Frank Shamrock said he is where he is because he chose his own destiny.
Agreeing to fight Tito Ortiz inside the circa-1999 octagon, he took a step that would forever change his life.
Shamrock (23-10-2), who took the belt from Ortiz and then walked away from the sport, told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
) that he hasn't coached for years. But he agreed to shepherd fighters on Bellator MMA's new reality show because he sees the promotion promotes the way he lived.
"Bellator's got the past and future in mind," Shamrock said. "That's why I'm here. Otherwise, I'd be at home on my couch."
Shamrock joins Randy Couture, Greg Jackson and Joe Warren on the inaugural season of the show, which begins filming this weekend in New Orleans and airs later this year on Spike TV. Thirty-two welterweights, experienced and new, will compete for a spot on the promotion's fall tournament, which pays out $100,000 to its winner.
The coaches will guide four squads of four men apiece following elimination-round fights. Spike executives said a large part of the show's appeal will come from the interplay between coaches and fighters, who are allowed to choose who they fight in two-round professional bouts.
Shamrock's last high profile coaching gig came in 2006, when he led a squad of up-and-comers in the defunct International Fight League.
But while there's plenty of competition to be had, there's also a branding opportunity for the fighter, who segued into commentary after going 1-3 in his last four fights.
"I'm in the TV business – I get that," said Shamrock, who was on the first team for the now-defunct Strikeforce promotion before UFC parent Zuffa folded the company this past month.
But Shamrock, who fought sporadically after beating Ortiz, also believes it's his job to steer the sport away from its current course, which he said favors controversy over worth. A longtime critic of UFC President Dana White, he said tournament formats do a better job of building interest than superfights, which place more emphasis on out-of-the-cage promotion.
"We've sucked all the juice out of these fans," Shamrock said. "They've got to cough up $50 every time to watch a bunch of guys fighting that, 'Why are they fighting again?' Because Dana said they could and so-and-so had a big mouth.
"There's nothing that says if I try hard and live the martial arts lifestyle, I'm going to get to here. Right now, it's finding a gimmick. There's nothing that speaks to our past and our future."
Shamrock saw through one gimmick when reality show was met with hostility by his chief antagonist, White, who blasted Couture's move to Spike after serving as a UFC analyst on FOX.
"The best part about him is he's consistent," Shamrock said of the UFC president. "You can always rely on him for consistent media, and you can always rely on him to be angry. And I bank on it. When I do deals, I go, 'Oh, don't worry about it. I can get Dana to say whatever I want.' It's wonderful.
"I think it's shortsighted and immature of him (toward Couture), but if that's the way he wants to run his company, and that's the way he wants to build his brand, I think we're OK with it."
Shamrock also wasn't bothered by the thought that White would try to erase him from the UFC history books, as the executive largely did when their relationship soured almost immediately after the promotion was purchased by Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta in 2001.
"I don't feel much about it," Shamrock said. "It was my personal journey. I love the sport because of what it gave to me personally. That's all that mattered to me. I came out of it healthy and a good person. If we can get anybody else on that journey, that's more than enough for me.
"My ego's fine. I've got more than enough money, belts, and all that stuff. What I want is to help this community, because if you're not helping people and you're just taking from them, eventually people will wear down and not be real supporters any more."
Bellator's move to Spike TV comes at a crucial moment for the sport, which has seen reality show tournaments stagnate. "The Ultimate Fighter," which features a group of vets and newcomers competing in a tourney for an octagon contract, is up slightly in its 17th season, but although it continues to perform strongly in young male demographics, its overall viewership is down.
"We need more depth," Shamrock said. "We need more human interest in a person. We can't get it in a big superfight. It doesn't work. For me, I want to hear how the guy struggled, I want to hear how he got hurt and recovered, and I want to see the process. Otherwise, I turn on the fights, I go, 'Eh, that guy,' and then I turn him off. Then Dana comes out and yells and screams, and why would I want to be assaulted by that?"