With all apologies to Neil Young (and even more to the late Kurt Cobain for the “all apologies” reference as well), in MMA, it may very well be better to burn out than to fade away, career-wise. Anderson Silva is currently learning that the hard way: imagine if his career had simply ended after suffering a vicious leg break in his second bout with Chris Weidman, rather than the current alternative of seeing his legacy dragged through the mud thanks to multiple failed drug tests for performance enhancing substances following his UFC 183 bout against Nick Diaz. Would that have been preferable? To many, the answer is no doubt yes.

Now consider the recently announced Bellator headliner of Shamrock vs. Slice. Yes, Ken Shamrock and Kimbo Slice, a bout once booked for Elite XC (the cancellation of it, and Slice’s loss to replacement fighter Seth Petruzelli, pretty much put the promotion out of its misery). It’s a fight that was big news, back in 2008. Now?

Ken Shamrock was once the most dangerous man on the planet, or at least the most dangerous man in MMA. Yet for the past several years, when his name has come up, it has been as a punchline: Ken’s working security for rappers. Ken’s signed on for a bare-knuckle boxing match. Ken’s fighting Kimbo.

Had Shamrock simply shone bright then burned out, we’d no doubt remember him differently. As just a UFC legend, not a UFC legend who stuck around too long, unwilling or unable to leave the game.

Of course, Shamrock’s career is not about what “we” — be that we the fans, media, or any other group — want. It’s his life, his career, his choice to continue fighting. Is it the right one? Probably not. The money is no doubt good, and Slice is no spring chicken himself, but Ken Shamrock is 51 years old, and has the mileage to match the years. He hasn’t fought since 2010 (Slice, meanwhile, was boxing during his time away from MMA, though he hasn’t set foot in a boxing ring in over a year). He’s a shadow of his former self.

Yet he’s willing, and Bellator and CEO Scott Coker are willing to enable him. It’s a freakshow, which is what many feared Bellator would become when they traded sport for spectacle under new leadership. And while it’s fun to see some big names return, this MMA nostalgia trip at some point has to end. What’s next? Royce Gracie? Mark Coleman?

The argument here isn’t just about legacy or relevancy, either. Ken Shamrock would definitely have been better off burning out, career-wise, but when you get right down to it, there’s a health issue as well. A long term health issue. As many suggested years ago, Shamrock would be better served to coach and train than actually fight himself at this point. Yet here he is, signing a multi-fight deal with Bellator MMA. Risking another knock-out loss. Risking further damage, risking dementia pugilistica down the road.

Perhaps he’ll go out and prove the masses wrong. Against Slice, he may actually have a chance (read: takedowns). The risk, however, just isn’t worth it. Yet on his shield will be where Ken Shamrock goes out nonetheless. As he was quoted in Bellator’s press release announcing the June bout, “I will quit fighting when I want to.”

Hopefully that is sooner rather than later.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.