After a dominant run through Strikeforce that saw him win and defend the middleweight title with wins over Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller as well as current UFC contender Dan Henderson, Shields’ UFC career to this point hasn’t gone smoothly.
A loss to Georges St-Pierre at UFC 129 was followed up by a devastating knockout loss to Jake Ellenberger just weeks after Shields lost his father Jack.
So it was with a renewed spirit and sense of urgency that Shields approached bout with former middleweight fighter Yoshihiro Akiyama.
Akiyama was making his debut at 170lbs, and he definitely didn’t make things easy for Shields to get back on the winning track.
Shields tried tirelessly to get Akiyama to the ground, but the former Judo champion time and again shrugged off his takedowns. Shields said after the fight he expected it to be tough, but tenacity was the key to victory and he had plenty of that in reserve.
“I wasn’t really surprised. He’s never been taken down at 85 in the UFC, so I watched those fights and no one took him down so I figured it would be a lot of work,” Shields stated after the fight.
What Shields was able to do despite his takedowns not working was establish an aggressive striking attack. No one is going to accuse Shields of possessing the same kind of stand-up as his teammates Nick and Nate Diaz, but the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert was able to put together combinations with his hands and work in a quick kick to the body that landed over and over again.
Akiyama did land a couple of impressive judo throws, but after getting Shields down, he didn’t do much else with the position.
In the third and final round, Shields finally got Akiyama to the mat but not without some extra effort from the Judoka to stop it from happening. Akiyama twice grabbed the cage to stop Shields from pulling him to the mat, but still the Cesar Gracie trained fighter got him down and took his back.
Shields was looking for a rear naked choke to finish the fight, but simply ran out of time. He admitted after it was over that he was definitely going for the finish because you can never be sure the judges saw the fight in his favor.
“All I was thinking was ‘choke this guy out’. I thought I was winning the fight, but you never want it to go to decision,” Shields said.
The judges did agree with Shields and gave him the unanimous decision win with 30-27 scores across the board.
A disappointing 2011 is now behind Shields, who looks to get back to the top of the welterweight division, and it starts with the victory over Akiyama at UFC 144.
Meanwhile, Akiyama drops his fourth fight in a row in the Octagon, but showed massive improvements after moving down to welterweight. In the emotion of the moment, Akiyama could only apologize to the Japan crowd, and says he’s not sure if he’ll be back at 170 or not.
“I would love to continue fighting at welterweight, but let me think for a while,” Akiyama stated.
Judging by his much improved performance, the UFC may opt to give Akiyama one more shot if he decides to stay at welterweight, but only time will tell if he’ll get that chance.