Throughout the late nineties and early 00s, fans were enthralled by a star-studded line up across both WWF and WCW respectively. Wrestling icons like The Undertaker, ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, Sting and The Rock were all delivering some of the most exciting shows ever seen in the industries history. This was later dubbed ‘The Attitude Era’.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Monday Night Wars, we’re putting the spotlight on those unsung heroes that went to bat for their brands; those whose efforts have often gone unnoticed or uncredited by wrestling historians. Some may have been front and centre and others that subtly influenced the direction of the industry from the depths of the undercard. Either way, this is their time to receive some due credit.
In between the beer drinkers and future Hollywood A-listers was an incredibly dangerous man, a pioneer of the MMA style in pro wrestling and an unsung hero of the early days of the Attitude Era. In this piece, I’m going to re-introduce you to a veteran of both the cage and the squared circle: Ken Shamrock.
Making his debut for the company in early 1997 after a brief stint in Japan, Shamrock was immediately given the aura of a badass thanks to the moniker bestowed on him by ABC News: ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Man’. His notoriety instantly propelled him into one of the highlights of WrestleMania 13, albeit as a special guest referee for the classic submission match between Bret Hart and Steve Austin, but it was a credit to his name that he was considered one of the few officials worthy of handling that clash of personalities.
Over the course of his debut year, Shamrock would feud with The Hart Foundation, Vader and ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ Shawn Michaels, challenging for both the European and WWF Championship on two separate occasions. Unfortunately, Shamrock lost both of his challenges and remained tied down in the mid-card scene, but the fact that he was surpassing other established talent was a testament to his credibility and appeal.
Fans gravitated towards Shamrock’s TV-MA demeanour and his physicality which marked the changing of the times as MMA was becoming more and more prominent in pop culture. The audience were fully behind Shamrock on the road to WrestleMania 14, when he was set to face The Rock for the Intercontinental Championship. In two straight matches with the Nation’s leader, Shamrock had ‘officially’ defeated the champion but the decision was reversed due to shenanigans, keeping Ken out of the title picture once again.
It could be said that without Ken Shamrock, The Rock would never have evolved into ‘The Great One’. His feud with the former UFC fighter introduced the world to what Johnson was truly capable of as both a top-tier heel and as a wrestling megastar. Dwayne Johnson also made a special one-off appearance for Impact Wrestling to induct his friend into their Hall of Fame, citing him as one of his toughest opponents as well as a huge reason behind his success.
It wasn’t until October of that year that ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Man’ would finally get his hands on the IC title, winning an eight-man tournament after the belt was vacated. A newly-heel Ken Shamrock went on to align himself with The Corporation, forming a title-winning tag team with The Big Boss Man in the process. As far as championship success goes, this was Shamrock’s peak right in the middle of the Monday Night Wars.
As Shamrock found his feet on the roster, he would regularly be featured in PPV main events throughout the Monday Night Wars, a reliable hand to forge more violent matches with fellow hard-hitters like Steve Blackman and Owen Hart in his signature ‘Lions Den’ matches. Shamrock may not have headlined a WrestleMania nor did he go down as one of the iconic WWF Champions of the time, but it’s safe to say that without Ken Shamrock, the Attitude Era would have been a lot less tenacious.
Today, Ken Shamrock competes as part of the rejuvenated Impact Wrestling roster, so if you’re looking for a little bit of grit in your wrestling, then you best start tuning in on Tuesday nights. It could be said that without Ken Shamrock, the likes of Matt Riddle, Ronda Rousey and even Brock Lesnar might not be gracing our screens today, he goes down as one of the most innovative wrestlers of the time and easily someone that deserves a lot more credit than they get for their part in the most exciting period of wrestling history.
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