‘In the Clinch’… With Richard Shore (Part One)

MMA may only be a few decades old but very few in Britain can boast a CV to match that of Abertillery’s own, Richard ‘Shakey’ Shore.

From promoting his own shows to launching his own podcast, there are few corners of the industry that remain unscathed by this time-served martial artist.

Now boasting his own facility in ‘Shore MMA’ and a stable of fighters that can stand up to those anywhere on the continent (including son and UFC bantamweight prospect Jack ‘Tank’ Shore and newly signed Bellator contender Brett ‘The Pikey’ Johns), ….year old ‘Shakey’ helps MMA UK reminisce about the murky old days of a now thriving sport and ‘fesses up to the trials and tribulations he endured during his years as a trailblazer.

Tell us about your first scrap (in or out of the cage).
Crikey, I’ve got to think back now. I think my first fight was in primary school. I won’t name the other lad – sadly he’s passed away – but I remember him picking on a special needs lads and me fronting up. I must’ve been about eleven last year of primary school. It just turned into a bit of a confrontation. That was my first ever ‘scrap’, for want of a better word.
That was my first real physical confrontation. We both ended up in the headmaster’s office and both had parents called to the school. But I wasn’t really a scrapper as a youngster, if I’m honest.

You train your own son (Jack ‘Tank’ Shore [13-0-0]). Do you come from a fighting family? Were there many hard men/martial artists around you growing up?
Not really, I was brought up by a single mother and a half-sister. I never met my real father so never had no fighting males around me. I was brought up around females; my grandmother, my aunties, my mother, my sister – it was quite a stressful environment in that house, I can tell you! But no, there were no real hardmen around me growing up.
I wasn’t one that was ever really into altercations or street fighting, I was quite a laid-back, nervous kid. I kept myself to myself. I was a keen sportsman; played a little bit of rugby but football was my main focus as a youngster. Sometimes, there was a little bit of argy-bargy on the pitch but that’s standard for anybody playing Saturday amateur league football in the Welsh Valleys! I grew up in a place called Abertillery, where there’s a lot of fighting men. Some of the old school hard nuts! But I haven’t really had anyone around me, family-wise, that was a renowned fighter or tough nut, to be honest.

What initially drew you to martial arts?
Working in the pubs, some of the other doormen started doing three training sessions a week. There was a lad called Steve – who was a black belt in karate – and another lad, Rhys Long, who’s passed away now, God rest his soul, who was the head doorman and a black belt in Judo. We’d turn up (at the gym) three nights a week, I supposed that was my first taste of cross-training with martial arts. Looking back, they weren’t the most technically sound sessions but they sure toughened you up! It was a bit of spit and sawdust and a bit of rough and tumble. That was my first taste of training. We did that for several years.

The dawn of MMA has really exposed some of the martial arts that aren’t very practical in real-world situations. How effective did you find Judo during your time on the doors?
To be honest, I did everything in the pubs, I wasn’t necessarily just a doorman. I started off as a young kid, at 15, I started washing and collecting glasses. I went on to work behind the bar and did a few shifts on the door. One night the DJ didn’t turn up! They said, “Can anybody jump in the disco booth?!” I said I’d give it a go! I had a couple of beers, got paid twice as much money and did alright. From that point, I started to do the disco in the clubs more than the door work.
However, Judo is a fantastic art for being a doorman because you can throw somebody. It’s not as dangerous as chinning someone. You can control someone. Nowadays, the arts have moved on. Jiu-Jitsu is probably a much better art if you’re gonna work on the doors. If I had somebody that came up to me and said “I’m a doorman. Which art should I look to refine?”, I’d say Jiu-Jitsu because you can restrain using your joint locks, your rear naked chokes, without having to do any real damage to them.

