Issue 206

July 2024

It's worth unpacking the tale of Liverpool fighter Shaqueme ‘Shem’ Rock’ has one of the most unique backstories in the fight game.

Back in 2014, at 20 years old, the Scouser was falsely accused of burglary and assault. Fearing he would be jailed for a crime he didn’t commit, he packed his bags and left Liverpool.

His time on the run lasted seven years, taking him to Malaysia, where he discovered Brazilian jiu jitsu and mixed martial arts. He learned his trade, began competing, and eventually built a winning habit while competing as an amateur fighter, appearing on two reality TV shows. After a successful start to his professional career, he moved to Ireland and was eventually arrested. He served six months on remand in custody. He had his day in court in 2022 and was found not guilty, leaving him free to continue his career without the burden he had carried on his shoulders for so many years. An exciting submission hunter who has never seen the judge’s scorecards after 13 pro fights, Rock has been building a solid reputation while fighting under the Oktagon banner since early 2023. The Czech-based promotion has been making moves to establish itself in the UK MMA space in the past 18 months, and it sees Rock as an integral figure in that campaign. Currently, he trains at Liverpool's Next Generation MMA gym alongside Molly McCann and Paddy Pimblett. Here, he answers Emma Bramford's in-depth fighter lifestyle questions.

Do you watch other sports? 

Yeah, I do like all sports. I don't mind watching athletics. There's something to be taken from every sport. I'm fascinated by athleticism, movement, and mentality among sportsmen and women. I like stuff like the 100m sprint and long jump. I used to watch football, but I wouldn't say I watch it now. They're just too soft, all that rolling around on the floor. I love watching wrestling, jiu-jitsu, and MMA, which are just three of them.

Have you ever watched WWE as a kid?

On the weekends, we'd stay up at night. I'd go and get my dad's card and pay the WWE pay-per-views at about 2 in the morning and not tell him we were using his card. Watching the Dudley Brothers, Stone Cold, The Rock, and Mick Foley, we'd wake up in the morning, drag all the mattresses from our beds downstairs into the living room, and then mess each other up on the mattresses. I was the youngest, the smallest, so I'd always get filled in.

What are you driving these days?

I don't drive. I've never driven a car in my life. I'm 30 years of age. 

Tell us about your walkout music.

It's 50 Cent and Many Men. It wasn't always that. The first time I ever used it was in Prague against Jan Malek. I stole that walkout song from Craig Cockney. That is his walkout song. And I had Collie in my corner for that fight. And I said to Collie, you'll like this one. And then, when I used that song, it was a different energy. I usually used to walk out to reggae, and I'd be walking out smiling and happy. Where this one, I was walking out like I was going to kill someone. I like the energy and vibe, so I kept it from then on. 

Talk about your love of classical music and where does it come from?

A lot of music you listen to, whether you notice it or not, has a lot of effect on the subconscious. There are a lot of subliminal messages in there; even if they aren't deliberate subliminal messages, just the words they're speaking, you'll take them in a certain way. It'll affect your way of thinking in specific scenarios.

And I always like music without words because I know you can't influence me subconsciously; there are no subliminal messages. I like listening to it. I enjoy it.

Do you have a playlist you listen to when you're warming up? 

No music. When I'm backstage, I want no music. I want to be sitting there with the thoughts in my mind. I like the nervous energy in the room sometimes. I like to look at the other fighters and see them stressing out. And I think you're not like me, you lad. Sometimes, the music comes on, and the vibe picks up. And then sometimes I like that.

I like going through the rollercoaster of emotions. In the very beginning, it used to be a bit daunting, and I used almost to push away the nervousness and the butterflies; where I realize now that the more experience I've got, the better I perform with the nerves and with the butterflies, and the more they put me into that fight or flight, kill or be killed mode. So now I want to chase that as much as I can.

I feel like it also fuels the adrenaline a bit more, and I am an adrenaline junkie. 

The same thoughts are going to come up every warm-up, and it's going to be, what the f*ck am I doing here? Why am I here? Or should I fake an injury? Should I say I'm going to the toilet and run away? Like, everyone thinks all this mad shit, but then you go, stop being a bitch. Let's do it. I don't say I have a mantra, but when I get to the cage, if you look at every fight, I stop for a second before I enter the cage. It's just a little internal conversation with myself, and I just pretty much acknowledge to myself that I'm willing to die. It is what it is. Still, I'm trying to kill you before you kill me. Let's go, and then I get in there and have a different mindset.

Are you a gamer, and what games do you play?

Yeah, when I was a kid, Game Boy, all of that, Nintendo. In that generation, we couldn't just look and get online with our mates and play Xbox and all be on the headset with each other because it didn't exist. You'd have to go out, look in everyone's front garden, and see where the pedal bikes were, and that's where everyone was. So, I was also more of a go-outside type of kid than these kids are today.

