In 2009, with limited options at welterweight and a teammate competing in the same division, Jake Shields decided to try his hand at what it was like to fight at middleweight.
For his first trip to the division, Shields faced knockout artist Robbie Lawler, and while many questioned the lifetime 170-ound fighter moving up in weight, it took him just over two minutes to prove critics wrong.
Shields submitted Lawler and then went on to win a five-round decision over Jason “Mayhem” Miller. He then scored his biggest win at 185 pounds as he took out former Pride champion Dan Henderson in dominating fashion, as well.
It was then that Shields signed with the UFC and moved back down to his natural weight of 170 pounds, but the results have been somewhat mixed since then. Shields has gone 2-2 in the UFC, although his losses have come to UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and top contender Jake Ellenberger, but the San Francisco area fighter admits the differences in the weight classes have shown through lately.
“I just feel a little stronger (at middleweight). It really helps my takedowns the most. Takedowns are where you really need that strength and I just feel like I can sustain my energy a little better without the cut. I just feel like it drains me a little bit, cuts back on my cardio,” Shields told MMAWeekly.com.
Generally speaking in MMA, most fighters try to cut the maximum amount of weight to try and get an advantage over an opponent size-wise, but Shields points to a few sterling examples of fighters who don’t have to cut much weight and seem to do just fine.
“Sometimes you see guys who cut less weight do well. Like Frankie Edgar and Dan Henderson are two examples of two guys who really don’t cut that much weight, but do great,” he said.
Shields just completed a two-week training stint in Florida at the Blackzilian camp, and is now back home in California where he’ll pick back up with his team at Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. While he says no decision is set in stone, he’s leaning towards a return to 185 pounds for his next fight.
“Right now, I’m trying to bulk up and see how I feel. It’s not 100-percent, but I’m waiting to see on an opponent and then I’ll take it of course, and I just felt like cutting weight makes you feel a little weak,” said Shields.
“I’m certainly not against it and I’m kind of leaning towards taking a fight at 185. I’m just trying to make sure I put on a few pounds first. I’m not really that big, but I’m feeling strong. I’m only weighing like 190 or so, but just those extra couple pounds from like 185 to 190 I just feel so much stronger. It’s that last little weight that wears me out.”
If Shields does indeed take a middleweight fight next, it by no means closes the door on a future return to welterweight. 170 pounds is where Shields has spent almost his entire career, and he knows he can compete with the best fighters in the division.
“I felt fine, but I feel like the last five pounds kind of weakens me out,” Shields stated. “I feel like I’m definitely still capable of fighting at 170, it’s not like I’m saying I’m done at 70 for good. I’ve got wins over (Carlos) Condit and (Martin) Kampmann, and these guys are the top contenders. So I’m not against fighting at 170. It’s just at this point I’m undefeated at 85. I just feel like try it out there and see how I feel, and make the decision from there what I want to do with my career.”
The real decision maker for Shields will be when UFC matchmaker Joe Silva comes calling for a fight. If there is a good name at 185 pounds for Shields, then it’s likely he’ll be fighting at middleweight. However, if there’s a bout he just can’t refuse at 170 pounds, that will be his weight class for one more fight at least.
“I told them I’d like to fight late July/early August. I’m waiting to hear a call from them. I’m in no rush. If they call with an opponent at 85, I’d take it right now cause I’ll have enough time to bulk up, I’m just trying to lift. But I’m not opposed to fighting at 70, if they call with a good offer for a fight at 70, then I’d take that as well,” said Shields.
“I talked to my manager and I talked to Joe briefly about it, and he said he thought it could kind of be a good idea. I’m just kind of letting Joe and my manager figure it out to be honest.”
Shields will continue his weight regimen until the UFC calls with an opponent and then the final decision will be made if he is returning to the middleweight division.