Jake Shields file photo: Sherdog.com
It wasn't pretty, but Jake Shields got his hand raised in his long-awaited UFC debut.
The former two-division Strikeforce champion earned a hard-fought split decision victory over Martin Kampmann in the co-main event of UFC 121 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Though he did enough to earn the victory, Shields only vaguely resembled the fighter who dismantled Dan Henderson just six months ago.
“I don't want to make excuses, but it was my first time at 170 in while,” said Shields at the post-fight press conference. “I cut 20 pounds in a day. I'll never do that again.”
Though the former EliteXC welterweight champ controlled the fight on the ground, it was clear that the massive weight cut took its toll on Shields. While aggressive in round one, the Cesar Gracie product visibly slowed as the fight wore on, looking more exhausted with each passing minute. To his credit, Shields gutted through the fatigue and scored a takedown in round three, eventually working his way onto Kampmann's back.
“Martin is a great fighter. I don't think it was my best performance, but this is a learning experience,” said Shields. “I kept my winning streak going, and I'm going to come back stronger next time.”
UFC president Dana White was not sympathetic to Shields' weight issues on Saturday night.
“I think he did things wrong that he won't do next time. He cut too much weight; that's his problem. That's ridiculous to cut 20 pounds in a day. That's stupid,” said White.
Though the UFC boss was definitely irritated, that doesn't mean that Shields isn't his choice as No. 1 contender for the welterweight title. White tempered his comments on Shields' weight cut with some positive feedback about his performance.
“I thought Martin was a tough fight for Jake coming in. No matter what he's done in the past, that's tough coming into the UFC for the first time,” said White. “[Shields] beat a tough guy. I don't think any differently about the kid now than I did at the weigh-in yesterday.”
But should Shields really be fighting at 170 considering the trouble he just had in making weight? Would a run at middleweight, where he did his most recent damage in Strikeforce, be a smarter choice for Shields? White believes it would not.
“Look at his frame. He should be at 170 pounds. If he fights at 185 here, he'll feel the difference in strength and size against guys like Anderson Silva and Nate Marquardt,” said the UFC president.
And as for Martin Kampmann, White believes that the scrappy Dane let a victory slip through his fingers that may haunt him for the rest of his career.
“Kampmann is a game guy. He's a tough kid who always brings it,” said White. “But Kampmann just wouldn't let his hands go. I think he'll regret it the rest of his life. I think he blew it and didn't press it like he should have.”
Of course, the prize that both men covet at 170 pounds is Georges St. Pierre's title, which the champ will put on the line against Josh Koscheck at UFC 124 in December. After confirming that Shields was indeed now the official number one contender, White was asked how he believed Shields would match up against GSP or Koscheck. The UFC president was impartial in his response, but he did offer up an assertion that Shields' fans would likely be quick to echo.
“I can't judge [how he matches up against St. Pierre or Koscheck] by tonight's fight. It is what it is. He's a grown man, and he knows how should have done things,” said White. “I think we'll see a different Jake Shields in his next fight.”