Jake Shields has held major titles in two weight classes. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- After one of the final sparring days in his latest training camp, Jake Shields sipped a post-workout Jamba Juice in order to have enough energy to discuss opponent Tyron Woodley.
A former champion at 170 and 185 pounds, Shields will return to the welterweight division against the two-time NCAA All-American wrestler and onetime Strikeforce title contender at UFC 161 “Evans vs. Henderson” on Saturday at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Shields believes the oddsmakers who have tapped Woodley as the favorite are mistaken.
“I don’t feel like I’m the underdog,” he told Sherdog.com. “I feel it’s a tough fight, but I’m going to go out there and dominate him.”
Shields sees his foe’s rousing Octagon debut -- a 36-second knockout of former International Fight League champion Jay Hieron -- as the reason why Woodley received the rub from the bookmakers.
“I have much more experience,” Shields said. “I’ve been in bigger fights. I’ve fought in front of a lot more people. I feel like he should be the underdog.”
When Shields takes center stage at UFC 161, it will mark his first venture to the Great White North since he dropped a unanimous decision to welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre before the largest crowd in Ultimate Fighting Championship history at UFC 129 in Toronto. That was two years ago, and it has been a mixed bag for Shields since. He suffered his first knockout loss in a decade to Jake Ellenberger, defeated Yoshihiro Akiyama and then returned to 185 pounds to beat Ed Herman. However, the victory over “Short Fuse” was overturned by the Colorado State Athletic Commission after Shields tested positive for an undisclosed banned substance.
“I haven’t had the best performances in the UFC, but I’m always trying to refine my skills, going back to the basics,” the 34-year-old Shields said. “I’ve made some good changes for this camp. This is the best I’ve felt in years.”
Those changes started with a month-long trip to Thailand’s Tiger Muay Thai camp to take in mentally refreshing beaches while polishing his eight-point striking game. He also started venturing back to the American Kickboxing Academy now that Jon Fitch is no longer on the UFC roster. In fact, he was one of former Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold’s main training partners ahead of his UFC on FX 8 showdown with Vitor Belfort.
While Shields sought out AKA for additional sparring days, he remains at his home base at Gilbert Melendez’s El Nino Training Center, with Cesar Gracie Fight Team staples Nick Diaz and Nate Diaz. Strength and conditioning work and additional private sessions came via Tareq Azim at Empower Gym mere blocks from Shields’ home in San Francisco. Despite being in multiple facilities, he has adopted a drive-less, train-harder philosophy.
“My jiu-jitsu feels the best,” said Shields, who will be looking for his first finish in three years. “My standup is coming together, my striking, everything. I’ve simplified some things.”
Shields has had an eye on Woodley since the two were in Strikeforce together. In fact, Woodley debuted in the organization the night Shields scored his last finish -- a first-round guillotine of Robbie Lawler in June 2009. He respects Woodley’s talents and the improvements he has made since then, particularly in his last two appearances. Regardless, Shields feels poised to derail “The Chosen One.”
“He’s a little overconfident right now,” he said. “He’s coming off that knockout of Jay Hieron. He thinks he’s invincible. He’s in for a rude awakening.”
Pressure has always been Shields’ ace, and he believes it was a definitive factor in Woodley’s lone career loss -- a championship-rounds knockout defeat to Nate Marquardt. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt admits there are no glaring weaknesses in Woodley’s game, but he sees small windows of opportunity -- the kinds of things a 14-year veteran like Shields hopes to exploit.
Woodley’s momentum and dangerous combination of knockout punching and wrestling have led to the perception that the University of Missouri alum may be a bad matchup for Shields.
“I want to go out there and show them I can take a guy like this and still beat him up,” Shields said. “As far as getting back in the Octagon, I’m hungrier than I’ve ever been. I’m just going to go out there and show the people who have forgotten my name I’m still a serious threat in this sport.”
Weighing past history, Shields understands the possibility exists that the UFC may deem his services expendable should he bow to Woodley. If he were writing the script, he would string a few wins together and go on to avenge his defeat to St. Pierre and capture Ultimate Fighting Championship gold at the same time. Shields has held multiple world titles -- Shooto, EliteXC and Strikeforce -- but concedes the lack of a UFC championship in his trophy case leaves him unsatisfied.
“Definitely had to take a different approach,” Shields said. “My goal was always to get to the UFC, fight for the UFC belt and beat GSP. Having done that and fallen short, it makes you maybe lose motivation for a minute. Taking some time off and not being at the top anymore really motivated me to get back there and do it again.”
Natural athleticism has proven one of Woodley’s strongest assets. Shields does not have the same wrestling credentials or fast-twitch muscle fibers. He grinds out success. While training with Azim, Shields attempted to close the athletic gap and worked alongside Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, a three-time Pro Bowler who has rushed for more than 6,000 yards and 46 touchdowns in the NFL. He admits it was a beneficial experience to sweat next to another top athlete, especially one known for his brutish nature and punishing running style.
Shields, who had won 15 consecutive fights before running into GSP at UFC 129, thinks the bout with Woodley marks the starting line for one final run at major MMA gold.
“I definitely feel like people are looking past me right now -- forgotten,” he said. “My name isn’t getting thrown out there in the title picture. I want to show them I still am a serious contender.”
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