As Jake Shields walks into the gym on any given day, he tapes up his hands, puts the rest of his gear on, and warms up with his mind only on one thing… beating Georges St-Pierre.
But to get to St-Pierre, Shields is going through his own trials and tribulations every day in the gym.
After getting his head gear on and stepping inside the ring, Shields looks out at the crew assembled to get him ready for the biggest fight of his career. Faces staring back at him include the likes of Nick Diaz, Gilbert Melendez, Nate Diaz, and Daniel Roberts.
For any training camp, that list alone would push anybody into championship form, but on that particular day at Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, all four of those names, plus Shields, were getting ready for fights, three of them title bouts.
So while Shields has been getting ready for the fight of his life, his teammates have also been getting ready for huge match-ups, with all five of them fighting over a three-week span. Most fighters will tell you that the training camp they are in the middle of is the best of their career, but when Jake Shields tells you that just two weeks out from facing the top 170-pound fighter in the world, you can believe it.
“We’ve had a really tough two months in our camp. We’ve been out there battling. We’ve been banging so hard and to see my team go out there and do so well, it’s really motivating to know that we’re getting to that level. That we can go out there and beat anyone,” Shields said about his camp recently on MMAWeekly Radio.
Melendez, who was working non-stop with Shields right up to his own fight against Tatsuya Kawajiri in Strikeforce, credited the sheer intensity of this particular training camp to his own success. Melendez knew that he didn’t have a training partner in Jake Shields that was just looking to get him better. He got the Jake Shields that was trying to get in top shape and condition for his own fight, and that’s an even more dangerous version.
“It’s pretty intense,” Melendez said about the work the team has done recently. “Guys are in shape. I’m getting the best Jake right now, I’m getting the best Nick, I’m getting the best Nate, we’re banging with each other. The competition is up and I think we’re raising the bar for each other. It’s probably a good step of evolution for us that we’re all in great shape, and all in great peaks and hanging with each other.”
One of the newer team members, Daniel Roberts, has been with Shields, Melendez, and the crew for his last few fights and his own personal evolution has continued to show. Roberts has submitted his last two opponents in the first round, and feels his own game is reaching new heights, especially with this particular training camp.
“It is because everybody has fights around the same time. We always train really hard, but we always pick it up when we have fights and we all have a fight around the same time, so it’s pretty intense. It’s good because we really push each other,” Roberts commented.
“I know these guys are the best, and if I can even do halfway decent with some of the best fighters in the world, I’ll be fine when I fight.”
Roberts and teammate Nate Diaz will be the opening act to the main event for UFC 129 as they have their own fights on the undercard, and then will undoubtedly come back out cageside to support Shields in his endeavor to defeat Georges St-Pierre in Toronto on April 30.
And if the crew of champions and top fighters that Shields was already working with wasn’t enough, he also enlisted the help of former NCAA champion Phil Davis, as well as top middleweight contender Chael Sonnen to help him get ready for GSP.
“Chael Sonnen’s a beast, he’s aggressive, he comes forward, and he trains just how he fought Anderson (Silva). Come forward and fight and it was great having him for a week. He also brought Matt Lindland along. I learned a lot of clinch work from Matt,” Shields said about his new training partners.
Of course his teammates are a bit biased when picking the fight between Shields and St-Pierre, but for the lopsided odds and fans that seem to be choosing the Canadian in overwhelming numbers, the guys that work with Shields every day say more than a few people are in for a rude awakening come Saturday night.
“The thing about Jake Shields is he’s determined,” Melendez said. “He’s determined to win this belt, and he’s been eyeing it for a long time. I also think he wants it more. Also the element of surprise, locking horns with Jake for the first time, it’s like no other. Once they’re in that grappling mode, you’re really going to see how dominant Jake is.”
The first time locking horns with Jake Shields. That’s something Roberts remembers all too well, and it’s another reason why he believes Shields will walk out of Canada with a shiny new gold belt.
“It was crazy, I was so shocked. I was a pretty good grappler, but when I went up against (Jake) I was like ‘dang!’ It was brutal,” Roberts commented. “When you roll with Jake, you know he’s going to do something, but there’s really nothing you can do. It’s going to be a long day for St-Pierre.”
If Shields is victorious at UFC 129, he will obviously take credit for his part in beating St-Pierre, but he’ll pay homage to the people that helped get him there. Just like when Gilbert Melendez won his fight against Kawajiri, instead of touting his own accolades, he immediately grabbed Shields and told the world he was going to be the next UFC welterweight champion.
Shields looks at this training camp as literally walking down a murderer’s row of champions, the best fighters in the world, and that’s what’s going to help him place another gold belt on his mantle at home.
“I felt like this training camp’s been the most insane ever,” Shields stated. “We always train hard, we always push hard, there’s always someone getting ready. I think with everyone with 5 fights at once, it brought the whole intensity up because everyone was in shape and we were just beating the crap out of each other.”
When Jake Shields steps foot into the Roger’s Centre with 55,000 screaming fans, he may hear the noise that a great number of them are on St-Pierre’s side, but all he needs are the teammates that have always had his back. They’ll even have his back if they have to escape Canada with the UFC welterweight title in tow.
“We’re going to have to swing our way out of there with that belt,” Melendez joked. “It will be glorious, so it’s okay.”