Fighting Chance MMA Champion Frank Shamrock Opens Up On Life, Professional Fighting and Cannabis

Frank Shamrock quite literally wrote the book on Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), as the author of 2006’s Mixed Martial Arts For Dummies. Born Frank Juarez, he was a troubled California street kid who bounced around foster and group homes before finding redemption in the ring. Taken in by Bob Shamrock at his boys ranch in Susanville, California, Frank soon gravitated toward a similarly rebellious teen called Ken Kilpatrick, who would go on to become Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Hall of Famer, Ken Shamrock.

Officially adopted by Bob at age 21, the now Frank Shamrock joined his foster-brother Ken’s famously-tough Lion’s Den MMA training school and, just days after turning 22, announced his professional arrival with a shock defeat of top Dutch fighter Bas Rutten at Japan’s King of Pancrase Tournament. Three years later, an underdog Shamrock arm-barred Kevin Jackson into submission in just seconds to win the UFC Middleweight Championship (later renamed the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship)—a title he would successfully defend four times before retiring from the UFC, undefeated, in 1999.

“[But] I didn’t even think about [cannabis for pain management] until I was into my 30s and then I’m literally struggling with addiction from the pain pills.”

Now, at age 44, Shamrock is focusing his love for performing and proven entrepreneurial acumen on cannabis, which he’s been consuming recreationally since his adolescence and medicinally, for pain management, since his 30s. His educational and hugely entertaining cannabis talk show, The BakeOut, premiered on in January. Co-hosted by celebrity nutritionist Robert Ferguson, it’s a lively, debate-style production that deliberately presents and challenges diverse cannabis-related points of view.

CULTURE chatted with Shamrock about The BakeOut, the gargantuan prospects for cannabis business, beating drug tests—and eating out of trash cans.

What’s the story behind The BakeOut? How did the show come about?

It really was a continuing conversation about how we impact education and awareness for cannabis and cannabis usage . . . and then it became, like, “wow, we should do a show about this!”

Do you mean it was a conversation between you and your co-host, Robert Ferguson?

Yeah. I mean, he has a Ph.D. and is an educated nutritionist, and he’s what I think Middle America kind of knows and understands. And I was born and raised in California and have been using cannabis for 25-plus years, as a super-athlete and businessman. There are very opposing views of it—from experience, from education, from consumption. And we have an open discussion about it.

How would you describe The BakeOut?

It’s a bit of The Tonight Show meets The Viewbut with two guys. And we talk about everything—business, science, law, sex, consumption, ideas, spirituality. To me, this is a journey that we’re going on, socially—we’re all kind of learning together. And then we’re backing it up with science.

How do you select your BakeOut guests?

So far, we’ve been looking for compelling stories that we think will open peoples’ eyes. Our first interviewee was [a Stage IV cancer survivor] Tahnee Shah—I mean, just a miracle! The doctors sent her home to die—and she didn’t. The only thing she changed was cannabis and the usage of it.

And then the second episode was NFL-based, [because] the Super Bowl [was] coming up [and] we’re watching this happening in society with brain injuries, with drug addiction, with [athletes’] efforts to kill the pain from the sport. And it’s just terribly damaging to these athletes, and no one knows about it and that there really are safe alternatives out there.

You’ve said that you and your co-host “may not agree on cannabis as medicine.” Can you expand upon that?

Robert comes from the world of addiction, meaning that he works very heavily in the nutritional side, in the psychological side, and then also in the spiritual side of battling addiction. So, from his perspective, he learned what I learned when I was a kid—that [cannabis] is a gateway drug; it leads to addiction.

“There’s still this old Cheech & Chong, hang out, smoke-it-up generation, and it’s colliding with the new culture, which is medicinal- and business-thinking.”

So, the fact that science is butting up against with him is his journey, and he’s willing to go in that journey with us.

Did you always see yourself going into broadcasting after you retired from fighting?

Yes. I always knew that I’d do this, and I always had the plan that I would become a broadcaster. I thought I would become a movie star, and the broadcasting would just be a very short run, but I found out that [more time was required] to get us to network television.

Compared with life in the ring and cage, what are the challenges of your professional life today?

They’re very similar fears . . . they’re very primal, someone’s-going-to-see-inside-of-me type fears. But it’s so much better being in front of the camera. It’s so much easier! It’s a skill you can sustain for a long, long time. And, you know, performing anything is amazing, and once I realized my body was wearing out, my focus became my next level of performance, which is my ability to speak, my ability to present [and] to act. So it’s a natural evolution as an entertainer.

