Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
For Jake Shields, Saturday is just another step in his career, just another fight. Having been soundly beaten by Hector Lombard at UFC 171, the former Strikeforce, Shooto and Elite XC champion became jetsam, and was quickly picked up by the World Series of Fighting.
Shields joins Jon Fitch and Yushin Okami at WSOF, perennial top ten’s with two important characteristics. Grinding styles, and a price tag. For these men, to be competitive in the top ten just wasn’t enough. They were seen as ageing, lacking dynamic styles and personalities.
Shields is known for his style of American jiu jitsu, a No Gi game mixed with his background in freestyle wrestling. It’s served him well. He’s beaten a lot of the best in the world, usually when nobody thinks he will. He’s one of those guys that just bites down on his mouthpiece and outpoints you, and a lot of people don’t like that one bit.
He’s won a lot of fights that people probably haven’t liked, whether it was seen as ‘boring’ or killing a contender’s momentum or merely for being a ground exchange. Shields is cut from the same cloth as Ben Askren. A nightmare wrestler who seems content to bring you into his home and drown you, regardless of what you, your promoter or anyone watching thinks.
That’s not to say Shields does what he does to piss off the stand n’ bangers around us. He’s a highly effective grappler with a nullifying game that won him an ADCC bronze medal in 2005. He’s using his own advantages to great effect.
Remember when he beat Dave Menne, Yushin Okami and Carlos Condit, all in one night? That’s a former UFC champion, a future interim champion and a future contender. Shields to each one of those guys was a reality that they just couldn’t deal with. Hell, that doesn’t sound boring. In all honesty, that sounds kind of frightening.
Shields has been with a lot of organisations in his time, and his move to WSOF is another step in the long strange road of MMA promotional politics. He was the Elite XC middleweight champion, and after that shut its doors, he out grappled Jason “Mayhem” Miller to become Strikeforce’s champion.
In 2010, with Shields having defended his Strikeforce middleweight title against Dan Henderson, a fight Shields felt the organisation didn’t want him to win. He was later spotted with Dana White, who had his arm around the Californian, indicating to the camera that “he’s mine!”
The UFC and Strikeforce were bitter rivals at the time, and White was eager to scout one of their top champions. He did, and Shields wound up outpointing Martin Kampmann to set up a title fight against GSP at UFC 129. That fight, whilst a loss for Shields, set a North American attendance record for the sport that has yet to be matched. 55,000 Canadians in the Rogers Centre in Toronto.
Speaking of Tristar guys, Rory Macdonald recently received a title shot after wins over Damian Maia, Tyron Woodley, and Tarec Saffiedine. Jake Shields was on the same path, with wins over Woodley and Maia before his loss to Lombard. Each man walked an almost identical path, a win gave one a title shot, the other left searching for another arena to fight in.
That expulsion from the UFC was a lot of things. You can call it just, you can call it unfair. You can call Shields a top guy and pinpoint his technical expertise. You can call him boring or bad for the sport. There’s new economics to the sport of MMA as it’s evolved, afterall. Suddenly it’s all down to being the most exciting. If you’re exciting inside or outside the Octagon, then there’s a good chance you’ll be rewarded for it.
The word product gets thrown around a lot to describe fights by fans too. Sure, you can define yourself as a consumer, viewing a product purely on entertainment value, feeding the metrics and statistics. But when I see Jake Shields, I just can’t see a product. I see a normal quiet guy, who by all accounts seems pretty sick of promotional bullshit. I see a reality to him, someone who understands the PR game, and just doesn’t want to play it.
The road goes ever on for Jake Shields. This is the ever maddening world of modern MMA, where the wackiness of business has mixed into one of the most pure sports in the world. Some guys accept the game they have to play now. Some thrive in it. There’s a scintillating honesty to the guys that don’t.
That’s not to say he’s a pushover. There’s another side to Shields. He really rarely loses. He’s talked about a fire under his ass, that his hunger for the sport has returned. I hope so, his opponents no joke. Ryan Ford has made a strong name at WSOF, and he’s finished a ton of guys.
If he gets past him, he’ll be fighting the winner of Fitch vs. Palhares. WSOF’s welterweight division is pretty damn competitive. Heck, if Shields wants to go out there and prove he’s still the best in the world (regardless of what promotion defines what that world is) then he damn sure deserves our attention.
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