Battle of the Titans: Gracie Jiu Jitsu vs. The Lion’s Den

20 Apr

I finally had a little spare time to put together my second post, the long-promised look at a forgotten classic between a future legend of the sport and an underrated pioneer, Frank Shamrock vs. Allan Goes!

First, the fight itself:


The year was 1995, and the MMA revolution that we are so familiar with today had only just begun.  In the USA, Royce Gracie had cemented his place as a legend in the sport by dominating the first four UFCs, and had begun to spread the gospel of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to the masses.  In Japan, Rickson Gracie (Royce’s infinitely more skilled cousin) had tore through the Vale Tudo Japan tournament for the second year in a row, defeating the best Judo and Submission specialists that Japan had to offer.  In short, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was seen as the invincible art.

Still, MMA was in its infancy.  At the time, the UFC was unregulated and unskilled (with a few notable exceptions), and with PRIDE FC still two years from its debut, there was no home for mixed martial arts as we know it.  Enter the Pancrase league of Japan, the home of “proto-MMA”.

Originally founded as a venue where real (or “shoot style”) pro wrestling could be shown for the masses, it quickly grew in popularity with the Japanese.    Don’t be confused by the “pro-wrestling” moniker, the fights were as real as they could get, with matches ending by familiar techniques such as armbars, RNCs, leglocks, etc.   And for the most part, they were on the up and up….no predetermined outcomes here!   Famous fighters such as Ken and Frank Shamrock, Bas Rutten, and Vernon White got their start in this organization, years before becoming popular in the UFC.

The rule set was very different from what you might expect;   contestants were not allowed to strike at the face with a closed fist (relying on empty palms), and had to wear shinguards/kneepads for protection (with the unintended consequence of making leglocks much more devestating).  Striking on the ground was generally frowned upon by most competitors, and a fighter caught in a submission had the chance to use a “rope escape” (i.e. the fighter would touch the ring rope and the referee would separate and reset the fighters).   Not quite what we’re used to, but it allowed for very exciting fights.

The Fighters:

Frank Shamrock:

Forget the braces wearing commentator you see nowadays on Showtime, or even the broken down kickboxer that competed against Nick Diaz or Cung Le.  From 1997-2000, Frank Shamrock was known as the best mixed martial artist in the world.  He was the GSP before GSP, the Anderson Silva before Anderson Silva.  No one else in the world could combine kickboxing, wrestling and jiu jitsu, and nobody else was as dominant as he was, for as long as he was.

You may  have noticed that I said 1997 onwards he was considered the best….the Frank Shamrock in 1995 was still very much a developing fighter. Training with his (adopted) older brother’s fight team of The Lion’s Den, much of his training centered around catch wrestling, a grappling style predicated on athleticism and aggression.  Top control was heavily emphasized as well as submissions from any positions (leglocks being a noted specialty).  Unfortunately, Frank’s training methods were prehistoric; technique and conditioning was not emphasized, with most training sessions revolving around hour long grappling sessions at 100% intensity and little concern for safety.  Still, he was developing into a formidable grappler, beating Bas Rutten and Pancrase founder Minoru Suzuki en route to a 3-2 record at the time of this fight.

Allan Goes:

Although not nearly as legendary as Frank Shamrock, Allan Goes was a very skilled practicioner of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Getting his blackbelt under the legendary Carlson Gracie (along with contemporaries such as Mario Sperry and Murilo Bustamante),  he won numerous Brazilian Jiu Jitsu world championships as well as closed door Vale Tudo fights before making his “professional debut” in Pancrase against Frank Shamrock.  Despite his novice status in MMA, he was every bit an experienced and dangerous fighter, with skills honed on the street as well as in the ring.

Years later, he would help create Brazilian Top Team with founders Ricardo Liborio, Mario Sperry, and Murilo Bustamente, which in turn would create famous fighters such as Antonio Minotauro Nogueira and Ricardo Arona.

The Fight

Originally I was planning on having GIFs throughout my article to call out techniques, but due to some unexpected business I haven’t been able to finish them (not to mention I’m still learning how to make GIFS!).  Hopefully this weekend will be a little more fruitful….

