Amidst the excitement of tonight’s blockbuster heavyweight championship lies a strong undercurrent of hype revolving around the Octagon debut of a veteran mixed martial arts fighter named Jake Shields.
Though he’s been making waves outside of the UFC for years, “Scrap Pack” member and Cesar Gracie product Jake Shields put the world on notice with his calculated domination of legend Dan Henderson after being nearly put away in the opening frame. Preceding their collision for the Strikeforce middleweight belt, the unanimous equation for a Henderson victory seemed easy to surmise: Henderson has better stand-up and better wrestling credentials, the superior list of past opposition -- many of whom are top-shelf light-heavies and heavyweights -- and Shields is a natural welterweight who couldn't conceivable out-grapple an Olympic level veteran like Hendo.
The key ingredients that most were missing is that Shields infused his folk style wrestling pedigree with Jiu Jitsu mechanics early on in his career, and subsequently made the critical decision to immerse himself directly in MMA rather than continuing to progress in individual martial arts. This allowed the California native to tailor his technical ground assault to the unique dynamics that permeate full-contact fighting. 1999 marked Shields introduction to the sport. He began training MMA at John Hackleman’s “The Pit” alongside rising star Chuck Liddell, and took his first fight that same year when filling in for an injured teammate.
Two years later, Shields had posted a 7-2 record, finishing one opponent with strikes and three by submission. One of Shields’ early losses was to Phillip Miller, an amazing wrestler who retired undefeated at 16-0. Miller won a decision, while his other loss came via TKO in his third outing, which would turn out to be the only time Shields would ever lose via strikes in his entire career.
2001 reflected many important changes for Jake, as he would earn a wrestling scholarship to SF State, join forces with the Cesar Gracie Fight Team to soup up his Jiu Jitsu, settle into his natural weight class of 170 pounds, and finally dedicate 100% of his focus on competing in MMA.
This period also marked Shields’ foray into overseas competition, venturing to Hawaii and eventually to Japan to compete in the vaunted Shooto promotion. His travels abroad started sour with a loss to Hawaiian grappling machine Ray “Bradda” Cooper. Being thoroughly disappointed with his existing 7-3 clip, Jake Shields proceeded to unleash hell and mount one of the most impressive win streaks the sport of MMA has seen.
It all started with a dangerous risk in signing on to fight Japanese legend Hayato “Mach” Sakurai, who at the time was one of the most feared and prestigious grapplers with a resplendent 19-2-2 record, only falling short against monsters Matt Hughes and Anderson Silva. The gamble paid off, as Shields out-hustled Sakurai to a unanimous decision and snared the Shooto belt, becoming only one of three Americans (Paulson, Inoue) to ever attain Shooto gold.
The shocking upset ignited a twenty-fight sequence that culminated with his last win over Dan Henderson, where Shields laid out a devastating eighteen wins with one loss (Akira Kikuchi in 2004; his last) and one draw (Kazuo Misaki). Shields will surf to the cage door tonight on a tidal wave of momentum, defeating his last fourteen straight opponents, the likes of which include: former UFC champ Dave Menne, top UFC MW contender Yushin Okami, former WEC champ and top UFC WW contender Carlos Condit (to win the Rumble on the Rock 175-pound tournament), Steve Berger, Mike Pyle (who just defeated John Hathaway at UFC 120), Nick “The Goat” Thompson, former top UFC WW contender Paul Daley, former Strikeforce champ Robbie Lawler, Jason “Mayhem” Miller of MTV’s “Bully Beatdown”, and perennial top-ten MW and LHW Dan Henderson.
Between his Shooto championship belts and the others he clenched in EliteXC, Strikeforce, and Rumble on the Rock, he’s amassed quite an extensive collection.
Jake Shields has evolved into one of the most skilled and technical positional grapplers in the business. We’ve seen unbelievable wrestlers and out-of-this-world submissionists, but only a select few who excel in both arts and wield them in conjunction. His striking acumen does not mirror his ground wizardry, but has improved by degrees and is solidly anchored by a Sherman Tank for a chin.
The circuitous trajectory of Shields’ career has delivered him upon the doorstep of worldwide recognition against Martin Kampmann at UFC 121. The Big Bald Boss has promised a crack at GSP’s title with a win tonight, but “The Hitman” is far from a simple bridge to cross. His hand has been raised in thirteen of his last fifteen outings, his most recent dismantling of BJJ black belt Paulo Thiago serving as his fiercest showing yet. Kampmann’s crisp kickboxing skills and firm grasp of submissions will present a stiff test for Shields, but the Dutch striker hasn’t quite shown the level of takedown defense to keep Shields at bay.
Outside of the cage, Shields has faced a litany of reputable names in pure submission grappling competition. His win over four-time BJJ World Cup Champion and Nova Uniao MMA’er Leonardo Santos is below, followed by Santos nailing a flying armbar on GSP at ADCC. Jake’s grappling matches with highly credentialed grappler and TUF 8 competitor Vinny Magalhaes are posted as well, along with his bouts against Diego Sanchez and Jon Fitch.