While still fighting, did you ever fear that you’d feel unfulfilled once you retired?

One-thousand percent. Y’know, I set these Guinness World Records and I was, like, [defeating] everybody . . . And when you pull yourself out of that limelight and you try to get on the PTA or be a normal person, it’s really challenging; it’s really hard to re-integrate.

What were the highlights of your fighting career?

Definitely beating Kevin Jackson, the Olympic medalist in 1992, in 14 seconds, in Japan. That was the absolute highlight of my beginning career, because it [was a] World Champion—all the dreams came true. And then the last few fights, where I was older, I had so many hats on to build companies. I was doing things like when my knee was blown out and I was still fighting; my shoulder was blown, [and] I was still performing at the highest level and was really proud of my ability to maintain focus.

Aside from The Bake Out, what are you up to these days?

I’m mainly doing just charity work. We have an initiative to help at-risk youth, and that comes from us through scholarships for martial arts and scholarships for arts and entertainment programs. And these are kids that are in at-risk communities like I was, where there’s a lack of education, lack of funds and lack of parental guidance.

How do you remember your childhood? Was it a struggle?

Yeah. It wasn’t good. You know, my mom—we didn’t have money, we didn’t have an education, we were on welfare and it wasn’t pleasant. So I left home when I was 11 years old; I became a ward of state because I had been in that much trouble by then that, to protect me and everybody else, they took me away.

You mean trouble with law enforcement?

Yeah, trouble with the law. Well, I never knew that you’re not supposed to lock your kids in closets and all this other stuff that was happening to me. I didn’t know that it was not normal. And it was through getting in trouble that I got into situations where I was talking to counselors, and I was talking to people and was realizing what was happening wasn’t right. But the only way that I was getting to those people and getting the help was by breaking the law.

Is that, in part, what drove you to seek out and achieve such success?

For sure. I don’t want my children, my family or anybody I know to have to grow up like that . . . I used to eat out of trash cans; I used to sleep at the park. I remember it like it was yesterday. I want people who experience that to know that there’s somewhere, something they can do that will help them make it.

And that’s kind of my attraction to cannabis. I’m seeing it like I was seeing mixed martial arts. I was, like, “listen you guys, [MMA] is going to be insanely big, because this is in peoples’ hearts; this is what people want, they just don’t know it yet.” And it’s the same thing with this medicine, and I feel like we’re in that same position, only this medicine’s so much bigger than the martial arts thing.

Can you describe your personal journey with cannabis?

It started recreationally. It wasn’t until I got into sports that I started experiencing real levels of pain and needing to deal with them.

[But] I didn’t even think about [cannabis for pain management] until I was into my 30s and then I’m literally struggling with addiction from the pain pills. At that time I started consuming edibles and the salves had started coming out, [and] I never took pain pills again. I switched entirely to cannabis for my pain management. It saved me, because my biggest fear, and I’m certain it would’ve happened, that at the end of all this I’d be a drug addict. I think it prolonged my career; allowed me to perform at the highest level, and even today I have to consume it. Otherwise I’m not sleeping, I can’t sit down, and I’m in the most horrible pain.

How have you seen attitudes toward cannabis change amongst professional athletes?

All athletes are talking about it, and they’re also beginning to realize [that] what they give you to kill the pain is killing everythingand it’s also addictive. Everybody’s seeing the opportunities here and what [cannabis is] doing.

When you were you using cannabis during your fighting career, was there an issue with detection?

One-hundred percent, and [there was a] tremendous fear about it, because if it was a championship fight, you had to pass a clean test. So there was three weeks of agony and pain and discomfort, where I could not take my medicine because of fear that it would be caught and my brand image would be ruined.

Do professional athletes, who are synonymous with fitness, health and success, have a special role to play in cannabis advocacy?

I absolutely think they do. Because we put ‘em on pedestals, and we follow their leads. I felt tremendous angst that I was taking this medicine and couldn’t share it or talk about it. And I felt terrible that I was doing this in secret.

What are some of the biggest misunderstandings about cannabis in America today?

That we’re all “getting high,” that we’re “smoking weed.” There’s still this old Cheech & Chong, hang out, smoke-it-up generation, and it’s colliding with the new culture, which is medicinal- and business-thinking.

We need to get a line here, because “Big Pharma’s” coming, big money’s coming, big business is coming. And this [cannabis] community is a really nice group of caretakers and supporters and medicine users and activists. If they could get on the same page, that’s a powerful, powerful voice.

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