I was driving the other day, and as I am wont to do, I started thinking about Jake Shields. I don’t think Jake Shields is anyone’s favorite fighter, he’s never been an engaging personality or an exciting fighter by any means. But for a certain segment of fans, mostly from a singular moment in time, Jake Shields is a sort of cult hero.
Jake Shields was a guy, outside of the limelight of the UFC and Pride, who was able to get his name on Top 10 Pound-for-Pound lists. He did it fighting for Shooto and Rumble on the Rock and K-1 for little to no fanfare. Jake Shields was a top 10 Welterweight who somehow managed to never fight for a truly major promotion. When he fought Steve Berger, fresh off winning a tournament that included Carlos Condit, Yushin Okami, and Anderson Silva, that fight didn’t air anywhere. It wasn’t even taped. Eventually EliteXC and Strikeforce put him on TV, but they weren’t happy about it. No promoter ever wanted to make Jake Shields the face of their promotion, EliteXC built him up hoping that Paul Daly would get some heat off of beating him, Shields won. Strikeforce certainly would have rather promoted Robbie Lawler and Jason Miller, but Shields kept winning. He beat Dan Henderson and nearly killed their promotion.
Shields won so much, 14 fights in a row, that the UFC finally had to sign him. It is the kind of thing they don’t have to do anymore, see Ben Askren’s run in One, but at the time, Dana White and the gang wanted to be able to claim they had the best fighters on the planet, beyond a shadow of a doubt, and having Shields losing in the Octagon was a way of doing that. They threw Shields to Martin Kampmann, thinking that Kampmann would beat Shields, and send Jake back to the regional scene. Shields, however dubious it may have been, found a way to win. That was Jake Shields’ entire deal. He could grind down guys with the best of them. So after the Kampmann win, Jake Shields ended up fighting Georges St. Pierre in the Rogers Centre, formerly Skydome, in the biggest MMA event in North America. It was both fitting and improbable. Nobody could questions Shields’ bona fides, he was easily a top 10 fighter in two divisions, but at the same time no one cared. People like to act like accolades are all that matter, that winning is the only thing that matters. That isn’t reality. Only his family would pay to see Jake Shields fight, even after he fought four times on network television, even after being involved in a post-fight brawl him Mayhem Miller on live TV after the biggest win of his career. Jake Shields just didn’t have it like that, but he got the fight with GSP, at the time the UFC’s marquee star and most dominant fighter. GSP ended up winning, but Shields picked up some rounds, outside of that I don’t remember much of the fight. So, I wanted to watch it again, and now we’re here.
The fighters meet in the center of the octagon. St. Pierre seems tentative, Shields on the other hand is more aggressive than usual, mixing between low and mid kicks. For the first minute of the fight, the two exchange strikes at a distance, Shields landing a kick here and there, and GSP keeping Shields at the end of his punches. St. Pierre throws a kick to the body and Shields grabs it and pushes Georges toward the fence, still holding onto a high single. Just as soon as Shields gets him to the cage, GSP is able to break Shields’s grip and muscle out of the takedown attempt.
Shields throws some knees to GSP’s legs while he has him pressed against the cage, but St. Pierre quickly reverses position and disengages. Back at range, Shields is still the aggressor, this time opting to use his jab instead of kicks. Still a whole lot of nothing, Shields is winning the round, but mostly because of GSP’s lack of trying. Two minutes into the fight, St. Pierre comes alive and throws two spinning back kicks, the first one misses and the second one only grazes Shields’ midsection, but the are the first significant strikes that Georges has thrown this far.
Again, more of the same. Exchanging strikes at a distance, nothing much landing, but Shields going for the higher output. GSP is looking to land a right hand in several of these exchanges, but he never lands it flush or very much at all, as Shields is quick to get in and out of range. Shields goes to close the distance again, leading with his jab, and St. Pierre catches him with a jab of his own that sends Shields reeling.
