A Fight Unlikely, Shields Still Watching GSP

Aug 14, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO -- Jake Shields (Pictures) expresses his desire to fight the best in mixed martial arts any time the opportunity arises.

So when Georges St. Pierre (Pictures) stepped into the Octagon against Jon Fitch (Pictures) on Saturday in a battle between the sport’s top-ranked fighters at 170 pounds, Shields watched intently to see who might stare across the cage from him one day should he ever get his wish.

The Northern Californian had opted to forego the excitement of attending the live event or a fight-centric party, choosing instead to watch the pay-per-view at his friend’s cozy home. San Francisco’s beautiful mix of ocean scenes and power lines were visible from the residence, where Shields arrived just before UFC 87 commenced.

Dressed in what former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez (Pictures) would later describe as a “hipster” blue-on-blue checkered hoodie, stylish jeans and American Asics, Shields sat on a couch that was tearing at its cotton-candy-colored seams. Absent from the Cesar Gracie (Pictures) black belt’s wardrobe was his EliteXC championship. The gold would have made the room -- which was filled with Jurassic 5 and Damien Marley posters, oversized speakers and a high-end drum -- feel less like a jam session closet and more like an MMA showroom. But Shields was just a fan among friends.

The opening bout between Demian Maia (Pictures) and Jason MacDonald (Pictures) had captured Shields’ attention as soon as he learned of it. Once the ground clinic commenced, the American jiu-jitsu stylist was more than impressed. Even Shields, a former Abu Dhabi Combat Club competitor, had trouble calling the fast-paced action on the mat.

Melendez entered the room shirtless, wearing board shorts reminiscent of his World Extreme Cagefighting days. He had taken advantage of the mildly sunny day -- all San Franciscans rejoice when the weather shows any signs of giving up its gloominess -- at the nearby beach. Also wondering who was on the card, “El Nino” asked Shields, his roommate, what was going on. Shields informed him about the enthralling match in progress.

Maia’s fight-ending rear naked choke brought high praise from Shields and Melendez. MacDonald, too, was dubbed surprisingly gutsy.

Yet the night’s progression diminished Shields’ interest. He ate cherries from a grocery bag during the following fights. He texted. Aside from a quick cheer for Jesse “The Body” Ventura, there was little fandom. A husky puppy strolled in and stole attention from time to time. By the time the heavyweight tussle between Heath Herring (Pictures) and Brock Lesnar (Pictures) began, Shields was lounging across the couch.

But when prefight hype between Fitch and St. Pierre started across the screen, Shields got his blood circulating again. He grabbed a Tecate -- his one and only -- and was hard-pressed to make a prediction.

“I think it’s going to be a war,” he said, “but I’ll take Jon Fitch (Pictures) in a fifth-round TKO.”

A casual training partner of Fitch’s, the fellow black belt may have been a bit biased. He predicted the Hoosier’s grinding style and will to win would give him the edge against the French-Canadian.

“I can’t root for anyone prettier than I am,” Shields added with a laugh, showing off the features that have helped land him on Showtime and CBS.

From the outset, however, it was obvious that St. Pierre’s good looks weren’t winning him the fight -- it was his game plan and precision. Shields was surprised Fitch made it out of the brutal first round. When Fitch came out on steady feet and with improved head movement in the second stanza, the EliteXC welterweight champion was hopeful the previous five minutes were just a wake-up call.

A clean right hand landed by Fitch caused Shields to applaud, but the fight was soon all St. Pierre again. The Greg Jackson-trained fighter’s fluidity in combos amazed Shields. He implored Fitch to shoot and gain top position -- his best chance at winning would be testing the 170-pound king on his back. Fitch, he explained, does not have the knockout power or submissions from his back to counter someone like St. Pierre, especially as the fight wears on. Top position was a must.

When Fitch finally worked his way to the top after being knocked to the ground in the third round, Shields said he knew the challenger was tough, but he “keeps surprising.” St. Pierre regained his dominant position and launched another offensive, prompting Shields to call him “The Canadian Project.”

Going into the fourth round, Shields asked if St. Pierre had ever went into the championship rounds in a somewhat-hopeful tone for his friend Fitch. But the song remained the same. Melendez, who was watching in the next room, walked in during the official decision and simply said, “F--k, bro.”

The room was quiet from the shock of seeing such a dominant performance by St. Pierre but also Fitch’s grit. Melendez lightened the mood, yelling as he exited, “He’s not a machine; he’s a man! He’s not a man; he’s a machine!”

“Looks like I’m gonna have to dominate my next few fights,” said Shields, who scored the fight 50-44 in favor of the champion.

Now with a clear target in St. Pierre, Shields’ only problem is that the UFC does not cross-promote. An EliteXC champion will not be meeting a UFC champion anytime soon, no matter how worthy the matchup.

The recent introduction of the World Alliance of Mixed Martial Arts, a sanctioning body that crowned Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures) heavyweight champion after the Russian’s win over Tim Sylvia (Pictures) at the July 19 Affliction event, does not mean much to Shields, either. Ranked third at 170 pounds by WAMMA (behind only Fitch and St. Pierre), Shields figures to move into the No. 2 spot with Fitch’s loss and his own recent win over top-10 nominee Nick Thompson (Pictures).

Yet in Shields’ view, his ranking holds little significance because the UFC will not work with WAMMA. The UFC even denied recognizing the WAMMA welterweight belt in a bout between two UFC fighters. At this point, Shields will have to fight whoever EliteXC can find for him. Options are limited, as evidenced by the fact that nine of the top 10 welterweights in Sherdog.com’s rankings -- Shields ranks sixth -- are under contract with Zuffa, which owns the UFC and WEC.

Shields’ situation is perhaps a positive one financially, though. He’s a star in EliteXC, and his rash of finishing opponents adds to his marketability as a good-looking, well-spoken dedicated father, potentially propelling him to stardom outside of the UFC. But with competition as his top priority, a dichotomy that is packaged in the ugliest aspects of the sport develops.

Shields’ next opponent should be decided soon. For now, however, the EliteXC champion is back in training.

While St. Pierre is on his mind, it’s uncertain if he will ever be in his future.
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