When Jake Shields finally calls it a career, he probably won’t be called the greatest of all time but he might go down as the Cal Ripken of mixed martial arts.
The veteran welterweight with more than 40 professional bouts on his record has won championships in promotions like Strikeforce, Elite XC, and Shooto not to mention a resume that reads like a Hall of Fame roll call.
While there are a ton of accolades on Shields’ record, perhaps the most impressive feat he’s managed to accomplish throughout his career is competing at the highest level against the best fighters in the world for nearly 20 years.
Much like Ripken did throughout his career in baseball — holding the record for most consecutive games played — Shields is always there to answer the call no matter the time, place or opponent.
He’s faced a laundry list of champions, former champions and top ranked contenders and by all accounts Shields still isn’t slowing down any time soon. In fact on Thursday night, Shields will start yet another journey as he prepares to enter the Professional Fighters League season where he could potentially fight five times in six months with an opportunity to collect a $1 million grand prize.
“I think my first fight was in 2000 or somewhere in there. It’s pretty crazy,” Shields told MMAWeekly. “I fought for so long and I still feel like I’m fighting at a real high level. If I don’t feel like I can fight at the highest level, I don’t want to be fighting anymore. I think it’s just that I’ve taken some breaks here and there. I don’t take breaks from training, just from fighting but I stay in shape year round and that makes a difference. I eat good. I don’t feel like I’ve slowed down yet.
It’s a remarkable accomplishment, especially given the landscape of the sport where many of Shields’ peers have been calling it a career over the past few weeks.
Former UFC champion Rashad Evans retired at 38 years of age with 28 fights on his record. Josh Koscheck called it a career at 40 years of age with 28 fights on his resume. And former UFC champ Johny Hendricks just recently decided to hang up his gloves at 34 years old with 26 fights on his ledger.
Now there’s no perfect formula to figure out the timing for an athlete to retire, but Shields at 39 doesn’t appear to be losing a step or somehow fighting past his prime.
Perhaps it’s because Shields has always taken incredible care of his body. It might also have something to do with his style where he’s a grappler first with only two knockouts on his record over the course of 40 plus fights.
Whatever the cause, Shields knows he’s fortunate to still be doing his job and he’s excited to add yet another chapter to his career story starting on Thursday night.
“I have taken less damage. I think being a grappler and taking less shots. I haven’t taken much head trauma and no real injuries,” Shields said. “I’ve been pretty fortunate there. I think that helps with the longevity.”
Without any more fights being added to his record, Shields could walk away tomorrow and his resume would stand up to anybody in the history of the sport in terms of level of competition that he’s faced over the years.
From his win at the Rumble on the Rock tournament back in 2006 that included names like Anderson Silva and Carlos Condit to his incredible upset victory over Dan Henderson at middleweight in 2010, Shields has faced the best of the best and never shied away from a tough fight.
So while Shields may not be hailed as the best ever, no one can deny that he’s been the iron man of mixed martial arts for his entire career.
“I definitely have a tough list of opponents,” Shields said. “Even the guys that weren’t considered as big as me, were still definitely tough. I remember one time I was looking through and I thought damn, I did fight a lot of good guys. I definitely didn’t get very many easy fights.”
Shields competes in the main event at PFL 3 on Thursday night on the NBC Sports Network