A great many times when a fighter learns a harsh lesson in the cage, it results in a loss that costs him a title shot or even a world title. For Jake Shields, UFC 121 was a fast education in the mistakes he made cutting weight to get back down to 170 pounds after fighting at middleweight for over a year, but the end result still left him with his hand raised.
While definitely not the performance he wanted to have in his UFC debut, Shields was able to gut out a win over Martin Kampmann, and keep his name etched as the next contender for the UFC welterweight title.
Quick to point out the faults he had in the fight, Shields says that going into UFC 121 he believed he was the strongest he had ever been.
“My training camp felt great. I felt like it was the best shape of my life,” Shields told MMAWeekly Radio. “I actually was going five rounds and stuff with no problem. I was in way better shape than when I fought (Dan) Henderson, and then during the fight I really didn’t feel out of shape. It’s kind of weird, but it’s one of those things. I had a poor performance and still got the win instead of a loss.”
The weight cut that Shields made for the fight saw him shed around 20 pounds. Prior to his recent stint at middleweight, when he previously made weight for the 170-pound division, the former Strikeforce champion says he was cutting somewhere in the neighborhood of 13 pounds in the days leading to the fight.
The last time Shields felt the way he did at UFC 121 was on Dec. 14, 2004, when he faced Akira Kikuchi in Japan. That also happened to be the last loss of Shields’ career.
“It was horrible,” he said about the experience. “After the first round I sat down and I was just completely exhausted. I was like ‘oh (expletive) ten minutes to go.’ I knew at that point I was just going to have to dig deep and keep fighting. I knew it was too important not to lose my UFC debut.”
Kept fighting he did, and while it wasn’t his most impressive performance, Shields was still happy to walk away a winner that night, and retain his shot at the UFC welterweight title.
The Cesar Gracie black belt is appreciative the UFC is still giving him the opportunity to fight for the belt, and now his focus is to put this fight behind him and prepare for the future.
But that’s not to say Shields didn’t learn a valuable lesson from what happened.
“I’m a little embarrassed by the whole situation, but all I can do from here is move forward and learn from my mistakes, and usually when you make a big mistake you end up getting a loss off that,” Shields commented. “I guess I made a big mistake and I was still able to get the ‘W.'”
Before he made his Octagon debut on Saturday night, UFC president Dana White had also said that if timing had worked out, Shields would have fought for the title in his first fight out of the gate for the promotion. Acknowledging that Martin Kampmann was a great opponent, Shields is also cognizant that if that were Georges St-Pierre and a five-round fight, he likely would have tasted defeat.
“If I was fighting GSP that night I don’t think I would have won, to be honest,” Shields said. “I just don’t see myself beating GSP being the way I felt that night, but I also don’t feel that’s me. I feel like I can go out there and beat him still.”
Shields plans to take a vacation to relax and get his mind right and then head back into the gym to help teammates Gilbert Melendez and Nate Diaz get ready for their upcoming fights. He says he also plans to shave off about five additional pounds during his next camp to ensure that while he keeps his strength, what happened at UFC 121 never happens again.