of people Ken and Tonya are: They want to help other people. But with many guys itís a case of, ĎWell Iíve got my fame now. You have to earn your own.í Kenís not that way. Heís always ready to help someone.
"Itís the same thing when heís coaching at the high school up here. He does it for free. Heís got his own family, heís got his fights, and heís training other people, but heís still working with the high school kids."
Bob, is there anything youíd like to add here?
"Well, just to say to all the fighters out there, they have to realise that they need to be dedicated and committed. If they want to rise to the cream thatís on top, they have to train, and they canít be going out, living a wild life. Thatís what happens: They start becoming famous and living a wild life. Theyíve got to train, and be committed to their training and to their families.
"Thatís what I like about the Mixed Martial Artists: Most of them are good guys. They can shake hands with a guy, beat his butt in the ring, and afterwards go have dinner with him. Most of them are like that. Theyíre professional sportsmen. And I wish them all good luck in what they do. Theyíve just got to follow their dreams and keep striving."
For more on the new Lionís Den: www.kenshamrock.com.