Shields quickly regains his composure, but GSP lands another jab, albeit not as damaging as the previous one. The rest of the round belongs to St. Pierre. He’s found his footing in this round and is more aggressive in his striking. His jab is really working now, Shields’ face is showing signs of wear already, mostly around his forehead. Georges doesn’t look much better, however. His nose is noticeably red. The horn sounds to signal the end of the first stanza. St. Pierre appears to have won the round, but it was still a close round.
Round 2 picks up where Round 1 left off. St. Pierre is connecting with more strikes, almost entirely punches. Shields is landing strikes of his own behind the strength of a consistent jab. On a couple occasions, GSP catches Shields with an overhand right while Shields is backing up. Georges lands his best strike of the fight, predictably a a counter right hand. Joe Rogan thinks it hurts Shields badly, but Shields doesn’t show any signs of it on video.
The fight has fallen into a bit of a pattern at this point. Shields is pawing with his jab, but whenever he steps in, St. Pierre counters the jab with a right hand as Shields is stepping back, more often than not it lands and Shields doesn’t seem to have a counter. With nearly 3 minutes gone from the 2nd period, Georges throws another spinning back kick, this connects much more soundly than his previous attempts, pushing Shields back.
Shields clinches with Georges after the kick, but GSP quickly breaks the hold. Again, we are back to the pattern, Shields throwing strikes, GSP countering with the right and occasionally throwing the spinning back kick. Shields doesn’t seem to have an answer for either one. With about 20 seconds left, Shields throws a leg kick that lands and follows up with his second takedown attempt of the fight, which GSP quickly thwarts. As Round 2 ends, it is pretty clear, that up until this point, GSP is on another level. Shields can’t keep up on the feet, and because of that, he has no opening for a takedown. Round 1 was close, but Round 2 is decidedly in St. Pierre’s favor.
Shields comes out aggressive in Round 3, but it doesn’t amount to much. He lands a strike here and there, but in picking up the pace he leaves himself more open, and now GSP in landing an occasional left hand. The pattern of the fight continues, Shields comes in off the jab, Georges catches him with a right hand on the way out, after another occurrence of this Shields attempts a weak double leg in the center of the octagon, but GSP shrugs it off. St. Pierre is really loading up the right hand now, so much so that he’s missing big. Shields is still wading in in the same way, but with GSP going for the kill everytime, he has more time to get away. Shields starts landing an occasional left kick to the body on his way out. It isn’t much, but it is a lot more than has been doing up to this point. With less than 30 seconds left, Georges grabs a kick from Shields and tosses him to the ground.
GSP sits in Shields’ butterfly guard before passing to half guard, but with little time on the clock, St. Pierre takes the opportunity to rest. Shields lands some ineffectual strikes from the bottom, but it’s more offense than GSP cold muster from the position. The horn sounds and it is another round in the books for Georges. In his corner, GSP complains of some swelling around his left eye, but his corner, Greg Jackson, assures him it is nothing. St. Pierre tells his he can’t see out of his eye and Jackson responds with, “You’ve got one eye you’re fine.” Quality corner work if I’ve ever seen it.
Round 4 starts with Shields landing some punches with this right hand, most likely due to St. Pierre’s lack of vision. He throws a flurry of punches and kicks, but GSP grabs the kick and takes Shields down. Shields has butterfly guard, but Georges lands a hard left hand and simply stands back up.
Much more of the same, but Shields is landing his jab more often and because GSP is loading up on the right, Shields is avoiding being hit more than before. Seemingly, the left eye of St. Pierre has become a real issue here, whether in actuality or just in Georges’ head, allowing Shields to land more and causing Georges to swing for the fences more often and with even more reckless abandon.
Shields is bleeding from his nose now, but still striking at a distance with the champ. St. Pierre lands a left high kick that rocks Shields and sends him down to the canvas. He’s not out, but Jake is definitely hurt and shoots for a desperation takedown.
