When he was in EliteXC, people wondered if he could hang with fighters like Renato “Charuto” Verissimo, Mike Pyle, and Nick Thompson. Shields then finished all three in the first round.
After submitting British striker Paul Daley, Shields decided to move up to middleweight where he was supposed to get thoroughly thrashed by Robbie Lawler, Jason “Mayhem” Miller, and Dan Henderson. Shields went on to dominate all three fights.
So once again, on the precipice of his fight at UFC 129 against Georges St-Pierre, Shields is hearing just about everyone tell him that he’s the underdog, that he can’t stand with the UFC’s top welterweight, and this might even be considered a mismatch.
Fortunately for Jake Shields, he has a real tendency for proving people wrong.
“I don’t really let it bother me too much,” Shields told MMAWeekly Radio about his underdog status in the fight. “I don’t really pay attention to the media and stuff. I don’t even really know that I’m an underdog until someone tells me. I just do my part and train and go out there and fight, and I know I’m feeling ready. I always feel like I can win; you can’t really listen to the naysayers.”
Shields has time and time again upped his training and level of commitment to a fight, and this one is no different. In his head, Shields has already fought St-Pierre hundreds of times, and it’s a fight he’s had his eye on for years.
Even when he was with Strikeforce, when realistically just about everyone knew due to cross promotional politics, Shields wouldn’t get a shot at GSP, he still asked for the fight. Why? To make sure that everyone knew he wanted to fight the best in the world, and he was up to the task of proving it.
“This has been the fight I’ve been wanting for three or four years. I’m so excited it’s finally here. It’s not going to be an easy fight, but I’m ready,” Shields said.
Heading into the fight, St-Pierre has been touted as possibly the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. He’s far and away ranked as the top welterweight, and he’s literally had his way with every opponent he’s faced over the last few years.
St-Pierre is a phenomenal fighter, and Shields will be the first to admit that. But what Shields is happy to prove come Saturday night in Toronto is that he’s something that St-Pierre has never seen before.
“I think I’m completely different than what he’s used to. He’s a great fighter, too; I think this is a great fight for both of us. I’ve fought quite a bit of top competition just like he has,” said Shields.
“He’s faced good grapplers, B.J. Penn and Matt Serra, and good wrestlers with (Josh) Koscheck and (Jon) Fitch, but they’re different. Penn and Serra are a lot smaller and they have a completely different style than me. The other guys are more pure wrestlers. My style, I mix the wrestling and the jiu-jitsu. If he takes me down, I’m not just going to sit in my guard and sit in a closed guard. I have a completely different game than these guys.”
Possibly the harshest criticism that Shields has faced on the eve of his showdown with St-Pierre is what seems to be a lacking stand-up attack. Shields has never been accused of having tremendous knockout power or a striking attack that opponents fear.
Meanwhile, diversity is the key to St-Pierre’s game. He’s developed into one of the best wrestlers in the sport, while becoming a strong striker with one of the most devastating jabs in the game.
But just because Shields doesn’t go out and swing for the fences with his opponents doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a few tricks up his sleeve. Like any good magician, the audience doesn’t always need to know where the final rabbit in the hat will come from.
“I feel comfortable on my feet, and I know I’ve been criticized a lot. Other than the Dan Henderson fight, I haven’t been hit too much,” said Shields. “I’ve more gone in there and taken guys down and haven’t tried to use my striking.
“I think a lot of people don’t understand that aspect, that I’m going out there with the purpose of getting the fight to the ground and take him out. I don’t take too many shots. I think GSP’s a great striker, but I’m ready to deal with him if need be.”
It’s that part of his game where Shields has excelled, possibly to the top spot in the sport. Few fighters in the world have the wrestling and jiu-jitsu hybrid skills that Shields has put together over the years.
His ability to pass an opponent’s guard really does look effortless, and his offensive game is now also opened up by being able to throw elbows, giving him yet another weapon. Shields is confident in what he’s going to be able to do at UFC 129, and simply put, it’s up to Georges St-Pierre to try and stop him.
“I play to my strengths. I’m not out there looking for the knockout,” Shields said. “I can stand and bang, but then I’m looking at maybe I’ll win, maybe I’ll lose. Then why do I want to put myself in a situation where I know I might lose when I can go out there and tap a guy out?”
Shields will try to add St-Pierre’s name to the list of fighters he wasn’t supposed to beat when the two square off in Toronto on Saturday night.