Many of us who knew Bob Shamrock were surprised at his recent passing at such a young age, 68, from complications from diabetes. He was always energetic, full of life and smiling. And he wasn’t just the adoptive father of former pro wrestler/MMA star Ken Shamrock and also fellow MMA legend Frank Shamrock, but a friend of pro wrestling which he said he’d watched for decades.
In conversation, he was able to rhyme off his favorites — Lou Thesz, Verne Gagne and Ray Stevens, names familiar to him, having lived on a rustic Northern California ranch in the town of Lodi.
Although it was a good two-hour drive to the cable studio where I filmed my 1980s and ’90s wrestling TV show, anytime I asked Bob to bring Ken and Frank down he always said, “No problem, we’ll be down there in a jiff.”
Bob was a founding partner in the original Lion’s Den Gym turning out wrestlers and MMA names. He was supportive of Ken originally getting into pro wrestling, as Vince Torelli in North Carolina and Florida ’80s indies, as a way to channel his admitted past negative behavior.
Bob was happy to see Ken finally go to Japan to work with many of New Japan’s biggest names (Maeda, Takada, Fujiwara) who walked with the original Tiger Mask (Satoru Sayama) to form megagroup UWF which was one of the first companies to have shows at Tokyo’s Egg Dome. From there to Pancrase, Bart Vail’s group, UFC in it’s earliest incarnation and of course WWF where Bob always said he was very proud and happy to see Ken “entertaining people and hopefully not getting hurt like he could in mixed martial arts. I think if he sticks with pro wrestling full time this go-round, he’ll have much longer career with fewer injuries.”
Ken, of course, would go back to his first passion in MMA, but Bob never stopped watching pro wrestling and asked me to snap pictures of him backstage at both WWF and WCW PPVs in the ’90s, like the two Super Brawls at the San Francisco Cow Palace.
Bob especially liked seeing Ken work his program with Owen Hart, and had a lot of nice things to say about that other big family patriarch in legendary Stu Hart. “It’s amazing all the great stars Stu either trained or had a hand in training, and not just all his very talented sons. So many of the Japanese wrestling companies sent their young wrestlers there to get finessed and make a name for themselves in Calgary. Stu is a really great man,” Bob said on my TV show in 1997.
Bob took in many other kids as well, often those that had been in trouble or came from badly broken homes, over a 31-year period at his Shamrock Group Homes. When Ken left WWF, Bob helped him with his own Lion’s Den Gym and helped teach wrestling and MMA there. In the past few years, there were periods when Bob, Ken and Frank weren’t on speaking terms; but both sons emailed me that they always respected him.
“My dad was unbelievable with these kids. I’ve never seen anybody able to take a defiant kid into their home and handle them like my father could,” Ken said. “Everyone that came in contact with my dad, you could tell he made a difference in their life. I’ve never seen anyone have that much success with kids. I’ll miss him and I’m forever thankful.”
I kept in touch with Bob by phone and invited him to a Pro Wrestling Iron show featuring the late, great Mitsuharu Misawa who was a favorite of Bob. “You just can’t get me away from Japanese wrestling, can you?!” he said that night. Sadly, that was the last time I saw him in person.
Bob Shamrock died January 14, 2010. He’ll be missed by the hundreds of young men he helped shape, by the pro wrestling and mixed martial arts industries — and by me.