Where were the lairiest venues you’ve worked?
I was only ever working in Abertillery. There was the Dagmar Pub, which was named after the one in EastEnders at the time. Big screens, disco going on. That was a busy pub. There was a place called The Arena, which was a tough old place. Back in the late 90’s/early ’00s, everyone seemed to come over to our area. We had lots of guys from different valley communities coming over, it was quite lairy. But at the same time, I think we’re a bit different to those that are born in the city. Has our little area got idiots and nutcases? Yeah, it has! But you tend to know who they are and they tend to know who you are. So you don’t seem to run into trouble. I work at a school in Cardiff and I tend to see a lot more conflict in the cities than I do in the Valley community.

As someone who’s been involved in MMA in Wales for 20 plus years, can you give us an idea of how the sport has advanced in your lifetime? Is there anything you miss about the early days of MMA in Wales?
I think the one thing I probably do miss is the excitement. Back then, it was new on the scene. It was rough, it was unprofessional, let’s be honest! A lot of the events back in the early days were in rings, there were no cages about. I mean, the earliest ones in Wales I can remember were obviously the Grapple & Strike, which were run by Ross Iannoccaro, from Gloucester; House of Pain shows, down in Swansea, which were MMA events in the cage. Originally, Grapple and Strike actually started on mats, before moving up to the ring and finishing off in the cage by the late 2000s.
Some of the events you’d go to would have same-day weigh-ins, there’d be 4-5kg difference, people missing weight but you’d still agree to fight. There was no money in it! You were lucky to get a £3 ticket deal as a commission. For your medical, someone would sit you down, check your pulse, check your blood pressure and off you go! There’d be a St.John’s Ambulance, rather than fully qualified doctors and paramedics like it is today. But it was exciting, it was new!
I used to enjoy the ‘kudos’ of it. Like I said, I wasn’t much of a fighting man growing up. All of a sudden people started saying “Christ, the guy who’s doing the disco’s on a Saturday/Sunday along the town is doing this cage fighting!” I was a big-ticket seller, fought around in different places. I enjoyed it but when I look back now, as somebody who’s helped in the promotion of Cage Warriors, it was dangerous as well! We got through that spell without anybody either becoming paralysed or worse even, killed! The main difference now is the professionalism.
You’d have guys that were training once or twice a week who’d jump in and have a scrap. Some shows were short of fighters so somebody would fight twice in one night. I’ve been at fights where people from the crowd or teammates from the crowd have stepped in and had a scrap, which is all well and good but you do run that risk of somebody being unprepared.
Today, all of the amateurs train like professionals, it’s a different world. If we go back to say 2010, the amateurs of today would walkthrough 99% of the professional fighters of 2010 in the UK. That’s not an opinion, that’s a fact. I’ve got young lads and young men training with me – and not just me, there’s lots of good gyms in the whole of the UK and Wales – that haven’t even had a professional fight that would absolutely handle anybody from 2010 with ease. The game has moved on and progressed so quickly, it’s unbelievable.

Was there a stigma around MMA back in the day?
I think MMA was quite fashionable when it first came about because there wasn’t a lot of us doing it. Today it’s quite a big sport, isn’t it? Not just from a spectator’s perspective but the competitors. There’s full-time MMA gyms all around the area.
When we were doing it, we were the first from our area and our generation to have done it. There was a little bit of kudos if I’m honest. As a young man, I used to get recognised around the town. There was no internet back in those days, it was all in the newspaper. People would come up to me and tell me they’d seen me in the papers, that they’d seen me fight. There was a real novelty back then.
You know, just to order your kit you’d have to get it in from America. Then there was MMA Universe, which some of the ‘old school’ boys will remember from back in the day. You could buy anything off there, to be fair.
MMA wasn’t frowned upon. I think a lot of people were excited by it, particularly where we were from in Wales. The valley communities tend to have a bit of a fighting background anyway. The rough and tough, those who come through, don’t have a lot to do other than play rugby, football or fight. They relate to it a little bit better than other places, I think.

***Keep your eyes peeled for part 2, where Shakey discusses the trials of promoting his own shows and his former partnership with former Premier League footballer Craig Bellamy!***

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