'Tiger' learning in Lion's Den
By: Palo Alto Daily News
Vernon "Tiger" White was born at Stanford University Hospital and grew up playing on the train tracks of East Palo Alto.
"I can remember playing down on Illinois (Street) when I was about six," White said. "I would go down there with friends."
Although he left the city roughly 30 years ago, local residents can catch up with their native son.
On June 16, White represents the Lion's Den (Reno) in Las Vegas, when he battles Mike Whitehead (Scorpions) in the International Fight League, a first-year, mixed martial arts organization that pits teams from different cities in the ring.
"Mike is going down in the first or second (round)," said White, who owns a 24-30-2 professional record. "I am hoping for a knockout and a technical one. That way I can get to the grand prix."
Whitehead (18-5-0) dropped from 240 to 205 pounds to fight White, who has Ken Shamrock as his trainer. Shamrock, the famed martial artist and former WWF star, likes his pupil's chances against the formidable foe.
"I think he will submit him or knock him out in the third round," Shamrock said. "He is well rounded in submissions and striking."
Currently with Shamrock in Reno, White undergoes a rigorous training schedule that includes calisthenics, working on technique and hatching strategies.
"What is it like?" White said with a laugh. "Man, I don't think there has been a month when I haven't been bleeding or bruised. We work our butts off. Ken has us running up mountains and just doing weird, crazy stuff.'
His hard work paid off. In his IFL debut, White bested Sam "The Assassin" Hoger by submission in the second round.
"He got assassinated," White said. "It was a naked rear choke. He's a tough guy. ... A lot of guys haven't put him away. I was fortunate enough to do that."
In 1993, White met Shamrock and his father, Bob, in Lodi. The initial encounter was an eye-opener.
"He initiated me for half an hour," the 35-year-old said. "He had me do 500 push ups and squats, and then I cleaned the gym. ... But I knew that's what I wanted to do, and I was thinking that I would do whatever I had to do."
Now a veteran of the fastest growing sport in the country, White resents the label of MMA as "street fighting."
"It was a little violent in the beginning, but we are all athletes now," White said. "It's not just guys jumping off bar stools. ... Go show me a video of a guy pulling out a knife or a gun and tell me it's a street fight."
White then criticized Floyd Mayweather Jr. for his demeaning remarks about the sport.
"Yeah, he lost a fan here," White said. "We dedicate our lives to this and want respect. I have a lot of friends who are boxers, but their fans get away with a lot more than MMA fans."
In fact, White believes kids can use MMA as an outlet, but insisted parents remain involved.
"They can't expect us to be baby sitters," said White, who recently spoke with the children of the Oakland Police Activities League Recreational Center. "Some of the kids were hard headed at first, but I think we finally got our message through. I heard some of the kids in Oakland turned their lives around. I would like to get back in touch with them."
White suffered his own hardships, too.
"I can't go into to much detail," he said. "But I have had injuries, I had my car stolen before the Chuck (Liddell) fight, and got run over by a car. But what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger."
And Shamrock attested White acts like a gentleman when matchups conclude.
"Vernon is just a very nice person," said Shamrock, who recently underwent shoulder surgery. "He will come up to you and shake your hand, and make sure you feel comfortable."
Last week, White opened a new chapter in his life, tying the knot on April 30 with his wife, Melissa.
"So far it's great," White said. "Oh, wait. She's looking at me strange now. ... I plead the fifth."
Regardless, White was forthcoming in regards to who he intends to square off against next, since Mike Ciesnolevicz (Silverbacks) called out, not only White, but Shamrock.
"Talk trash about me, but not my coach," said White, who plans to continue his MMA career for five more years. "There's also the fact that his girlfriend tried to pick a fight with my wife. ... I will break his nose and jaw. Even if he doesn't make the finals, I will do a super fight or something."