Vernon "Tiger" White Interview (Part 1 of 3)

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William C

Active Member
Sep 6, 2015
95
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I Wasn’t Afraid of Anyone: The Vernon White Interview

Part One of Three: Meeting Ken Shamrock, Joining the Lion’s Den, and Fighting for Pancrase

By William Colosimo | wcolosimo@yahoo.com

Vernon “Tiger” White is a pioneer who was competing in mixed martial arts (MMA) since the very first Pancrase event. After fighting regularly in Pancrase for the first three years of the organization’s existence, he left to pursue the closed fist style of MMA and continued to fight a who’s who of the industry under those rules. One of the absolute earliest Lion’s Den members, he offers insight into the worlds of both that legendary fight team along with the Pancrase organization.

William Colosimo: So to start, how did you first meet Ken (Shamrock)?

Vernon White: Well, I was a taekwondo instructor living in Angels Camp, California. And there was a guy- his name was “Papa” John- and he ran a boy’s home. So he knew Bob (Shamrock), and he asked me how would I like to go to Japan and make money fighting. So, at first I was like “Nah. No, I don’t want to go to Japan- I don’t like planes.” Then, he showed me a video, told me how much money I could make, and then I was like “Alright, I’ll think about it.” And then he gave me Bob Shamrock’s phone number. I talked to Bob, after I talked to Bob about a week later I went down, met Ken, and yeah… I got initiated by Ken, got my butt kicked for at least half an hour. And then I had to clean the gym after that (laughter).

Colosimo: The gentleman you knew at a different home, that Papa John- he’s the one that told you about making money in Japan?

White: Yeah I had a taekwondo class, and some of his boys had come to my taekwondo class. And so, that’s how I knew him. But I had not worked with him, like I said I just had a class up in Angels Camp.

Colosimo: Back then when you would have gotten initiated, it was not the squats, the push-ups, the sit-ups- it was just straight fighting Ken for thirty minutes or so?

White: Oh no, I had to do five hundred push-ups, sit-ups, leg lifts, and squats- and then I had to clean the gym.

Colosimo: After the thirty minutes of getting beat up by Ken.

White: Oh yeah.

Colosimo: So that was striking, to takedowns, down to submissions, all that stuff.

White: He did about fifteen minutes of kicking my butt on the ground, and fifteen minutes of stand-up. And I was getting… I was wiping up the mat with my face on all of them.

Colosimo: Holy cow (laughter). So now, that first time you were there, you probably never heard of submissions before- did he tell you that “Hey, if I get you in something, you can’t move- you can tap”? How did that work?

White: He told me that basically if I was to give up, that I could not keep going- but I could tap out. So, seeing as how I was a punk kid, giving up was not an option. So I just tapped out.

Colosimo: Why did you decide to go down there and train with him?

White: Well after getting my butt kicked and all that stuff happening to me, I basically knew it was something that I wanted to do because I’d never, ever had anybody handle me like that, manhandle me like that before. I’d been in street fights, and I’d seen wrestling and stuff like that, but I knew that I wanted to be a part of it because I didn't want anybody to ever be able to manhandle me like that again.

Colosimo: How old were you at that time?

White: That was 1993. December 1991 I turned 21. So I was 22.

Colosimo: When Papa John asked you “Do you want to make money in Japan?” obviously he must have been talking about Ken doing the wrestling in Fujiwara-Gumi (Professional Wrestling Fujiwara-Gumi) ‘cause he was there until February of ‘93.

White: Right.

Colosimo: So was there a possibility at any point that “Hey down the road Vernon, you might be able to go wrestle in Fujiwara-Gumi?” Did Ken ever say that to you?

White: Ken did mention Fujiwara-Gumi. He even gave me a scarf, and it said N-W-something on it- I still have the scarf in my room. But yeah, he mentioned Fujiwara-Gumi, he mentioned (Masakatsu) Funaki and all the guys. I started turning into this little starstruck kid because he was telling me about pro-wrestling, and how the doors could be opened up to all that stuff. I kinda got starstruck, and next thing you know- I’m in there training with Ken, like watching videos, and seeing some of the stuff that they’re doing, and he started training me in all this stuff, and yeah- I fell in love with it.

Colosimo: He was showing you the actual Fujiwara-Gumi VHS (video home system) tapes, so you saw a lot of those shows?

White: Yes. I saw some stuff with him and Funaki, him and (Minoru) Suzuki. (Laughter) At that time they were all chubby, so they didn’t look the way they looked in Pancrase.

Colosimo: Ken said he started developing the Lion’s Den in Fujiwara-Gumi when he was gonna fight a kickboxer- Don “Nakaya” Nielsen- in October of ’92. Do you have any memory of being around at that time? Was he training with you, or did you come a little bit after that?

White: No I started in… June? June of 1993.

