by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
Not since the great gold rush has California seen this type of invasion. Everywhere you look MMA is debuting somewhere new and this weekend the sport makes its first appearance at the legendary Cow Palace in San Francisco on Saturday.

Among the feature fighters on the card is Top-10 welterweight Jake Shields making his return to MMA for the first time since winning the Rumble on the Rock 175lb Grand Prix earlier this year.

“Not too much,” said Shields what he’s been up to since his championship win over Carlos Condit in April. “Right after the fight I took a little time off, traveled a little bit and relax. After that I had a submission match with Saulo Ribeiro, then after that I got back into training.”

Upon returning to focus on MMA against veteran Steve Berger this weekend, Jake feels that 2006 is going to continue to be his breakout year.

“I think it’s going to keep getting better,” exclaimed Shields. “I think I can do big things over this year. I’m feeling really good and have been training very hard for this fight. Even though it’s not a big show I’m not taking it lightly. I’m training full-on getting ready to take out Berger then move on to the big shows and do big things.”

Jake continued, “Steve Berger is a tough guy. He seems like one of those well-rounded guys that hangs in there but I don’t think he’s going to be that big of a threat to me. After watching his tapes I think I should pretty much be kicking his ass. I think I can stand with him, take him down, I’m just going to go into the fight and see how it goes.”

Should all go well against Berger, expect to see Shields in the big time very soon.

“I’m talking to all the major promotions right now,” admitted Jake. “I’ve got some different offers on the table right now and I’m just trying to decide which one I’m going with. I’ve been kind of waiting until after this fight to sign with someone.”

Shields’ teammate and training partner Gilbert Melendez recently made his debut in PRIDE, and with the promotion’s lack of a 170lb weight class, the question was posed to Jake whether he’d be willing to make the cut down to 160lbs as fighters like Jason Black has done.

“No, I’m too big; I’d have to go up to 183lbs [to fight in PRIDE],” explained Shields. “I’m sure I could make 160lbs, but I’d be sucked up and skinny and it’s not something I want to do. 170lbs is already a strong cut for me and I hate dieting [laughs], so 160lbs isn’t something I want to do.”

Interestingly enough during the same PRIDE show that Melendez debuted, a former nemesis of Shields’, Frank Trigg, reportedly made the comment, “Jake who?” When asked about this, Shields seemed none too pleased with his fellow ROTR tournament participant.

“I think it’s kind of pathetic really,” commented Jake. “If he wanted to fight me he shouldn’t have retired, so he’s never going to fight me. He didn’t make it to me in the finals and he’s still talking smack, so I think it’s kind of pathetic. I’d love for him to come out of retirement to fight me but I know he won’t because he knows he’d lose. It should be, “Frank who?” because he’s not even a blip on my radar.”

With Trigg in his rear-view mirror so it would seem, Shields has shifted his focus towards the top of the American welterweight division with fighters the likes of UFC Champion Matt Hughes, BJ Penn, Georges St. Pierre and Diego Sanchez.

“I’d like to fight a lot of those guys,” said Jake. “Really I’d love to go in and fight Diego right away. I think that match would make a lot of sense. Having beat him in Abu Dhabi, him beating my teammate [Nick Diaz], that’d be a great fight to step into the UFC with but most likely they wouldn’t let that happen with my first fight, but you never know.”

Shields closed out the conversation by thanking his sponsors and by urging fans to continue to support the sport of MMA in California and San Francisco in particular.

“I’d like to thank Tapout, Fairtex…and I’d like for the fans to come out, anyone in the Bay Area, it’s going to be a great show. There’s a lot of great fights on the card and I’m going to bring it, so come out and support the show and hopefully they’re will be more shows out here in the future,” concluded Jake.