St. Pierre gets a bit overzealous throwing strikes at a grounded Shields and Jake grabs a single leg. He can’t finish the takedown, but he uses it to get back standing. Shields seems recovered now, well as much as you can expect a fighter in the 18th minute of a fight to be recovered, anyway. With about 90 seconds left in the round, Shields starts to go all Nick Diaz for some reason, taunting GSP and wiping the minimal blood off of his face. Maybe it is to goad St. Pierre into something ill-advised, or perhaps it’s because he has nothing left for GSP, either way Georges’ demeanor doesn’t change. As Round 4 comes to a close, GSP’s eye looks much worse than it did entering the round and his nose is bleeding noticeably. Round 4 was more even than 2 or 3, but St. Pierre is still easily up three rounds at the very least. However, the attrition of the fight is starting to catch up to Georges. He’s starting to show signs of slowing. Shields doesn’t look much better, but he seems to have use of both of his eyes, which is always a plus.
Shields looks good at the start of Round 5. He knows he has to finish here and come out aggressive. GSP seems a bit tired, but he is still beating Shields in the early portion of the round. As the round goes on, more blood pours onto St. Pierre’s face and Shields starts to take over. He’s not close to finishing Georges, but Jake is clearly outlanding him. Shields lands a fairly innocuous right hand and, in the crowd, Chuck Liddell, certainly sober as a church mouse, yells “you rocked him” repeatedly until his voice goes hoarse. As the fight comes to a close, Georges goes for a take down, but Shields fights it off and the fight is over.
The 5th Round belongs to Shields, you could make a case for the 1st as well, maybe the 4th, but this is GSP’s fight. Shields had no answer for St. Pierre’s counter right hand. Really, that is the entire story of the fight, Georges won the fight with one technique. When the scores are read, Georges St. Pierre is the winner by unanimous decision, but the scores are closer than you would think. Doug Crosby, Cro-Mags contributor, stuntman, and slayer of RVCA zombies, has the fight 50-45. It is a reasonable card, but giving St. Pierre the 5th Round is generous, although not absurd. The other two judges have it 48-47 for the champ. As one-sided as it may have seemed, and as bad as judges decisions can and have been, Jake Shields was one round away from being UFC champion, one round away from beating the best fighter of his generation, maybe the best fighter ever.
That is why, in so many ways, this fight is a perfect encapsulation of Jake Shields. The fight isn’t particularly exciting. There isn’t a lot of meaningful action, outside of a headkick knockdown, there isn’t anything here for the highlight reel. There isn’t any real drama building throughout the fight either. Say what you want for Sylvia-Arlovski III, it is a dreadful fight in many ways, but it all comes down to the 5th Round, which is a lot more than you can say for this fight. St. Pierre had the fight in hand from the opening bell, but still Jake Shields was able to grind his way all the way to a close decision, to within one round of the absolute peak of Mixed Martial Arts.
In front of 50,000-plus people in Toronto, in front of 800,000 homes on Pay Per View, Jake Shields got to fight in the main event for the UFC Welterweight title. In front of all of those eyes, he came within one round of winning that title. Nobody, outside of his friends and family, wanted to see it happen, but it came awfuly close to happening. In many ways, it is the crowning achievement of his career. Sure, he beat Dan Henderson in the main event of a show on CBS, but that fight will always be overshadowed by the brawl that followed. On this night, Jake Shields went up against the greatest Welterweight ever, at his absolute peak, and gave him the biggest test of his career, and because no one wants to see Jake win and because no one ever rooted for Jake Shields, it’s better that he lost. Isn’t it fitting that he wasn’t able to reach the top of the mountain? If Jake Shields had won, only to be rejected by the fans and his promotion, it would be worse than if he lost. Dana White is antagonistic with guys who have fans, imagine what the Shields/White relationship would look like. Shields would end up back in Strikeforce as the lineal UFC champion in months. That’s what is so perfect, so illuminating, so perfect. Because for guys like Jake Shields, for the grinders, the story doesn’t end with acceptance and admiration. It ends with a failure, at a point when will and grit and toughness and doggedness can’t overcome skill and talent. A guy like Jake Shields was never going to carry a promotion on his back or move tickets, it wan’t in him. But, he got to the level, for one night, and lost to one of the best, which in a way, is his crowning achievement.