UFC on Fuel 6 from Macao, China saw the long-time MMA veteran and former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Cung Le knock-out UFC veteran Rich Franklin. Long before Zuffa owned Strikeforce, another mega-battle occurred between Cung Le and Frank Shamrock. Frank, an MMA legend and pioneer, spoke with FightMedicine.net about the forearm fracture he sustained against Cung Le as well as other injuries he amassed during his long and storied career.
FightMedicine.NET: What would you say was the biggest injury you have sustained during training or fighting and how did you deal with it?
Frank Shamrock: By far, it was when I broke my right arm and displaced my ulna bone. To fix it, they put a titanium plate with 6 screws and took about 3 months to recover before I could wrestle again. It was major surgery. Then I had the plate taken out about a year later because I wanted to fight and I didn’t want my bones to grow around the plate or for my arms to break anywhere else because of the plate. The bone had fortified by itself. Now that plate is a necklace that I wear – makes a nice piece of jewelry.
What was your doctor’s role in treating your injury?
I’ve had a great many doctors. Most of them were chiropractors or sports physiotherapists. Towards the last stage of my career (last 5 years), I brought my own doctor with me to each event so my doctor could consult with whoever was there. I liked to travel with my own doctor.
How did you rehab from your injury and do you feel any lingering effects?
I did extensive rehab with all of my injuries. The major injuries I had were with my arm, broke my right leg, tore my ACL in my left knee, and I had surgery to repair a tear in my right shoulder. Yes, I do feel lingering effects from some of them. I never had surgery on my left knee and although it felt strong after rehab, I still feel tightness. Hiking helps to loosen up my knee and that’s good because I enjoy hiking.
Even after surgery, my right arm feels crunchy — I think I may have also damaged a tendon because I hear quite a bit of a popping noise, but it’s not painful. When the bone in my right arm broke, I don’t think there was any way to fix it perfectly.
The SLAP tear surgery on my right shoulder was related to my fighting career, and that’s it. I’m not a man of surgery. (SLAP = a tearing of the labrum, or cartilage ring, around the shoulder socket that helps deepen the socket. It stands for Superior Labrum torn from Anterior to Posterior).
I hurt it during a boxing sparring session with a very fast featherweight boxer. I got frustrated from chasing him and threw my biggest punch just as he moved out of the way. I tore the tendon out of my shoulder. That happened two weeks before I fought Elvis Sinosic in my first MMA match in K-1, in front of 80,000 people at the Tokyo Dome.
How did your ACL injury occur?
The ACL injury happened two weeks before the Phil Baroni fight in 2007. It happened during a sparring session with judo champion, Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou (Soko), as he attempted a judo leg trip where my body hit the mat and my foot stayed planted. I have that on video too. Now it feels most unstable with activities like basketball, tennis, skiing – anything with fast lateral motion where I need to stop quickly or twist my knee.
What would you say are the most common, but not mentioned training injuries?
Probably the most common but not mentioned training injuries are those involving the neck and feet. Neck and feet injuries never get enough attention. Injuries like twisted ankles and broken toes happen all the time. And for older guys, the hips get banged up frequently too.
What do you see as the doctor’s role in helping an MMA fighter and how can the medical community improve their role in MMA?
The role of the doctor is similar to a coach in that the fighter doesn’t really understand the limits to his body, so the doctor should teach him in ways that will help him to understand. The hardest thing to realize is that by age 40, you’ll amass all these injuries. We think we’re invincible when we’re young and we must understand all the risks involved. The doctor’s role is critical to educate, support, and help an athlete understand his physical limitations.
Do you have any advice on preventing injuries in MMA or training?
My advice would be that you don’t have to beat each other up to have a good time. Most of the injuries (95%) happen during training.
How has the training for fights evolved over the course of your career and do you see this as increasing or decreasing the rate of fighter injuries? Has the treatment for injuries evolved with it?
Yes, the training has evolved and so have the injuries. The sport mainly consists of wrestling and striking, and with that we see more hip, knee, and shoulder injuries. The training has evolved to make athletes bigger and stronger so they can inflict more damage to their opponent. Sports medicine has progressed at same time and that is because, luckily, a lot of doctors are helping our professionals in martial arts.
Yes, I think there is a culture of overtraining because of the very fact that people must be ready to fight at all times; that is how the industry is structured. Unless you are one of the top 15 five-star athletes, you must be ready to step in and compete at any time if you want to make serious advancements in your career.
Do you think MMA as a whole is a safer place to fight than it was when it first started?
Yes, I do. With added regulations and the advancement of the sport, I definitely think so.
You have mentioned before that you think rounds prolong fights and make it a “points” game. Do you think eliminating rounds would have an effect on fighter safety or injury rates?
I think it would lessen the injury rates, especially head trauma and strikes just because when you eliminate the rounds, it eliminates that rest and recover period. It would become a battle of attrition and a fatigue-based sprint, so the athlete would get tired faster and therefore have less energy to damage each other.
There has been some talk about fighters suffering traumatic brain injuries that can lead to depression. Gary Goodridge has come out as saying he suffers from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Others have pointed to Junior Seau’s suicide as an example. Do you think there is any validity to this or are people using it too broadly when perhaps something else may be to blame for fighter behavior?
I believe 100% that damaging the human brain is the worst thing in the world for you. Damaging the areas that control speech, emotion and memory is really bad, and we’re seeing the after-effects of those who have been injured in their careers. So with that said, if you plan to stay in a game where you risk damage to your head, you need a style or plan. Take precautions to protect your brain and body. And you must get out of that career before you get hurt, or you are taking a bad gamble. Weigh your options and decide for yourself if the risk is worth it and remember that your brain controls the body — if you destroy the brain, the body will follow.
Every now and then the idea of bare-knuckle matches returning is thrown around. Do you think this is a safe avenue for the sport to pursue? Obviously you have your background with Pancrase as a framework to draw upon.
I think that any type of combative sport can be safe if regulated with safety measures in place. It is what it is. Whether it’s boxing or kickboxing, it’s like my coach, Maurice Smith used to say, “A fight is a fight is a fight.” It doesn’t matter whether it’s bare-knuckle or anything else, it’s going to be dangerous and you’ve got to figure out a way to win. Fighting is sport as entertainment — sometimes they’ll fight with hair, no hair; shoes, no shoes; etc. No matter what, the bottom line is that it’s still a fight. I fought with bare knuckles for years and it’s all the same stuff.
What is your most memorable experience in the ring or octagon?
My most memorable experience was beating Olympian Kevin Jackson in 16 seconds and becoming the first UFC middleweight champion. That’s when I went into the books of the Guinness World Records for Fastest UFC Title Fight Victory by Submission in 16 seconds at UFC Japan in Yokohama, Japan. I will never forget winning the title that quickly or how Kevin Jackson, the Olympic Gold Medalist in 1993 for wrestling, walked out the cage without shaking my hand.