by Steven Marrocco – MMAWeekly.com
Jake Shields didn’t give much pause in stepping up a weight class to face Robbie Lawler.

“As soon as Showtime called me… I said yeah, right away,” he recently told MMAWeekly Radio. “I didn’t even have to think about it.”

The former EliteXC welterweight champion headlines with former EliteXC middleweight champion Lawler for Strikeforce Saturday night in St. Louis.

His original opponent, welterweight Joe Riggs, spared no expletives in his feelings about the decision, but Shields brushes those aside.

“I think Joe’s just being immature and whining, trying to get some attention,” he said. “Showtime called me and said they wanted me to fight Robbie, it was a bigger fight for me, more money, main event. I’d be stupid not to take it. I wasn’t trying to disrespect Joe Riggs. I just think he’s being immature, but whatever. Maybe if he wins a couple fights, I’ll give him a beating too.”

Shields, and his manager/father Jack, are trying to craft a move to the upper echelons of the sport, where higher paydays and top-tier opponents are the norm. Shields is on most Top 10 lists as a welterweight, but at this point, he won’t be able to establish himself beyond the hardcore fan base as long as he remains outside the UFC.

After the breakup of EliteXC, Shields was adamant about a trip to the Octagon, and had been close to challenging his ProElite contract in court when Strikeforce acquired it. Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker wanted to make him happy.

“I’m sure there are some great 170 pounders out there, but I felt at this point I had kind of made myself the top 170 pounder outside of the UFC,” said Shields. “I needed to go for a bigger challenge. I didn’t really see anyone that I felt was a fight that would be that hyped.”

The first gesture of goodwill was Lawler. He wouldn’t be a pay-per-view star, but he’d be on Showtime, and possibly CBS down the road. He decided the glass was half full.

“I figured it definitely wasn’t worth getting caught in a lawsuit, especially since it seemed like they really wanted to work with me,” said Shields. “First, I was really disappointed, because I really was kind of stuck on (moving to the UFC). As long as I keep getting really good opponents here, and getting treated well, I’m happy. I’m taking it one fight at a time and see what happens from that.”

Once he got the fight, he quickly ruled out the idea of matching Lawler’s size.

“I’ve got a really good strength trainer that I’ve been working out with, doing some powerlifting stuff, and I’ve upped my calories, more protein and stuff,” said Shields. “So I’ve put on a little weight. But I’m not really stressing over the weight – I’m just going to go out there and fight. Sitting there trying to gain too much weight might slow me down. So I’ve put five, six pounds on and I’m just going to go out there and fight, and I think I’ll feel well.”

How the size difference will feel inside the cage is a wait-and-see.

“I won’t really know until I lock up with him,” Shields continued. “I think I’ll be at least close to as strong. Lawler looks like a strong middleweight, but I don’t think I’m going to be totally overwhelmed.”

To prepare, Shields has been sparring less with teammates Gilbert Melendez and Nate Diaz, both lightweights, and logging more hours with Nick Diaz and bigger training partners.

“I’ve been bringing in lots of big wrestlers to train with, guys that are around 200 pounds, and I’m guessing Robbie’s somewhere around there, so I’m going to have guys at his weight that I’m fighting with,” he said.

Shields thinks a win over Lawler would make him the number one contender to middleweight belt holder Cung Le. He would also take a fight against former champion Frank Shamrock.

“(Frank) Shamrock just got embarrassed, so I would still fight him (because) he’s a big name, it’s almost one that makes sense after how bad Nick beat him,” said Shields. “Cung Le’s a friend of mine, so that part kind of sucks, but it’s business, so ultimately I think if I beat Lawler that fight makes sense.”

It’s no secret about what’s going to happen on June 6: Lawler will try to take Shields’ head off, and Shields will try to get the fight down. For both, it’s an end to the uncertainty of previous months. Shields wants to make the most of the opportunity.

“I think it’s a fight I can win. Lawler’s a tough, legitimate opponent, but I’m in really good shape right now, and I’m feeling confident about it,” said Shields. “I’m going to go out there and fight my hardest and try to finish him.”