Photos by Kasia Meow
Hector Lombard kicked Jake Shields' ass.
Badly enough that it cost him his job. But let's be clear on this: the beating represented only the third time in almost a decade that he's lost.
In real human terms? Well, we know you've screwed up way more than three times doing just about anything and everything you've ever done for cash but unless you're a professional fighter/athlete whatever you're doing is not up against the oldest and most severe judge of overall life performance: time.
Which is a fighter's constant companion, critic and competitor and it changes everything about the job for them that do it. In Shields' instance most recently it changed how they talked about his first fight (now aborted) for the new promotion—the World Series of Fighting (WSOF)—after getting booted from the UFC.
So paired with another UFC refugee Jon Fitch for WSOF 11, right after WSOF expanded its deal with NBC, Shields would have had a monster coming out party but for the recent news that he had been injured.
"Nah, I'm not injured."
The very not-injured looking Shields stands on the streets of San Francisco, near the Embarcadero, and fresh from about 10 days in Bali where he went with his girlfriend to relax since "well, I had fought not too long ago", he called bullshit on the idea that he couldn't answer the bell. So, yes, fought and lost, but "injured" is the word that they used when "chilling in Bali" would have made much more sense.
But they used "injured" because they believed we'd believe it. And walking over to the water and the parts of the pier still pleasantly ramshackle and a little rundown, the 35-year-old Shields, his brother Quinn dipping in to borrow his keys, acknowledges that getting canned from the UFC was the first job he's lost.
Probably because it's the first job he's really had. First and only. You see Shields has been fighting since 1999. Officially. And before then: "It was crazy. It was illegal everywhere, you could only do it on Indian lands and unsanctioned fights, bare knuckle, head butts, really different rules. Not a career at all and really just something we did for fun."
Amidst training with now-UFC legend Chuck Liddell, who he met in San Luis Obispo (SLO), and putting to bed dreams he had had of moving to Tahoe and being a professional snowboarder, Shields sort of had a plan present itself. So leaving out of Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo for more wrestling at SF State, Shields didn't realize it at the time but he was signing on to what it was that he was going to be. Which is probably what he already was: a fighter.
"I seen him fight at like some carnival fare with big 300 pound women slamming each other against the cage," laughed a fighter and friend from SLO. "Dirt lots, really primitive shit." But this was before fights on TV, fights in domes, fights against some of the best fighters in the world and wins against a lot of them.
So what went wrong?
After the UFC backed the truck up and gave him more money than god to jump from Strikeforce to the UFC in a proxy battle that ultimately had the UFC buy Strikeforce out in total for the win?
Well, a lot. Jake's father and mentor Jack died unexpectedly, Jake had a few what some thought were underwhelming wins and some noteworthy but understandable losses, against Georges St. Pierre, for example, and then in the Lombard flurry: shown the door. Which raises a question: when the UFC bumps you off how do they do it? Card, letter, fax, text, email, pat on the back?
"They just told my management." It's unclear how much any of this still bothers Shields and standing against the backdrop of a setting San Francisco sun he puts it in perspective. A little bit for us. Probably a little bit for him.
"You know I hear guys are trying to get out of their UFC contracts now because they can make more money other places. And where I am in the WSOF I am still fighting guys in the Top 10 so I am thinking about this like it's a sport. Not like the WWE. But a sport."
Where you probably need to lose on the regular before you get sent home.
"Exactly. Boxing they don't do that. It gets a little ridiculous at some point. But I was burnt out toward the end of my time at the UFC, all the politics of it, but I figure I have about 10 more years at most, some more good fights, invest my money. Take one fight at a time."
And there it is again: time. But when he talks, like he does, about what goes on in the cage that's clearly a lure much more potent for him than what goes on outside of the cage, Shields has maybe figured out that there's one best and most complete way to get over and out of the time trap.
"I still like what I am doing. It was really tough at first but things have slowly gotten a lot easier. And when you're dealing with the top 5 guys in the world they just take turns beating each other. That's why it's so hard. But I can't say I am bitter. Right now I'm happy where I'm at." And he nods, shakes hands all around and makes his way back up the hill toward his luxury apartment.
Yeah. Definitely could be worse.
Check out this related story:
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Manny Pacquiao: The Man Who Reinvented Boxing
Jack Slack talks Manny Pacquiao.
The House of Rickson: An Afternoon in Rio with Jiu-Jitsu's Royal Family
Father Gracie's children Kron, Kauline, and Kauan do what they do best.
Team Lakay Has Turned Baguio into a Breeding Ground for Filipino MMA
A look at the top Filipino fighters.