The story of Liverpool MMA fighter Shem Rock is nothing short of a Hollywood movie script. Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Shaqueme “Shem” Rock spent 10 years on the run abroad, became a top MMA fighter, got arrested and then finally acquitted. Now 29-years-old, he has just signed with Octogan and is on the cusp of greatness.
A good friend of Paddy Pimblet and Molly McCann, Shem Rock is another top talent to emerge from Liverpool — although he learnt how to fight in Asia whilst a fugitive. Arrested for aggravated burglary along with his cousin, when he was in fact not present at the time of the crime, he fled Liverpool and headed to Malaysia.
Shem recalls: “I was just a young kid. I’m not gonna lie, I was no angel — I was a young criminal — but the irony is that the one crime I didn’t commit I got arrested for. You can call it karma I suppose, but I was looking at a possible 8-12 years for a crime I didn’t commit. With my previous I thought they’d throw the book at me so I did one.”
Having always been a fan of the UFC, Shem started training in Malaysia — eventually becoming one of the top fighters there and making the cut for ONE Championship’s Warrior Series in Thailand. However, as his reputation grew as a fighter, it was only a matter of time before his past caught up with him.
Shem explained: “When I first started fighting in Malaysia I was getting tapped out by women and people in their 50s but I developed quickly. I began competing properly and was beating everyone in every region. I went to Thailand for the ONE Championship’s television series and was successful alongside Stamp Fairtex but I was on the run wasn’t I and the phone call came in soon enough.”
As Shem sat with me outside Rockpoint Records in New Brighton that Friday afternoon and described the situation, one thing that struck me is that he had to correct himself from present to past tense. Having spent so many years on the run, he spoke as though he still was — even though he had been acquitted 12 months ago. It was clearly a weight on his shoulders he still carried.
Despite the major setback, Shem continued to compete throughout Asia and a victory in Taiwan took his Pro record to 4-0. He then decided to re-locate to Dublin to train with SBG, home to high-profile fighters such as Conor McGregor — closer to home yet still out of the jurisdiction of the UK criminal system — but his past inevitably caught up with his again.
Shem explained: “I was training with the best of them in Ireland until one day John Cavanagh pulled me into the office. I knew what was coming and just told him how it was. I’m sure he believed me that I didn’t commit the crime but he told me they couldn’t have the bad publicity for the brand. It was like I had this curse on me following me around but I didn’t give up on my dream.”
Shem joined Dublin Combat Academy, where he won the Clan Wars featherweight title in 2021 to extend his Pro record to 6-0. By this point his cousin has served his time for the crime back home and after his first defeat in Belfast, his past finally caught up with him for good when he was arrested and deported back to Liverpool to face trial.
Shem was remanded in custody for 6 long months before facing a trial that lasted just 15 minutes. A panel of judges and a unanimous decision awaited him — although for much more on the line than a win or loss in a fight — and Shem was declared not guilty after fighting a conviction for his entire adult life.
Today, at 29-years-old, Shem is more determined than ever to achieve success at the highest level. As we talked in the Friday afternoon sunshine, he told me his plans for the future with a steely look of grit and determination. Having just signed a four fight deal with Czech Republic’s Octagon brand, he knows this could be the stepping stone to the highest level.
He explained: “This is my time. This false charge has halted my progress long enough but now I’m ready to go to the top. I want to repay all the people, my friends and family, Paddy Pimblet and Molly McCann, for keeping the faith in me and supporting me — I want to win the biggest titles to show them they were right for believing in me.”
Prior to the end of our interview, Shem took some time out to give some advice to local teenage kids who had come over after recognising him. In addition to being on the cusp of MMA greatness, Shem is also working with CELLS, a police project that aims to get troubled kids on the right path, and it was clear to see he’ll be a major influence given how the local teenagers listened to him.
Speaking of the future he said: “It’s great to be working with CELLS to help inspire kids who are on the wrong path. The next stage for me is to become as big as I can be in the sport, to win world titles, then one day open my own centres that get kids off the streets and into the gym. I had a troubled past but MMA has taught me discipline, respect and given me something to focus on. It’s saved my life.”
In 2014, Shem’s face was on Crimewatch and on the big screens of Liverpool city centre — wanted for a crime he didn’t commit. Today, the promoters of Octagon are about to put his face on the big screens in Bratislava for different reasons — as he prepares to take on Czech star Bahnik in a fight that’s one step away from a World Title fight.
Shem is due to fight Bahnik in Bratislava on 29th April — a key fight in his career that could pave the way for greatness and world domination, as he continues his aim to become Pro World Champion in the UFC. Something tells me that Shem’s story is far from over and we may well see a Hollywood movie about Shem Rock in the future.
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First and second photos credit Colin Lane, The Liverpool Echo — others Shem Rock