In the meantime, a couple quick thoughts:

  • What is instantly apparent is the sharp contrast in styles between Shamrock and Goes.  Goes is methodical in his approach to every position, slowly securing proper position before attacking with a submission…in other words, textbook Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Within the first minute you see evidence of this: Goes locks down Frank Shamrock in his guard, keeping his posture broken down and preventing Frank from striking him (Goes had NO idea striking was more or less not allowed on the ground), and only going for a kimura after his position was secure.
  • Contrast Goes’ methodical strategy to the aggressive and athletic approach of Frank.  Rather than rely on technical superiority or leverage, Frank relies on pure athleticism to get out of bad positions (note how he reverses Goes kimura by basically exploding his hips to first roll away from Goes, and then back toward him to convince the more strategic Allan that the submission was unlikely to be finished.).  Furthermore, Frank demonstrates a complete willingness to sacrifice position for submission.  During two separate occasions, Frank sits back from inside Allan’s guard to attempt heel hooks, risking Allan escaping and then being in a dominant position.  This singleminded drive toward submissions is anathema to the stereotypical BJJ mantra of “position before submission”, emphasizing the importance of controlling your opponent above all else.
  • Both approaches toward grappling bore fruit in this match:  one of Shamrock’s numerous heel hooks (around the 6:00 mark) ended up breaking Allan’s ankle and forcing him to utilize a rope escape, while Goes’ methodical approach toward grappling allowed him to secure back mount and an easy rear naked choke (5:00 mark).  However, the real turning point is seen at the end of the match:  Frank Shamrock’s lack of physical conditioning and overly athletic grappling style ended up gassing him out, and Allan was only seconds away from securing a second RNC at the end of the match


After a brutal and hard fought grappling match, Goes and Shamrock fought to a well deserved draw, as both grappling styles were highly comparable, despite what many modern day BJJ revisionists may have you believe.

Catch Wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu would continue to face one another in MMA numerous times in the future, with notable victories on both sides (Rickson Gracie putting Pancrase founder Masakatsu Funaki to sleep, and Kazushi Sakuraba beating four Gracies (2 by technical submission no less!) come to mind).  Nowadays, Catch Wrestling is a forgotten art next to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, with Josh Barnett the only notable practictioner among the MMA elite.  BJJ of course, has become a vital part of any fighter’s arsenal.

As for the fighters themselves….

Allan Goes would go on to have mixed success in his own MMA career, largely making his impact on MMA through his establishment of Brazilian Top Team, and starting the careers of MMA legends like the Nogueiras.  He is still involved in the world of fighting, owning a chain of BJJ schools and occasionally making an appearance in fighter corners (most recently, in BJ Penn’s corner vs. Nick Diaz).

Frank Shamrock, as previously mentioned, would go on to become the greatest mixed martial artist of the early era.  Dominant victories over Jeremy Horn (MMA veteran of well over 200 fights), Kevin Jackson (Olympic Medalist), Enson Inoue (Heavyweight BJJ black belt) and Igor Zinoviev (first person to beat a BJJ black belt in MMA) would cement his legacy, and his TKO of Tito Ortiz (a man who outweighed him by over 20 pounds) could only be seen as the cherry on top.  Unfortuantely, at the peak of his powers, he retired (citing the lack of competition available) and we were robbed of seeing him fight against another great fighter of that time, Kazushi Sakuraba.  Nowadays Frank is a commentator for Showtime, after retiring from the sport following two brutal beatings by both Cung Le and Nick Diaz.

Hope you enjoyed the short trip through the history books!  Come by (hopefully soon) for the next installment, where I take a look at the evolution of Alistair Overeem’s striking (with GIFs I promise), and how he might stack up against Junior Dos Santos.


3 Responses to “Battle of the Titans: Gracie Jiu Jitsu vs. The Lion’s Den”

  1. Edward April 24, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    man, it is crazy how different shamrock looked when he was a youngun. good stuff

  2. arjun April 25, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    nice article

    • Willy G April 26, 2012 at 4:35 am #

      Jeff, this is good, keep it up.

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