Shields ready for best UFC can offer
Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields has opted to sign with UFC
Shields' move was long rumored and considered one of MMA's worst-kept secrets
Down the road, Shields looks to fights with George St. Pierre, Anderson Silva
Jake Shields can once again go about following his bliss.
On Monday, with permission from his father/manager, the 31-year-old mixed martial artist announced on Twitter that he signed a long-term contract to fight under the Ultimate Fighting Championship banner.
For people following Shields, either online or in the real world, his confirmation barely qualified as news. Since April, when the sometimes-welterweight/sometimes-middleweight entered free agency on the strength of a victory over Dan Henderson, Shields (25-4-1) was convinced that "at this point of my career I knew I had to be in the UFC, regardless of money." And everyone, including his soon-to-be-former promoter, Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker, saw what was coming.
"I had no interest in fighting anywhere else," Shields said. "My mind was made up."
That certainly made things simpler for Jack Shields, the fighter's 66-year-old father who's closely guided Jake's athletic career since he first hit a wrestling mat at the age of 8. And the less stress Jack Shields has in his life, the better. It began sometime last year. Jack couldn't work the hours he used to. Menial things, like taking phone calls, sapped him of his energy. For a man who once climbed mountains, it was worth being concerned about. By April, right about the time his son entered an exclusive negotiating period with Strikeforce, Shields was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Doctors told him the organ was pumping blood at 30-35 percent of its capacity, a third less than it should for a man his age.
Jack, who was reticent to speak about his medical issues, isn't sure what caused the heart ailment, though the lifelong vegetarian knows it's not his cholesterol. It may be a side effect, he said, from an accident two decades ago when a truck crushed his skull, chest and back between its transaxle and the asphalt. Or the autoimmune disease that pits white blood cells against healthy red ones. Or one of several viral infections along the way.
Yet no matter how weak he felt, Shields, a skinny man who wears a ponytail and closely cropped white beard, wasn't going to allow anyone else to handle the most important contract negotiation of his son's life -- one he made possible during negotiations in 2007 with ProElite by smartly carving out a promoter-friendly "champions" clause that automatically renews deals for titleholders.
"I would like to take the credit for that, but that was all his idea," Jake said of the missing clause, which allowed him the freedom to leave Strikeforce despite holding the promoter's middleweight title. "I didn't even think about that. I would have been dumb and signed the contract. He's really smart. He picks up little things and he pays attention to what he's doing."
Surgery had to wait.
"If they open me up, I'm totally gone and we didn't have anyone else," said Shields, who once promoted music festivals in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.
Now that the deal is done, Shields expects to undergo the procedure "as soon as I can so I can recover and be good by the time the fight rolls around." The goal is to work Jake's corner, as he's done for the vast majority of his son's bouts, in Anaheim, Calif., on Oct. 23.
Coinciding with the announcement of the deal on Monday, Shields confirmed his first bout in the UFC will take place at UFC 121 against Martin Kampmann (17-3) as a lead-in to the organization's anticipated heavyweight title fight between Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez.
"A lot of people will want me to win," he said. "A lot of people will want me to lose. People are going to watch this fight to see how I fare. There's a ton of pressure. But I also felt like there was a lot of pressure in my last fight, too. Going in there having not signed with Strikeforce put me in a huge pressure situation."
Shields enters the UFC as one of the company's most experienced acquisitions. Unbeaten in 14 fights beginning in 2005, Shields' return to the welterweight division comes after a year and a half spent bulking up to compete at 185 pounds. He'll cut his 5,000-calorie-a-day diet by half, stop lifting heavy weights and hit the road running. In just one week, he already shed 12 pounds from a high of 210 -- a far cry from Shields' first 10 months in the sport, when he jumped into a cage five times mainly just to do it.
"For him, fighting was a hobby and I didn't like it," Jack said. "I told him you're fighting for $200 and you're not taking it serious. He won three and lost two, and decided to start training and running and taking it serious. He told me it was something he really wanted to do. I always raised the kids with that Joseph Campbell 'follow your bliss' kind of idea. It was hard once he told me he wanted to do it not to support him."
With his father's help -- including wrestling advice and the occasional MMA tip, which invariably leads to their only arguments -- Jake corralled several meaningful championships along the way, though none more impressive than a UFC title would be. Looming in the distance are Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva. The top two fighters in the world, both of whom face stiff tests in the near future, are essentially why Shields believes he had to come to the UFC.
"I could have re-signed somewhere and made good money fighting lesser competition," Shields said. "Not bad competition, still tough guys. But I felt I'm ready to go out there and fight the best of the best. It's my time."
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