by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
There are few fighters in 2006 whose stock rose as high as Jake Shields’ did. Starting out the year an underground favorite, best known for being the last American to hold a Shooto title, Jake won the Rumble on the Rock 175lb Tournament and established himself firmly as a Top 10 fighter. He is currently the #6 Welterweight in the MMAWeekly Rankings.

After taking time off from MMA to focus on a grappling super-match against Marcello Garcia in the Professional Submission League, Shields is set to return to fighting on January 20th in the Gracie Fighting Championships against fellow ROTR Tournament competitor Renato “Charuto” Verissimo.

“I’m feeling great right now,” exclaimed Jake to MMAWeekly recently. “Two weeks out and everything’s going perfect. Thankfully I’ve got no big injuries, maybe some really small ones, but nothing serious at all. My body is feeling good – I’m in the best shape of my life – and I’m ready to fight.”

Shields will be making his return to MMA for the first time since defeating UFC veteran Steve Berger in September of last year.

According to Jake even though it seems like he was off for a while, he was busy the entire time away from MMA, “I really didn’t take too much time off. I had a bunch of students, helping them train for their fights and whatnot, so I was staying in the gym the whole time. [I was] just staying in shape, the time off wasn’t too serious, now I’m just getting myself back in there to fight.”

When it comes to the erratic Verissimo, Shields is prepared for the hardest fight possible and is extremely confident that he will come out on top.

“He’s a really tough fighter,” said Jake. “He’s really good on the ground and has descent hands. He’s one of those guys that runs hot or cold, you never know which one is going to show up, so I’m just preparing for him to show up at his best.”

Shields continued, “My plan is to just bring the pressure and kick his ass. I’ve been doing a lot of stand-up, my ground’s obviously good – so I feel I can fight him anywhere the fight goes. I’m just going to try to bring the pressure and break him.”

With his ROTR Championship run last year, Jake built up a lot of momentum that he hopes to parlay into a contract with a big promotion that will allow him to get the exposure needed to further prove to everyone that he is one of the best 170lb fighters around.

“I’ve talked to a bunch of different shows [in] trying to figure out the best option right now,” commented Shields.” “I’ve got a lot of good offers on the table, but right now I’m just trying to focus on this fight, win this fight, and go from there.

“With the momentum I’ve got built up I think it’s going to blow up this year. I think it’s my year this time. I’m really starting to put things together and I feel like I’m not fully peaked out yet – I keep getting better and better. I’m focusing on my training, working on my stand-up a lot, cardio, and putting my weak links together. This is my year to blow up and hopefully beat the top guys out there and show the world that I’m one of the best welterweights in the world,” added Jake.

As for where he sees himself in welterweight division, which is one of the most staked weight classes in the sport, Shields feels he’s right up there with some of the elite of the division.

“I think I’m definitely capable of beating any of those guys out there,” exclaimed Jake. “If I were to rank them, I’d probably put myself third or something. I think I put myself below Georges St. Pierre and Matt Hughes because they’ve done more to deserve a ranking above me. But as far as Karo [Parisyan] and Diego [Sanchez], I think I’d beat those guys.”

Shields further commented about Sanchez, who defeated Jake’s Cesar Gracie Fight Team teammate Nick Diaz last year, “I beat Diego at Abu Dhabi, which is not a fight, so it doesn’t count [in MMA], but I’ve beaten up on tougher competition than him. I’ve fought guys like [Yushin] Okami, [Kazuo] Misaki and [Hayoto] Sakurai, some of the best fighters in the world. He’s fought some good guys, but I’ve fought tougher competition – just not in the UFC.”

A big part of Jake’s success is the foundation he’s built in training, which has not only benefited him, but has also done well for his training partner PRIDE’s Gilbert Melendez, and standout fighters whom have come up to Fairtex San Francisco like KOTC 155lb Champion Mac Danzig.

“It’s great, I love having new people [come up] and it helps me too if people want to come up and work with us,” said Shields. “I think I’ve put together, over the last two years, really good ideas. With Gil we’ve been able to put together a great workout and the guys from other schools that have come up have all seemed really happy with the workout – if they can make it through them – which isn’t very many of them.”

“I always figured we’ve always worked really hard, I didn’t know if everyone else worked as hard, but people are coming through and seem to be impressed apparently. I’m really open-minded and am always picking up new things from whoever comes through. Having new guys come up to the gym, working out, we always come up with new ideas,” further commented Jake.

Shields closed out the interview by saying, “I want to thank Fairtex and Tapout. To the fans, come out, I’m in the best shape of my life and I feel like I’m going to explode. I’m ready to go out there and tear Charuto up – so I hope everyone can come check it out.”

Jake concluded emphatically, “I think I’m turning into a whole other fighter. I’m getting better and better, I’m a whole other fighter than I was six months ago and will be a whole new fighter six months from now, I’m putting my game together finally at the beginning of this year – it’s going to be a big year for me.”