Before he was placed in a co-main event slot on Saturday’s UFC 121 card in Anaheim against Martin Kampmann, and before he was beating guys like Dan Henderson and Mayhem Miller and being considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, Jake Shields was simply a scrapper, a former two-time All-American wrestler who lived up to the adage of fighting anyone, anytime, anyplace.
And if you glance at the names on his record in those early years of a career that began in 1999, you might think that this kid’s manager just didn’t like him too much.
“I was kinda managing myself and I took any fight thrown at me,” said Shields, who is now represented by his father Jack. “I definitely didn’t build up, and I didn’t get too many easy fights in the beginning. I just fought whoever. But now I have so much experience that in the long run, it was a good thing.”
You can’t buy that type of experience or pick it up in the gym, no matter who you’re training with. To be a top of the food chain fighter, you’ve got to fight, and you’ve got to do it against people who can beat you. It’s an idea boxing has lost over the years, where the only prospects getting television spots and title shots are those building up glossy 25-0 records against those who have no business being in there with them. Not in mixed martial arts, and not in the careers of guys like Shields.
Just look at his resume, one that includes fights against (and wins over) Henderson, Miller, Robbie Lawler, Dave Menne, Yushin Okami, Hayato “Mach” Sakurai, Toby Imada, Carlos Condit, Steve Berger, Renato Verissimo, Mike Pyle, Nick Thompson, and Paul Daley, and you’ll know immediately that the 31 year old from San Francisco is the real deal.
“It makes you tough,” he said. “There’s nothing like the actual experience of being in those tough fights. So me being in so many wars and having fought so many tough guys, I’m coming into the UFC with more experience than almost anyone. Guys like Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva and Shogun (Rua) came in with experience, and I’m coming in with that kind of depth and it’s nice because I can come out and make my mark right away.”
Among the hardcore fans in the sport, Saturday night is one they’ve been anticipating for a long time. But to more casual fans, Shields may be just another new guy entering the Octagon for the first time. Bizarre? Sure is.
“It’s actually a little weird because to some people I am the new guy popping in there,” he said. “But it’s really cool that the UFC gave me a good opportunity and put me in the co-main event on such a big card. So it just shows that the people in the UFC have some faith in me and they want to push me as the real vet that I am and not some new guy. This is truly a chance to make my mark and let them see how I want them to know me now. I’m coming out there full action, trying to bring it.”
And when Shields brings it, he’s hard to stop. Winner of 14 straight fights dating back to 2005, the Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu black belt was running another pretty notable streak of eight consecutive finishes at the same time before back-to-back five rounders against Miller and Henderson. At middleweight. And even more impressive than winning those fights against that level of opposition while giving up size and strength was the fact that he proved that he can fight the five round championship distance, something that will come in handy should he beat Kampmann and then fight the winner of December’s George St-Pierre vs John Koscheck bout for the UFC welterweight crown.
“It gives you confidence knowing that you can go through a tough five rounder,” said Shields. “I certainly don’t want to fight another tough five rounder; I want to go out there and finish all my fights. But now I know I’m mentally tough enough to do it and get through those situations.”
First things first though, and that’s Saturday’s clash with Kampmann, which will be back at welterweight and back at the three round non-title limit, two things that sit well with Shields.
“It’s a little different. At five, you’ve got to pace yourself a little more. At three, you just want to come out and give it your all. I feel like I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been and I’m able to fight at a higher pace for three rounds. (Weightwise) I was eating whatever I wanted at ’85, which was nice. (Laughs) I was pigging out and eating out all the time, so I just had to eat a lot cleaner and eat a little less, but the weight came off pretty easy. I feel like ’70 is my best weight – I feel fast here and in better shape.”
He’s also ready for whatever the ultra-talented Kampmann has to throw at him. In return, he hopes to throw the “Hitman” to the mat and work the game that has seen him submit 10 of his 25 pro victims.
“He’s well rounded, but I still think his biggest threat to me will be on the feet,” said Shields of Kampmann. “He’s got a good right hand, good movement, and good kicks. I think on the ground he’s a good grappler, but I’ll hold a big advantage, so I want to put him down there and work him over.”
If that’s the case, then Shields will move on to bigger and better things in a place where he always felt he belonged.
“(In the past) I was trying to focus on what I was doing at the time, so I was doing big fights elsewhere and focusing on that, but I was also a little frustrated because I felt like all the hype’s around the 170-pound division of the UFC, and I felt like that was where I belonged and where I wanted to be. So it’s nice to finally be there.”
Fight fans feel the same way about Shields being in the UFC, so on Saturday, he plans on giving them a show.
“I just want the fans to be like ‘wow, this is someone new in the division who’s gonna shake things up,’” he said. “I want to come out there and make such an impression that they want to see me fight for a title.”
Finally - Shields Makes His UFC Debut
"It’s really cool that the UFC gave me a good opportunity and put me in the co-main event on such a big card. So it just shows that the people in the UFC have some faith in me and they want to push me as the real vet that I am and not some new guy. This is truly a chance to make my mark and let them see how I want them to know me now. I’m coming out there full action, trying to bring it.”