Things weren’t supposed to go this way for Jake Shields.
The “Skrap Pack” member was arguably the best fighter not fighting under the UFC banner and when he signed with the organization in 2010 he was looked at as a legitimate title threat to both Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva. Coming off of a star making performance in defeating Dan Henderson in his final Strikeforce fight, mixed martial arts fans were foaming at the mouth at the prospect of Shields taking on the best fighters of the world. Dream match ups were on the horizon and with his immense talent and All-American good looks, Shields was poised to become one of the biggest and most recognizable stars in the sport.
UFC President Dana White summed up the thoughts of many when he peered into the camera put his arm around Shields, large smile in tow and stated,
However like most dreams, hurdles would appear almost from the get-go. In his UFC debut Shields took on perennial welterweight contender Martin “The Hitman” Kampmann with a title shot guaranteed with a victory. While Shields, did defeat Kampmann and earn a title shot against St.Pierre, his split decision victory left much to be desired in both performance and style.
Nevertheless, Jakes Shields was riding a 15 fight win streak into UFC 129 and many felt his smothering “American Jiu-Jitsu” style would not only give Georges St.Pierre trouble but with his UFC “jitters” out of the way, he could leave Toronto the new UFC welterweight champion.
As we know, he did not – and in not doing so started to earn a reputation as being a “boring” fighter. With the potential for future money match ups still alive the UFC made the smart decision of next pairing him with one of the companies most exciting fighters, Jake Ellenberger. The fight was an opportunity for Shields to resurface as a title contender or at the very least prove to the world that he was anything but “boring.” As it turned out, he was finished for the first time in his career, losing by first round TKO. Subsequent fights with Yoshirho Akiyama and Ed Herman resulted in decision victories – but also with a positive drug test.
Jake Shields looked like a fighter that was on the cusp of greatness, now he was the verge of being cut from the UFC; a career in the crosswinds of unrest. One didn’t have to be close to the situation to understand that he was not the fighter he once was. Perhaps it was the death of father and manager that psychologically haunted the former Strikeforce champion, maybe the level of the competition was too high, perhaps MMA fans had placed unrealistic expectations on his career. Whatever the case, it was clear that Shields was not the fighter who had gone to war with Dan Henderson and come out on top.
The question was now, what happens next?
As it turned out the answer so far is as vague as the question. After completing his suspension Shields made his return to the octagon on the undercard of UFC 161, defeating former Strikeforce contender Tyron Woodley via split decision in yet another slow paced, defensive fight. While Shields had to be happy with the victory, fans of the sport had officially made up their minds about him: no matter his victories Jake Shields fights were unwatchable. It is this label, deserved or not, that most haunts Shields going into his fight with Demian Maia on October 9.
The Shields/Maia fight is one of two fighters who are seemingly on different paths. Maia has won 4 out of his last 5 fights, his only loss in that time to current Middleweight champion Chris Weidman. With his fellow Brazilians behind him, the UFC has seemingly set up Maia for a dream big win over Shields, hopefully launching him into mix of welterweight contenders. Meanwhile Shields will be playing the role of the American hero trying to reclaim a lost potential.
For Jake Shields, UFC Fight Night 29 isn’t just another fight, it’s part of his climb back into the spotlight and a fight for his UFC survival.