Colosimo: Suzuki told us that after he left Fujiwara-Gumi, he and Funaki went to see if Ken would want to join their group. They came here, talked to Ken, and then talked to Karl Gotch in February of ’93 (Editor’s Note: Per the Karl Gotch interview in the Japanese pro-wrestling magazine Shuukan Puroresu, issue #539, Masa Funaki and Minoru Suzuki traveled to the U.S. in an effort to form the Pancrase organization in early February, 1993). Suzuki told us he first met you there- it would have been on the second floor of Ken’s house, which was basically his gym before the Lion’s Den- does that sound familiar to you at all?

White: Um… not really. I don’t remember meeting them when they came over.

Colosimo: Suzuki said he gave you the nickname of “Tiger” at that point. What are your memories of how you got that nickname?

White: So from what I remember, they gave me three different names. Tiger was one of them. So as a showman’s name, I chose Tiger. ‘Cause I was into big cats, I used to like studying them when I was a kid in high school and in elementary school.

Colosimo: You joined around June of ’93, and then Pancrase started September of ’93- so you were training with Ken full time maybe three months before the first Pancrase event?

White: Yes.

Colosimo: In Fujiwara-Gumi Ken had that real fight with Don “Nakaya” Nielsen, and then he had a fight with (Kazuo) “Yoshiki” Takahashi there too. Did he ever mention that any of his fights there were real?

White: I wasn’t around when he had those fights. He didn't really talk about that with us.

Colosimo: Was the first training area for the Den the second floor of Ken’s house?

White: That- before I got there, Scott Bessac was there, I believe it was Danny Zuniga… um, who else…

Colosimo: Scott told me another name, I’ve got it written here somewhere- Noah Schnabel I think?

White: Noah Schnabel. Yeah, they were before me. And I came in later. ‘Cause I remember Ken, he actually had his gym by the time that I came in, because I remember driving into Lodi to this little hole in the wall in the back behind this other gym. And that’s where he initiated me.

Colosimo: Where does Twin Arbors racquetball court come into play- did you guys lift weights there, or what did you do there?

White: We did a lot of weight lifting there, some cardio stuff. And I believe that’s where we got basically introduced to Hammer Strength, which became one of our sponsors later.

Colosimo: When you first went to Ken’s gym- the hole in the wall- did it already have a ring in there?

White: Yeah, they had some mats on the floor. And I remember there was a little garage door that would open up, and we would do our shadowboxing and stuff in there, but we would do our grappling in the smaller room, which was being looked over by the office. So that way no one would get hurt, no one would fall out of the ring or none of that stuff. But we also had our classes there.

Colosimo: What kind of relationship did you have with Ken outside of training in those first several years at the Lion’s Den?

White: At first he really didn’t know me; I don’t know if he even liked me. But after a while he got to see what kind of person I was, and I was rough around the edges, but we’d go hang out, we’d go hang out at Stockton Rocks. We even hung out at Black Angus (Steakhouse) in Stockton a couple times- there’s a bunch of places we used to go hang out.

Colosimo: Were those a couple of bars?

White: Yeah.

Colosimo: I’m not familiar with the area. What do you remember about first meeting Funaki and Suzuki in the flesh, where do you think that happened?

White: I can’t remember meeting them stateside. But the first time I can remember meeting them was over in Japan, I met them at the dojo. And it was like, these were people who trained my trainer, or worked with my trainer. It was cool meeting them. Even some of the other guys. Especially after me only having three months- I was humbled to be there, but the reason I was there was because of my attitude. ‘Cause they wanted somebody to come over who… they wanted people to put on a show. So I put on a show, I had my little Malcom X thing that I used to wear around my neck (laughter), so I just put on a show and they kept bringing me back.

Colosimo: What do you remember about training for the few months leading up to the first event?

White: Ken told me that he did not worry too much about my stand-up, he was more worried about my groundwork, because I had never done any groundwork. So we were drilling takedown, takedown defense, we were drilling moving on the ground, so people won’t catch you in a submission. And I just remember it was hard with Ken- ‘cause I mean I was maybe 180, 185 pounds soaking wet. And he would just lay on you, and make you move. And a lot of those guys at that time weren’t making you move, they were moving around on you, trying to find a submission hold. So I remember thinking to myself “You know, this sucks- it’s hard.” (Both laugh) It wasn’t one of those things that you’re like “Yeah! I’m loving this!” It was like “I fricking hate this- but I can’t quit.”

Colosimo: You just felt like you couldn’t quit because you didn’t have it in you, at that time when you were young- you had a lot of piss and vinegar?

White: Oh- a whole heck of a lot. And before that had happened I had actually lost my mom, my grandfather, and my girlfriend tried to commit suicide. So yeah, I had a lot of anger issues going on back then.

Colosimo: When you were in Pancrase for those first few years, what do you think on average your weight might have fluctuated from?

