They hated each other. At a Los Angeles press conference less than three weeks before the fight, the longtime rivals -- who never managed to fight in the UFC -- nearly came to blows. I remember snapping off a photo of Frye dousing Shamrock with water before the two locked up in a clinch and knocked around Japanese pro wrestling giant Antonio Inoki, who was standing nearby.
Brutal fight. Shamrock was knocked senseless but awoke when he hit the canvas to twist Frye's legs with inside and outside heel hooks. It was all out war, which judges awarded by split decision to Frye. I've taken the time to thank fighters for their efforts maybe three times. This was the first. The next day, as each man struggled to get on a bus in Tokyo that would take us back to Narita airport, I was stunned -- and admittedly upset -- by how beat up they were. Regular folk would be in an ICU. These guys were hardly normal.
411 Mania included it in their all-time favorite PRIDE fights:
Dustin James: Don Frye was literally on fire in 2002. He had some classic battles that year including this epic war with Ken Shamrock. There's really nothing like a war between two guys that absolutely hate each other. The only downside to this fight is that it really took a lot off of both men's career. Shamrock got Frye in all sorts of nasty leglocks and Frye refused to tap due to his hatred for Shamrock. How could you not love a fight where the fighter is fueled by hatred so bad that he refuses to tap and would rather suffer long term effects than tap to an enemy? The fight eventually went to a decision, but it really shouldn't have.
Todd Bergman: This was a match up of the World's Most Dangerous Man vs. the World's Sexiest Mustache, and boy did it deliver in a big way. Much like Wandy and Rampage, this fight was brewed out of pure hatred that each fighter had for one another. If you watched and followed the sport during this time you knew that both guys were walking time bombs around each other, and several times they nearly came to blows outside the ring. The mixture of Shamrock's horrible trash talk mixed with Frye's cool one-liners made this fight even more electric. The intense stare down was a sign of things to come as both guys went out there and put on a show. The two traded heavy punches both standing and on the ground. Shamrock was nearly able to finish the fight a few times with his trademark leg locks, but ultimately Frye took the close Split Decision victory due to his striking and the pace that he set in the fight.
I just have three things to add:
- Until Tito Ortiz came along, Don Frye was the perfect foil for Ken Shamrock. Shamrock had no sense of humor and wise ass Don Frye could set him off six ways to Sunday. Both guys had basically been "baby-faces" in their UFC days, but in PRIDE they were both firmly heels and oooh was it promotional magic. These guys built heat for this bout like nobody's business.
- This fight happened about six years after it really should have. One of the most heart-breaking aspects of the bad old days of MMA was the cruel reality that there wasn't enough money in the sport to put together the big fights the fans wanted to see. Frye and Shamrock should have met in 1996 at the Ultimate Ultimate 1996, but Ken hurt himself in his first round win and couldn't continue. Failing that, a superfight should have been between the two men. Alas, the UFC was busy getting kicked off PPV and falling apart as a viable business. Both Frye and Shamrock went to Pro Wrestling for the big paydays and fans had to wait. By the time it happened in 2002, there was already a new generation of heavyweights who had passed these guys by, so it didn't have much of the ol' relevance, but it was still a great great fight.
- This is one of the rare fights were both guys really got to feature their best offensive weapons. Due to Shamrock's chronic inability to formulate a good game plan, the first part of the fight was spent in Frye's wheelhouse -- the dirty boxing clinch. Shammy landed some shots, but was basically getting the crap beat out of him. Then it went to the ground and Ken proceeded to inflict permanent damage on Frye's knees and ankles. Tapping would have prevented the carnage, but Frye wasn't about to tap to his hated rival.
UPDATE: BE Reader Deo Wade adds this critical point about the fight in the comments:
It's amazing how one match can completely change the quality of both fighters lives. Frye won the match but ended up becoming addicted to painkillers due to the damage that he suffered, and Shamrock's last bit of fighting spirit was completely drained after this one.
From now on when I'm confronted by knuckle dragging mouth breathers who want to retroactively denigrate fighters I'll point them to this fight. MMA fights are draining affairs and potentially life-changing. Sometimes after a great fight, neither man is ever quite the same. That's definitely the case with Shamrock and Frye.
More fun in the full entry including gifs and videos.
The highlights in gif form:
The hightlights in video: