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Shem Rock Exclusive: Crazy Story Of Wanted Fugitive Turned European MMA Star



Shem Rock 1 interview

Shem Rock. Photo via OKTAGON MMA

Rising UK star and champion of two MMA organizations, OKTAGON’s Shaqueme “Shem” Rock has quickly become one of the hottest names on the European fight scene.

The 30-year-old grappling specialist has finished all of his fights before the limit, with his fastest stoppage being in just six seconds. This past Saturday, he got another quick win as he submitted Stefano Catacoli in the first round at OKTAGON 56.

“The performance was flawless to be honest with you,” Rock says in an exclusive interview with Frontkick. “I feel fucking fresh and good to go again. I don’t really celebrate wins. I just jump back on the horse again.”

“We’ve been drilling that submission for the past few years. In my previous fights it’s the exact same sequence except I hip-tossed this guy and dropped the last one. Eight out of my ten wins came from the back.”

“Too big, skilled and smart”

With his 183 centimeters, Rock is unusually tall for a lightweight and possesses exceptional grappling skills. Even though he finished all of his opponents so far, he still feels like he has much more to prove.

“You know what, I still feel like I got to show myself as a fighter. I know what I’m capable of. I almost always follow the style of my opponent. Looking for the easiest path to victory. If he can’t wrestle, I wrestle. If he can’t grapple, I grapple. If he cant strike, I strike.”

Because of his slick grappling, the Liverpudlian focuses more on sharpening his boxing and striking tools in the gym than doing BJJ. Now he can’t wait to show his stand-up skills.

One fighter who’s always shows impeccable striking is Sweden’s Samuel Bark, who’s ranked at No. 1 in OKTAGON’s featherweight division. A spot the Brit has an eye on.

“Samuel was offered to fight me but he refused. I’m happy to fight him. I asked to fight him. I want that spot on the rankingsut, but he’s not willing to face me. My last opponent, Catacoli, could have been Samuel, but he didn’t accept. He’s got very good Muay Thai but this is MMA. I’m too big, skilled and smart. He would be an easy night at the office.”

But first things first. Before potentially taking on the dangerous Swedish striker, Shem Rock wants to fight Czech policeman Jaroslav Pokorny in a quick return.

“I called him out after the fight to face me in six weeks, and now I’m waiting for the bitch to accept. We were supposed to fight at 70 kilos. Let’s fight at the exact same stipulations but in your back garden.”

Shem Rock 2 OKTAGON


Shem Rock was on the run for 10 years

Before becoming a surging star in OKTAGON, Shem Rock spent a decade on the run, accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Along with his cousin, he was accused of aggravated burglary and fled England for Malaysia. During the 10 years as a fugitive in Asia, he took up MMA and fought in numerous promotions.

When asked about the shattering episode of his life, he chuckles:

“Can I give you the short version?”

“I started off with my first MMA fight in a TV show called Malaysian Invasion. It was like a tournament format. If you win the show you get a contract with ONE Championship. I won but was the only one not offered a contract with ONE.”

Instead of signing with the major promotion, Rock was forced to compete on regional shows in Asia before getting contracted to do a show called ONE Warriors Series.

“It was like me and Stamp Fairtex. She came to ONE from that show actually. After I was selected, they said they couldn’t air my episode because I was a wanted criminal, so they kicked me out of ONE Championships. After that I fought in Taiwan and Dubai, around South East Asia for a while.”

“I ended up doing six months in jail”

Since Rock wasn’t allowed to fight in ONE Championship, he eventually got kicked out of his gym in Malaysia. That’s when he decided it was time to go back to Europe.

“I ended up in Ireland and won my first title there. However, I got kicked out of Conor McGregor’s gym because I was a wanted criminal,” Rock sighs. “I then went to win a title in Belfast, crossed the border illegally and was arrested on the way back. I ended up doing six months in jail, fought the case and got found not guilty.”

How did you find motivation during the tough times on the run?

“You know what, it motivated me more when I got told that I couldn’t make it because I was a wanted criminal, or that I started training MMA too late. That motivated me, you know, people telling me ‘no’. When I got kicked out of ONE Championship, I was going to make sure to beat every fighter they wanted before they signed with the promotion. I wanted to show the world that I’m not going anywhere. I guess I proved that anything can be done.”

Fighting adversities, on the run from the law, and overcoming false accusations may sound like a Hollywood movie, but the decade away from home took a serious toll on the young fighter.

“I couldn’t see my family for ten years. The police harassed my family, kicked in my mother’s door. It was hard to make money and travel. I needed to have dodgy connections for my passport and stuff. You have to make sacrifices in life, but when I look back it was worth it to go through it to find MMA. The rest of my old friends are in jail, doing drugs, or are dead.”



Quickly becoming a star in Europe

After just three fights in OKTAGON MMA, Shem Rock is one his way of becoming one of the promotion’s most profiled stars. The entertaining Liverpudlian is a born posterboy of the European organization’s attempt of breaking new ground in the UK.

“On the UK side there is no denying I’m their biggest name. Probably the most talented too,” Rock says. “I’m training with Paddy Pimblett, Luke Riley and Molly McCann. Like, the whole gym is buzzing. We are fighting in the UFC and winning Cage Warriors titles. I’m a product of that system, and it is proving to work.”

After he made himself a name on the European mainland, it’s only a matter of time before he breaks through in the US as well.

“I think it’s fitting for me to fight on a different scene than everyone else. To take a different path from everyone else. I’m enjoying that.”

Read more: Rising star Aitana Alvarez on OKTAGON debut: “I saw the fear in her eyes”

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