Jake Shields (right) has won 15 straight bouts. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The world’s welterweight title is on the line at UFC 129 on Saturday at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, and for champion Georges St. Pierre, a top-notch challenger in Jake Shields is exactly what he needs.
That is because St. Pierre has been so dominant lately that some are calling for him to rise in weight. In fact, the setting is so perfect -- GSP fighting in front of 55,000 screaming Canadians, with Anderson Silva lurking on the horizon -- it almost reminds one of “Rocky,” with the long-shot challenger exceptionally dangerous because he is the wrong guy to overlook. Shields is exactly that kind of guy, which is why it is an interesting match.
Along with a stacked undercard and Jose Aldo defending his featherweight belt against Mark Hominick, here is the UFC 129 breakdown, preview and picks.
UFC Welterweight Championship
Georges St. Pierre (No. 1 WW, No. 1 PFP) vs. Jake Shields (No. 4 WW, No. 7 PFP)
The Matchup: The world’s uber-welterweight takes on the organization’s top signee of late in Shields. For fans who do not want to see GSP move up to middleweight and take on Silva, take heart, because Shields is probably the best thing going to prevent it. It is also a fight for vindication, as Shields has gone unbeaten in 15 fights and is probably the best competitor in the game with which so few casual fans are familiar.
When you jot down their skill sets, St. Pierre has the advantage in virtually every department, except submissions. Yet all the pressure is on St. Pierre. He is fighting in front of a hometown crowd and dealing with the expectations and obligations of being a champion. Having recently fired his manager, St. Pierre is basically going through all the other distractions being the top banana brings.
Shields, meanwhile, has just kept rolling. He wins bouts he is not supposed to -- see his dominant decision over Dan Henderson -- and finds a way to victory. Hand him a scrap, and he makes a meal out of it, with crushing pressure on the ground and consistently effective tactics.
Shields’ standup is marginal, and he uses it strictly to get to his bread-and-butter takedown -- a perfectly timed single-leg, often when opponents are swinging for his head. His movements on the ground are nuts-and-bolts jiu-jitsu, executed with patience and the detachment of a mechanic taking apart an engine.
However, St. Pierre is unlikely to be taken down easily, and he should be able to dictate the range using his stiff jab and varied strikes, as he did against Josh Koscheck at UFC 124. GSP has a lot of options here, while Shields has basically one: get “Rush” on his back and submit him. He will have to execute a nearly perfect fight to do it.
This may be a more competitive fight than most think. For Shields to make that happen, he needs to score a takedown early or be in ridiculously good shape to absorb the beating he is likely to take in the first few rounds if he cannot get it.
Look for GSP to do some adjusting and pick his spots before hitting a takedown in the second or third round, when Shields will be worn down enough to risk a ground battle.
The Pick: St. Pierre will play it safe over the final two rounds and cruise to a unanimous decision win, with Shields enjoying a memorable moment or two while being outwrestled and outstruck.
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