What's your pre-fight meal?

It will probably be a bit of pasta, plain rice, and salmon. I'm very, very dull, to be honest. I do the whole, from after the weigh-in to the fight; the entire process is just a shitload of carbs so I can hold on to water. Some fast-acting carbs and glycogen are dull. It's dead plain because I don't want to upset my stomach. It could be more enjoyable. It's just what I need to fuel my body to perform.

What's your post-fight meal?

I eat clean all year round, to be fair. I don't have any cheat meals, but my guilty pleasure is carbs. So, everything, potato, pasta, rice, I like whole beans, lentils, a lot of fiber, a lot of veggies, where I can't eat any fiber before the fight because it'll just mess my stomach up.

What sets you apart from other fighters?

I'd like to say my skill set, but we won't learn until it is too late. Everyone I train with always says that my style is very awkward and different, but I only know myself and my style, so for me, it's normal. I watch my videos back and think I'm moving like everyone else. But when I speak to everyone else, they're like, lad, it's so hard to read you. So, I do get it. 

I know how to figure that style out. And then I've gone and trained with them when I've seen them years later at different gyms when I've sparred or cross-trained. And then you get the same thing, like, man, his style is so hard. He might look a bit ugly, like a Sean Strickland, when you watch him. But you watch him, and you go, he doesn't look that great. But then you spar him, and he's in your face for 15 minutes. And you're like, f*ck me, he's hard to deal with him. Some people are just like that, and maybe I'm a bit like that. Where I see it all the time, people slag me all the time and say, ah, he's not good, his striking's not good, his wrestling's not good, this isn't good. But then when they feel me afterwards, they're like, wow, I was shocked there. This guy is unpredictable. That's what they mean by that.

What was it like fighting during COVID-19 and no fans?

I liked that when the shots landed, you could hear the sounds of the leather and the kick slapping the body. I liked it, and I liked hearing my cornerman. It was like warming up for sparring and then walking out, and it was good. I enjoyed it, and I'd love to do it again.

What made you start training to become an MMA fighter?

I started my first training in Asia. Everyone knows the story. I was on the run, however long I was on the run. I had no intention of being an MMA fighter. I had no intention of competing. I just found Jiu-Jitsu, and I loved it. And it was like a new passion. I thought this is what I'm meant to do. And I just started training three times a day, every day, and doing nothing else but training. My coach at the time, Bruno Barbosa, was the one who made me do my first jiu itsu comp. He was like, no, go and compete. And then I just had the bug from there on. And then eventually, at some point, it was like, how much money have you made from jiu jitsu, even though you've traveled all around doing all these competitions? So, it's like, do you want to make money? Well, let's go and do MMA then because you can make money.

Then, I transitioned to MMA, and it became a career by accident. I fought amateur, won a title, was on a TV show, and got paid good money to be on a TV show. And then it naturally progressed after my four amateur fights to be like, yo, let's make my pro debut then. And it's just built to where I am now. What am I, 12 fights later professionally? It's wild.

What inspires and motivates you during your training?

The people around me inspire me, the people I see training every day. I know the grind that they go through. I see the struggle that they go through. I see them on the good days. I see them on the bad days. I see them when they get knocked out in sparring. I see them when they knock people out in sparring. I see them crying because they have family troubles and still show up for training. I see them when they win the fights and come back happy. That inspires me because I can relate to that. I see that with my eyes, and it's within reaching distance.

You're holding a dinner party. You can invite three guests, past or present. Who will they be, and why?

I'm going to go with Hitler. He will have a lot to tell, yeah. He's been through all wars; he's a bit mad. Then, I will go to the opposite side of the board, Jesus, because who wouldn't want Jesus there? Why would you not wish to see Jesus there? He could tell you anything and everything. If he's the man they say he is, he could tell you anything and everything. If he can't tell you anything and everything, you know he's not the man they say he is. And who would my third one be? Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia. To give wisdom.

What has been your worst injury? Was it in training, fight camp, or the octagon?

I broke my face. I was on that TV show and didn't want to pull out. I remember getting the medical, and during the medical, luckily, I didn't bruise that easily. So, I had little black spots in the corner of my eyes. And in the medical, the guy's touching my nose here because it was broken. The guy's touching my face.

And he's like, mate, you can't fight. And I'm like, why? And he's like, look at your face. My nose was swollen, but luckily, there wasn't much bruising. And he's touching it. And when he's touching it, my eyes are watering. I'm in severe pain. Because he's pressing it hard, and he's like, look at your face. You can't fight. And I'm like, why? And he's like, your face. And I'm like, no, I did that about a year and a half ago, mate.

It's just always been like that. And he's like, are you sure? And I was like, yeah. And he's like, OK, medically clear to fight. I'm lucky I took the guy down and submitted him quickly.

Would you prefer to headline in Liverpool or Madison Square Garden?

That’s easy. Liverpool.