It’s hard to believe that just 18 months ago, Jake Shields was considered a top pound-for-pound fighter in the world and a formidable threat to Georges St-Pierre’s welterweight belt.
The former Strikeforce middleweight titleholder is making the move back to the division he dominated while in the San Jose-based organization at this weekend’s UFC 150 card, but his fall down the UFC’s 170-pound ladder since joining the promotion in October of 2010 was a bit alarming.
Shields was riding a ton of momentum at the time, with a 15-fight winning streak that featured big names like Dan Henderson and Carlos Condit, and it seemed that at the very least he going to be a top contender at 170 pounds for the foreseeable future.
As it turns out, welterweight wasn’t as kind to Shields as we thought it would be.
Prior to entering the Octagon, Shields was tearing through opponents in the Strikeforce middleweight division, winning the organization’s 185-pound crown while taking out guys like Henderson, Jason “Mayhem” Miller and Robbie Lawler.
So when Shields set his sites on GSP and the welterweight division, fans were immediately intrigued.
Could Shields possibly get the champ to the mat and grind out a win over one of the greatest fighters in MMA history?
No, he couldn’t.
In Shields’ first UFC bout, he fought welterweight title contender Martin Kampmann in the co-main event of UFC 121, and while the end result went in Shields’ favor, the fight was anything but a dominant victory for the former Strikeforce champion.
Despite having a huge disadvantage on paper, Kampmann was able to hold his own against Shields’ world-class grappling skills, and by the end of the bout it was obvious that Shields was completely exhausted due to the frenetic pace that Kampmann had set.
While Shields escaped with a close split decision over “The Hitman,” he wasn’t so lucky against St-Pierre.
GSP had little difficulty in beating up Shields on the feet, and even after an inadvertent eye poke from the challenger damaged St-Pierre’s vision, the champion was still able to earn the win.
After a quick knockout loss to Jake Ellenberger at UFC Fight Night 22 last September, Shields was in desperate need of a win heading into his UFC 144 bout against Yoshihiro Akiyama. Once again, Shields was able to earn a decision win, but much like his win over Kampmann over a year prior, it left a lot to be desired.
After four fights in the UFC, Shields hadn’t looked impressive in any of them. That’s likely what prompted him to make the move back to middleweight, and he’ll make his Octagon debut at 185 pounds at tonight’s UFC 150 event in Colorado.
Luckily for Shields, this move back to the middleweight division gives him an excellent chance to resurrect his title hopes. While Shields’ grappling-based style was sure to get him into trouble in the wrestler-heavy welterweight division, he won’t have half as many challenges at 185. Other than Chael Sonnen, Chris Weidman and Mark Munoz, the middleweight division is pretty shallow as far as high-level wrestlers are concerned, which should be extremely beneficial to Shields.
His path back to a UFC title fight begins this weekend, and I don’t see him having too many problems against Ed Herman once he gets “Short Fuse” to the mat.
Without having to cut the extra 15 pounds, Shields should be able to maintain his cardio much easier, and the added muscle should only help his efforts to get the fight to the mat.
While Shields leaves a lot to be desired on the feet, he’s good enough to give anyone in the world problems once the fight hits the ground, and that will be the recipe for success against Herman, who has had a lot of trouble against high-level grapplers like Demian Maia and Jason MacDonald in the past.
Shields will have no problems taking out Herman, and he has the potential to make life difficult for a lot of the fringe contenders in the division.
This weekend will mark the return of Jake Shields the contender. The rest of the middleweight division better watch closely.
Photo: Jake Shields (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)