Meet Shem Rock — The ex-prisoner fighting a police officer at Oktagon 48: The true story of a man who went on the run over a crime he didn’t commit

After evading capture for over a decade, Shem Rock went to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, but now, he’s out, and at Oktagon 48, he has a chance to punch his police officer opponent in the face.

In a tale that embodies redemption, adventure and an unrelenting will to succeed, the boy who grew up on a council estate in Toxeth, has defied all the odds to become one of the most exciting prospects on the planet.

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Without a positive role model in his life, as a youngster, Rock started going down a bad path. But after several attempts to turn his life around, he was left in hot water when the police started hunting him down over an aggravated burglary he didn’t commit.

Terrified of going to prison without having done anything wrong, he jumped on a train to France, before heading to Asia.

Shem Rock flees to Malaysia

In an exclusive interview with Sporf, he remembered: “It was a bit mad. I just knew if I could get out of the country, it’s going to make the job of the police officers a lot harder. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d last longer than a week.  

“I actually went to Thailand first. I’ve got a family member in Malaysia. But I didn’t want to go straight to them and bring trouble to their door. So, I went to Thailand and waited to see whether the police would come and get me or not, and after a year of not being arrested, I said, ‘I’m going to Malaysia’. 

“I went and spent eight years there, then two years in Ireland, until I got nicked.”

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Shem Rock has had an incredible journey to Oktagon 48

During his time in Malaysia, with an overwhelming desire to make something of his life, he started Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and quickly unlocked a talent he never knew he had.

It didn’t take long for Rock to start competing, and within a few years, he’d become one of the best up-and-coming fighters in Asia. Alas, it all went wrong when his gym discovered his background.

After being thrown out of the facility, he decided he’d like to return home, but with the police hot on his tail, it simply wasn’t possible. So, with that in mind, he decided to move to the only place that could possibly resemble that Liverpudlian spirit — Dublin.

At this point, he decided to take a risk. With a title opportunity in Belfast waiting for him, he travelled to the UK. Remarkably, he won the belt and made it back to the Irish capital without any bother. Unfortunately, upon his return to defend the strap, he wouldn’t be so lucky.

After getting knocked out in the fight, he was arrested and flown back to Liverpool for the first time in ten years.

The fighter spent six months in prison before new evidence proved he had nothing to do with the crime he was originally accused of committing. Consequently, he was released and vowed to do everything in his power to live up to his potential.

Shem Rock squares off with a police officer at Oktagon 48

With the world at his feet, the sublime grappler is willing to go toe-to-toe with any man who dares set foot in the cage with him. And after a tremendous performance at Oktagon 45 at the stunning Štvanice Stadium, getting people to sign on the dotted line proved anything but easy.

Regardless, Rock has the opportunity of a lifetime at Oktagon 48 at the AO Arena in Manchester on November 4. With a disdain for the police due to incidents in his childhood, including a horrific memory in which they attacked his mother, the martial artist isn’t a massive fan of coppers. And now he’s got the opportunity to fight one in the form of Jarda Pokorny.

He laughed: “It’s come full circle. The police wanted me, and now I want them. I’m just so fortunate and blessed that I’ve got this opportunity to punch a police officer in the face and get paid for it with no repercussions. Come on!” 

Shem Rock can’t wait to settle his rivalry with Jarda Pokorny

However, it turns out, that Rock’s issues with his Czech opponent extend far beyond what he does for a living.

The 29-year-old explained: “In Prague, for my last fight, I was supposed to fight Pokorny. He sat with the contract for two weeks and refused me. That’s why I’ve got respect for Jan Malach because he signed the contract when Pokorny wouldn’t. I don’t understand it. He didn’t want to fight me, but then he’d run to social media and start saying s**t about me. That’s why I was like, ‘Sign the contract or shut the f**k up’.”

He added: “I don’t know whether the promotion has put pressure on him or offered him more money, or maybe he’s just fed up with getting slagged off by me every day on Instagram, but he’s signed the contract this time. So, here we are, November 4, AO Arena, Manchester; I can see it now; he’s not lasting more than a round. He’s going to have 18,000 screaming fans all booing him. Pokorny’s going to look across the cage, see me, and the pressure is going to be on him. He’s going to wilt very early on, or he’s going to come with that nervous energy and blow his load. I’ll counter him and clean his clock.”


Shem Rock is currently starring in Oktagon Challenge: England vs Ireland

With a charismatic personality, the switch to reality TV seemed effortless for Rock. Taking to being on camera like a duck to water, he’s coached team Ireland in the most intense competition on reality TV.

He beamed: “I’m so blessed and fortunate to get all the opportunities I have since I came out of jail 16 months ago. Paddy Holohan and Brad Pickett are legends of MMA. It was boss to be on the same programme as them. I loved coaching all the lads on the show. It was great to be in my mate’s corner because I know Denis Frimpong outside of the show.  

“I think anyone who watches that programme will love it. I’m getting messages from people, saying, ‘It’s better than The Ultimate Fighter’. If you haven’t seen it, go and watch it, and if you have, you’ll know why they call Denis, ‘The Menace’.”

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In quite possibly the greatest rivalry in reality TV history, Denis Frimpong and Hascen Neri Gelezi have entertained the world with their amusing antics. In one particularly outrageous scene, The Menace squirted his nemesis with toilet water. And unsurprisingly, Rock wouldn’t take too kindly to someone doing that to him.

He asserted: “Listen, anyone who squirts me with toilet water is having to fight me there and then. But Hascen didn’t know it was toilet water. It wasn’t until he watched the show back that he saw Denis drawing the water from the toilet, which is a bit rough. But Denis was poking everyone.”

Shem Rock is giving back to the community

While the sportsman could just rest on his laurels, it simply isn’t in his nature. With a passion for helping others, he works with CELLS — a charity that steers troubled youths away from going down the wrong path.

Showcasing his kind heart, Rock concluded: “Shout out to Cells, who do good in the community. For the next generation coming up, they can look at me as someone from their background. Especially in Toxteth, where I’m from, there are not many black representatives in mixed martial arts. So, I feel like I’m a beacon of, ‘If he can do it, I can do it’. I’ve been through the worst of the worst, and I’ve made it to the other side, and I’m doing something positive.”

“This is what I preach to the kids all the time it doesn’t have to be MMA. Whatever your passion is, you can monetise it and make money and a career out of it. Do you like computer games, dancing, singing, motorbikes? Rather than doing nothing with it and just having it as a hobby, if you dedicate your life to it and really push it, eventually, you’ll make money off it. 

“I didn’t start making money off MMA immediately; I had to grind for nine years. It’s only now I’m reaping the rewards and getting praised. I worked in silence for almost a decade. That’s how it’s going to be for anyone to get to the top. You have to be willing to work hard. You might have no support from your family, or no one cares about you, but that’s life. Deal with it. You’ve just gotta keep going, and eventually, you’ll get where you want to be.” 

Featured Image Credit: Oktagon MMA