Jake Shields (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)Fresh Start: WSOF Gives Jake Shields Chance to Prove He’s Still an Elite Welterweight Vince Carey April 19, 2014 Spotlight After being released by the UFC following an abysmal performance against Hector Lombard at UFC 171 last month, Jake Shields suddenly found himself in the unique position of being the most high-profile free agent in MMA. Just 10 days following his official release from the company, the former title challenger has already found a new home, as he announced his signing with the World Series of Fighting late Thursday. Despite an above-.500 UFC record and wins over several fighters currently in the UFC’s welterweight top 10, Shields’ reputation for ending up in dull fights and his hefty contract, rumored to be somewhere along the lines of $75,000 to show, with an additional $75 grand win bonus attached, prompted the UFC to decide to let the former Strikeforce champion take his services elsewhere. With a resume that includes wins over top UFC contenders Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia over the past year, not to mention a pay-per-view main event with Georges St-Pierre in 2011 that drew over 800,000 buys, Shields was going to be highly sought after by the handful of promotions trying to break free of the UFC’s shadow. The UFC has the talent pool to let a high-profile fighter like Shields hit the open market every once in a while, but the rest of the top promotions in the country aren’t quite as lucky. The average MMA fan would have a tough time trying to compile a list of the top-10 welterweights outside of the Octagon, and beyond former UFC fighters like Jon Fitch or Rousimar Palhares, there isn’t a well-known name in the bunch. That makes it imperative for the second-tier companies to get a hold of as many big names as possible, so when a former champion of a major promotion hits the market, he’s far more valuable than he was fighting inside the Octagon. It’s likely that the WSOF had some competition when it came to signing Shields, but the smart money was on Shields joining Ray Sefo and company from the beginning. Of the MMA promotions that would have the bankroll to sign a fighter of Shields’ caliber, the WSOF was realistically the only one that made sense for the Cesar Gracie product if he wanted to remain in the upper echelon of the sport. Bellator has shied away from signing the majority of UFC castoffs in the past, especially those like Shields that were released more for their fighting style than their actual body of work in the Octagon. Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney just let arguably the most talented fighter in his entire company, undefeated welterweight Ben Askren, walk away to ONE FC, and at least a part of that was due to Askren’s wrestling-centric style. Shields has been hit with many of the same criticisms as Askren over the course of his career, but unlike Askren, he’s on the wrong side of 30 and he lost his undefeated record a long time ago. It was unlikely that Bellator, while be unwilling to pay a younger, undefeated champion because of his style, would then turn around and give a big contract to a 35-year-old fighter coming off of one of the worst performances of his career. With Bellator out of the picture, WSOF was realistically the only place available that had enough competition to keep Shields occupied. ONE FC probably would have loved to add Shields to its ranks and thrown him in the cage opposite Askren, but what would they have offered him after that? Phil Baroni? Brock Larson? Nobutatsu Suzuki? No disrespect to those guys, but Shields has been fighting the best competition in the world for far too long to drop all the way back to that level. There’s a chance that ONE FC could have thrown Shields a Godfather offer and tried to get him sign based on money alone, but if he wanted to earn a decent living while competing against world-class talent, then the WSOF was the only viable option. Although the WSOF still has some work to do in order to get its other divisions up to par, the promotion has quietly put together a very strong welterweight roster over the last year. With fellow recent UFC castoffs Palhares and Fitch leading the way, Shields has a chance to break into a competitive title scene that also features former WSOF champ Steve Carl and a handful of well-known veterans like Josh Burkman and Gerald Harris. From top to bottom, the WSOF 170-pound division completely blows away what both Bellator and ONE FC have to offer in terms of depth of talent and star power. There isn’t a more fitting place for Shields to sign, and he immediately becomes one of the top contenders for arguably the second most prestigious welterweight belt in the sport. While getting released from a contract is never a good situation, there’s a very real chance for Shields to turn it into a positive here. Let’s face it, after losing to Lombard in the fashion that he did, Shields was going to have an extremely hard time breaking into the UFC title picture again. The number of highly ranked fighters who haven’t already received a title fight in the UFC’s welterweight class is staggering at the moment, and there’s no chance Shields would have been able to gain enough momentum in such a crowded title scene. By signing with the WSOF, Shields has a chance to chase down a world title one last time, and with the level of competition he’ll have to overcome to earn that belt, he’ll be able to prove he’s still one of the best welterweights in the world in the process. Becoming the WSOF champion isn’t going to push Shields into the top spot in the 170-pound rankings, but it’s the best chance he has at maintaining his position as a member of the upper echelon of the welterweight division. Considering the circumstances, that’s the best he could ask for.