White: Between 180, 185. And then I got introduced to some supplements that helped me to get bigger after a while. Then I got up to like 200, even heavier. But I always stuck around 215.

Colosimo: Was Ken the type of trainer that would let you get on top of him and work submissions, or was he always crushing you, and you just had to work on defense all the time? Would he let you develop your offense?

White: So, I was never one that liked to take people down. I was always the one kicking and punching, trying to get people to take me down, and then I would learn how to escape from there. ‘Cause he knew that that was my strength. But most of the time, a lot of the new guys, he would make me start on my back to get out. Because he knew people were just going to try to take me down.

Colosimo: Were you Ken’s main training partner for a while?

White: In the beginning, no. Scott was Ken’s main training partner, and then I was kinda there to fill in the blank spots where if Scott would get tired, or if he would get hurt. Then we started getting other guys in like Jason (DeLucia), and Frank (Shamrock), and Guy Mezger, and then they kind of filled in because they were bigger than I was. Ken would work his technique on me, because he wanted me to get better. But with the other guys that were stronger than I was, he would get his hard work in with them, then he would get his moving on me, to polish off his workout. It was like “Okay, in the ring- put your shoes on.” (Laughter) And I’m like “Damn it!”

Colosimo: What do you remember about the debut Pancrase show, and your fight against Takaku Fuke there?

White: I remember that the fight was way too short. I lasted like a minute and thirty-eight seconds. I believe that’s down to the second. Waiting backstage, I remember thinking to myself “Wow, this is going too fast,” even before- I think I was either the first or second fight?

Colosimo: Suzuki I think was first.

White: Okay. I just remember thinking to myself “Man, I don’t want to go out and fight this quick.” But, it happened. And I remember hitting him, and (laughter) I remember slapping him, my hands hurt from slapping him in the head. And then he took me down and we worked on the ground a little bit- not “worked,” but we were moving on the ground and next thing you know, I get stuck in a submission hold. So…
 

William C

Active Member
Sep 6, 2015
95
141
Part 2 has more about the clubs, but not dancing specifically. The supplements come up once more also. Next part is way longer than the average interview section I post, it should be up Saturday (well, your time zone it'll probably be Sunday)
 

crowbar

Member
Jan 27, 2015
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2,429
You sure do your research & ask good questions.

Keep`em coming I love me some old school Lion`s Den fighters.
 

ECC170

Monster's 11,ATM 2,Parlay Challenge,Hero GP Champ
Pro Fighter
Jan 23, 2015
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22,289
He is one of only 3 guys to beat my Boy James Lee aka one best fighters to never get the notoriety he could've and waste of talent.. Fought and was beating White in only his 3rd ever fight and ended up getting subbed in the 3rd round heel hook which promoted James to master leg locks and imho now one of the better Leg lock specialists I've ever met...D1 Wrestler, black belt in bjj and pro boxer .. James went on to win KOTC MW AND LHW TITLES and Gladiator challenge titles.. Rampage said openly that James use to tune him, Chuck and Tito up when they was a punishment and was the only that the Nog's couldn't sub he was competitive with on the mat.. White is a legend and his savvy showed when he weathered a beating from the young buck at the time and caught him slipping.. James only other losses were to Lister nd a freak accident in ufc Vs Sakara... Watched him crush James TeHuna in a minute... Took Pride fight vs Travis Wiuff on 4 days notice and dropped and subbed him in 30 seconds... And most impressively on 5 minutes notice at KOTC event Dismantle current OneFC 2 division champ Aung LaNsang with ease after busting him up he took him down and Heel hooked him with quickness..He told me that the fight with TigerWhite taught him so much more than a win and he always respected the legend!
Also IMHO he had Chuck in big trouble before the Knuckle or poke to his eye in that battle they had.. Great interview bro
 

William C

Active Member
Sep 6, 2015
95
141
Thanks man. Interesting backstory there also. I know in general what happens in the gym stays there, but it's interesting to hear how Lee did against others. Later in the interview with Vernon we get a little into his gym fight with Guy (for Guy's initiation into the Lion's Den).
 

mbetz1981

Active Member
Jul 27, 2020
42
27
KOTC era Vernon White, was a scary, scary, man. From 98-02 he was not someone that you wanted to mess with.
 

crowbar

Member
Jan 27, 2015
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In part II or part III did Vernon mention fighting in an underground tournament in Stockton Ca in 1998.He ended up fighting Cesar Gracie fighter Gil Castillo in the finals but lost by armbar.Forum member NHBStriker also fought in that tournament and I was his cornerman.Cesar Gracie was the referee.

Fun fact) I have Gil Castillo`s walkout shirt that he through out into the crowd at WEC 10.
 
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William C

Active Member
Sep 6, 2015
95
141
No, my focus was Pancrase (and the Lion's Den), so the next two segments cover up through late 1996. The only thing after that period that we cover was the early 1997 wrasslin' match with Ken in the WWF.