AP Sports Writer
Ken Shamrock is ready to throw in the towel. He concedes he can’t beat Royce Gracie.
“I can’t run 20 miles,” Shamrock said, laughing. “I can’t beat him in a long-distance mile. I’d probably go 2 miles and be done.”
Forget 20 miles, Shamrock and Gracie can boast of a long-distance MMA rivalry that has spanned more than 20 years and multiple organizations. They are MMA cornerstones that lugged the sport out of the days of cock fighting comparisons and into one of the biggest, baddest mainstream sports around.
Shamrock and Gracie had two fights to remember.
The third fight might be the one that decides if there’s still drawing and punching power left in the once fearsome fighters. Or if this upcoming bout is nothing more than a foolish cash-grab embarrassment for two men well past MMA retirement age.
Gracie returns to the ring for the first time in almost a decade to fight Shamrock at Bellator 149 Friday night in Houston.
The records matter less than the ages: Shamrock turned 52 last week and Gracie is 49.
They clashed at UFC 1 on Nov. 12, 1993.
“Why are people so afraid of me fighting at my age when the reality of the situation is, it’s about dollars and sense,” Shamrock said. “It’s about doing what I love to do and getting paid for it.”
Few would have predicted in ‘93 that Shamrock, Gracie and even MMA would have thrived well into the 21st century.
Gracie choked out Shamrock 57 seconds into the first bout at UFC 1. Before main events were short enough to fit into Vines, the second meeting at UFC 5 on April 7, 1995 was a draw in a bout that lasted a whopping 36 minutes. There were no round breaks — the match had a 30-minute time limit and was extended until this test of endurance was called with both men on the ground.
Shamrock and Gracie would become the first UFC Hall of Famers.
“He’s the reason I was able to rise to the level that I rose,” Shamrock said. “He was where I had to be in order to be the best in the world. I realized the first time I fought him, he had a different type of skillset. I had to really go back into the gym and start working hard and reinventing myself.”
Gracie said he’ll fight at the same 180-pound weight he fought at UFC 1 and recently ran 41 miles before he was slowed by a cramp. Gracie (14-2-3) last fought in 2007, on an MMA card titled “Dynamite!! USA.”
“I was open on the market for a while, but there was no interest, no offer,” he said. “I wasn’t done. I took myself off the market.”
Except for a brief dalliance in the 1990s with the World Wrestling Federation, Shamrock has never stopped fighting. His record that stood at 24-5-2 in 2000 has plummeted to 28-16-2. “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” is coming off a knockout loss against Kimbo Slice at Bellator 138 in June.
Shamrock-Slice drew a hefty 2.3 million viewers on Spike TV. The network is surely expecting bigger numbers for the third — and final? — fight in the trilogy at the Toyota Center. The card also includes a bout between Slice and Dhafir “Dada 5000” Harris, a fight billed as a grudge match between two street brawlers from Florida.
“Who’s going to have the storybook ending and walk away and say, ‘That’s my legacy,’” Shamrock said. “Mine’s not ending on a loss.”