MMA fighters are no strangers to overcoming adversity, but few people can claim to have experienced the same highs and lows as Liverpool’s Shaqueme “Shem” Rock.
The 28-year-old recently spoke to Full Contact Contender and gave a detailed account of an MMA career that could have ended on several occasions.
“So in 2014, 2015, I was wanted for an aggravated burglary that I didn’t commit. I got arrested for it, I got bailed from the police station. And then when I got bailed my cousin got remanded into custody and I got bail…I’m walking home and my phone rings and it’s my solicitor. My solicitor’s like ‘They’ve made a mistake, they weren’t supposed to bail you. Come back to the police station so we can remand you into custody.’”
Rock is open about the fact that he didn’t live the cleanest life in his younger years, so he wasn’t particularly confident about returning to the police station despite his innocence. He decided to hop on a train to France before eventually ending up in Malaysia with his brother.
It was in Malaysia that Rock first became involved with mixed martial arts. He’d always been a fan of the UFC and was particularly interested when fights went to the ground, but in Liverpool he’d only ever fought in the street.
Rock threw himself into training and eventually went to Thailand to try out for ONE Championship’s Warrior Series.
Rock made the cut for the show along with current ONE star Stamp Fairtex, and he went back to Malaysia to prepare for his chance to earn a contract. A phone call dashed those hopes, as ONE decided to cut ties with him after finding out about his legal troubles.
Rather than dwell on the missed opportunity, Rock used the situation as motivation to improve his skills. A submission victory in Taiwan brought his pro record to 4-0, but he received more bad news after returning to Malaysia.
With no hope of Rock signing for ONE, his gym decided he should move elsewhere. After a brief stop in Thailand, Rock went to Ireland to be closer to his family without returning to Liverpool.
He eventually made his way to SBG Ireland, but his time there was short-lived. John Kavanagh got wind of Rock’s situation and didn’t want to risk the bad publicity due to SBG being home to high-profile fighters such as Conor McGregor.
Return To Liverpool
Settling at Dublin Combat Academy, Rock won the Clan Wars featherweight title in 2021 to extend his record to 6-0. By this point, his cousin had already served his time back in Liverpool and was a free man, and a loss in Rock’s next bout meant it was time for him to go home.
“My family, my loved ones. Even my cousin, who’d done the 5 years. He’d be like, ‘Lad, go home. I’ll stand up in court and say you weren’t there that day, because you wasn’t.’ Everyone told me to come home, but in my mind I made the deal with myself that I’m not coming home until I take my first loss. As soon as I get my first loss, then I’ll go and hand myself in.”
The police never gave him the chance to hand himself in, as he was apprehended shortly after that first loss. Rock spent about 6 months in jail before appearing in court to finally prove his innocence after nearly 10 years.
Rock’s legal team were quick to pounce on the fact that his accuser only identified the MMA fighter long after providing his original statement for the 2014 crime. When the time came for the jury to deliberate, it only took 15 minutes for a unanimous “Not Guilty” verdict to come back.
Now free to continue his MMA career without being on the run, Rock is focused on setting an example for kids that come from challenging backgrounds like his own.
“I’m just gonna show this next generation that you don’t need to be a crack dealer, you don’t need to be in a gang, you don’t need to sell weed, you can make money off this shit. You can make a life off it. Look what I’m doing bro.”
What do you think of Shem Rock’s journey from a wanted fugitive to a rising MMA talent?