Retired mixed martial arts (MMA) legend Frank Shamrock was truly the first athlete in the sport to understand his value and leverage, and command a hugely profitable payday for himself.
After defeating Tito Ortiz at UFC 22 in September of 1999, and defending the light heavyweight title for the fourth consecutive time, "The Legend" walked away after a 5-0 run, relinquishing his belt and retiring from the promotion.
After a kickboxing match in 2000, Shamrock would return to MMA in 2003 and defeat Bryan Pardoe at WEC 6 to win the light heavyweight title.
One of the biggest moments of his career was headlining the inaugural Strikeforce show against Cesar Gracie on March 6, 2006 to a packed HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., which was at the time a North American attendance record for an MMA event with 18,265 people on hand to witness the first-ever sanctioned card in the "Golden State."
Shamrock was ahead of the curve among his contemporaries and saw the big picture clearer than most. After all, he left the world's biggest MMA promotion, and carved out quite the lucrative career for himself. He signed with Elite-XC, which was owned by boxing promoter Gary Shaw. However, since Shamrock was under contract with Strikeforce, he forced a co-promoted event to happen on Showtime.
Not many an athlete can wield that type of power. Shamrock fought only once for Elite-XC, losing by disqualification in a fight against Renzo Gracie, and when the upstart promotion went under, then Strikeforce president Scott Coker poached all the remaining assets to further bolster Strikeforce. Shamrock had that type of foresight. As my SiriusXM colleague Danny Acosta puts it, he was the "O.G. shot caller."
The former UFC, Strikeforce and WEC champion only fought three more times after that, going 1-2 and retiring for good in 2010 after a loss to Nick Diaz, but what he was able to accomplish during his run will forever stand the test of time.
Fast forward to today, and it's UFC featherweight champion, Conor McGregor who in many ways is a modern day version of Shamrock. The talented and brash Irishman recognizes his worth and leverage and is unafraid and unapologetic to use it. He is bringing in huge pay-per-view numbers, as well as numbers at the gate, and the UFC have no choice but to play ball.
Shamrock is, of course, a fan of McGregor and what "The Notorious" has been able to do in a remarkably short amount of time.
"I just love Conor McGregor," Shamrock told SiriusXM RUSH on last Thursday's (Feb. 18, 2016) the Unloaded: Bellator 149 preview show. "I love his position. I love his vibe. He is the new generation. He's seen it develop, evolve and what the machine is built like and he is the first guy since me to have the chance to kind of dictate the terms. I think it's fantastic. It's where the sport should be because it's the talent that is the star; It's not the promotion; it's whoever is putting butts in the seats and bringing the viewership. That's really who should be driving the ship. That comes down to good management, education, supportive community and people understanding how to support and develop a brand for a long time."
What McGregor has wanted he has made happen. The two most recent examples are fighting for a second title while holding another, something the UFC hasn't been too keen on in the past. McGregor was going to fight Rafael dos Anjos for the lightweight title before dos Anjos pulled out with an injury. When they announced the fight, it wasn't billed as a "Champion vs. Champion" main event. McGregor made it known he was unhappy about it. The poster and marketing campaign were then altered to his liking. Those aren't even financial negotiations, which we aren't privy too outside of disclosed salary from athletic commissions and "performance" bonuses.
Shamrock has been outspoken the last couple of years on the lack of star power in the sport now that fighters from the old guard like himself, Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell are all retired. He's not wrong, when you look those fighters on top of Georges St. Pierre being gone for almost three years now. Ronda Rousey, Jon Jones and McGregor are the three biggest personalities in the sport currently. All the others are far behind.
That being said, Shamrock likes what he sees in McGregor and he thinks new stars can arise because there is a definitive need for them now.
"It’s starting to change somewhat organically. The stars are sort of creating themselves because there is a void in the marketplace. So, anybody like Conor McGregor or anybody else who has a good definition, really knows what they want there’s the opportunity to go for it. That’s what I tell people, this is still one of those sports where you can go from nobody to world champion in a very short period of time and make a ton of money because it’s still a little underdeveloped; it’s still not there, there. I think Conor is going to take it to the next level."