Late Saturday morning in downtown San Jose, California, fourteen men made their way to the top of the San Jose Athletic Club where Frank Shamrock’s training facility or ‘dungeon‘, as he referred to it, sits just eight blocks away from the HP Pavilion.
A stay at home dad, an eighteen year old former Shamrock student, a Tuscon, Arizona, resident and one Swedish native made up a few of the fourteen hopefuls vying for a spot on Team Shamrock as well as the day’s biggest prize: one contract for a spot on an upcoming Strikeforce card.
Shamrock started off the day’s events by going over the rules and schedule with the fighters before putting them through the MMA ringer. One participant did not bring any training gear with him whatsoever and the MMA legend pointed out that not bringing equipment to a professional tryout would be like, “a mechanic working on a car without any tools.”
The first part of the day consisted of running nearly 10 sets of stairs, 200 squats, 50 push-ups, 50 sit-ups and 50 leg lifts. For several of the participants, the stairs and squats were the hardest portion of the day. For Floyd Nazareno, the physical aspect of the tryout did not wear on him at all. “When you are pushing yourself physically your mind starts to say, ‘you are going to give up’ or ‘you can’t make it!’ You are in a battle with yourself, the hardest battle was with myself.”
During the hard sets of exercises Shamrock could be heard shouting, “Do not throw up on my mats” or “If you stop you are done!” Almost every single fighter had difficulty getting through the first round of tryouts; the vomit buckets slowly started to fill up and the participants began to gas out before even getting to the grappling portion of the schedule. Despite the hard workout, only one man failed to make it through the first round of the day.
The men were allowed a fifteen-minute break and Shamrock passed out certificates and shirts to his instructors and students, further elevating them up the levels of his academy. After the brief ceremony wrapped up, Shamrock turned his attention back to the participants and broke them up into two groups for grappling one single three-minute round.
After a few seconds a crowd of onlookers began to form around the area where the larger fighters were showcasing their ground game. Victor Cheng, a professional who made a special trip from Sweden to attend the tryout, started to pull away from the pack with calf slicers, body scissor take downs and a variety of submissions. Cheng also triangled 300 pound Nick Gennoe after the much larger Gennoe remained in half guard for most of the round.
In the striking department, Nazareno caught the eyes of the coaches with several brutal knockdowns. A low kick, high kick and right body shot dropped his sparring partner time and time again. The Shamrock coaches had to pick up Nazareno’s partner and drag him out of the circle in order to give him time to recover.
Right after the kickboxing portion of the schedule, the fighter that failed to bring any equipment did not continue to the final part of the tryout. More of the participants began hovering over buckets, cramping up and sucking air following their sparring sessions. But they pushed through.
In the MMA sparring round the 300 pound Gennoe impressed the crowd with a mount-to-arm bar transition that seemed as if a welterweight had pulled it off. Christian Barber raised some eyebrows after tapping out the highly touted Cheng with a triangle choke, however, Cheng returned the favor with a tap out of his own thanks to a kimura.
After the last bell had rung and the final pair of fighters wrapped up their round, Team Shamrock huddled together in the corner to ponder the fate of the twelve men that had made it through the four hour tryout. Shamrock went down the list of names with his team and pulled in a few of the fighters to discuss their current situations.
With all of the men lined up against the mirrors, Shamrock addressed them all and congratulated them for making it through the tryout. Nick Gennoe, the stay at home dad who found out about the tryouts three days prior, earned the first spot on the team; Gennoe did not believe that he could make the team, however, one individual gave him all the confidence he needed. “I didn’t think (I could make the team) but my wife did. That’s why she made me come, she is my biggest influence…everyday.”
Christian Barber, who four years ago at fourteen years old began learning the MMA game as a Frank Shamrock student, earned himself an invitation onto the team. Barber, had begun reaping the benefits of his hard work. “I first started here at fourteen. My first MMA experience was with Frank and from there I just kept training and wound back over here.”
Floyd Nazareno also earned a spot on the team and could not believe it. “Man, I was excited! I was in disbelief! Now this is where life really begins, a totally different out look on life. These guys are a bunch of tough animals. I was like, “Did I make the right decision to come here? I didn’t think I could stand a chance and I was just praying the whole time.”
Once the congratulations had been dished out and the sound of applause died down for the three men that were now a part of Team Shamrock, a contract with Strikeforce had yet to be awarded. Victor Cheng beamed with joy after hearing his name called off for slot on Shamrock’s squad and the Strikeforce contract.
After a hearty hand shake and quick embrace with the former champion, Cheng’s coach Reza Forotan rushed over and mobbed their 24-year-old protégé. The trip halfway around the world had paid off and the tears in Cheng’s eyes reflected the hard work and dedication he had put into the sport.“It’s incredible. It feels like a dream. I decided to give my all, for me it was a very big step to travel and come here. I have great support back home from my coaches, teammates, family and friends.”
For Frank Shamrock, the day proved to be very productive. “We had a really good group of game guys. The level of athleticism has definitely gone up. We had a lot of guys who made it through the tryouts, which is pretty rare, usually about fifty percent quit on the conditioning part and never make it to the sparring.”
Out of the fourteen men that showed up, twelve completed the tryout, Allen Stevens and Nicholas Marcus earned spots as “young boys” (an apprenticeship of sorts in order to become full members of the team), three made it onto the team and one will return to Sweden with the opportunity to return to the team and a Strikeforce contract. Shamrock encouraged the six men not selected to try out again and to continue to further their MMA training.
For now, the journey of Gennoe, Barber, Nazareno and Cheng has just begun. Cheng will head back to Sweden for a fight on April 25th and could be on a Strikeforce card as early as June. Gennoe, Barber and Nazareno will call the Shamrock Martial Arts Academy home and begin training full-time as teammates. While they do not know what the future will hold, they can be certain of one thing; they earned their spot on Team Shamrock.
By: Matt De La Rosa