One of the UFC’s most talent-rich divisions just got richer Monday with the signing of welterweight star Jake Shields. A veteran of more than a decade in the fight game whose grappling prowess places him among the best in the world, pound-for-pound, Shields becomes an immediate player in a 170-pound division that includes champion Georges St-Pierre and top contenders Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves, and Martin Kampmann.
“I’ve pretty much been everywhere and held the title everywhere except the UFC, and there’s nothing like the UFC,” said Shields, a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu black belt. “When I first started fighting, it was always where I wanted to be, and for whatever reason it kept eluding me. I think I’ve done everything in my career that I could do without being in the UFC, and now it’s my time to go in there and make a run in the UFC and I couldn’t be more excited.”
A 31-year old native of Mountain Ranch, California who now makes his home in San Francisco, Shields was a standout high school wrestler who began his professional fighting career with a TKO of Paul Harrison in October of 1999. Since then, Shields has compiled a stellar 25-4-1 record that includes 10 submissions, three TKOs, and wins over a Who’s Who of modern MMA, including Hayato “Mach” Sakurai, Toby Imada, Carlos Condit, Steve Berger, Renato Verissimo, Mike Pyle, Nick Thompson, Jason Miller and Paul Daley. Shields has also defeated middleweight standouts Robbie Lawler, Dave Menne, and Yushin Okami, and in his most recent bout on April 17th, he scored a dominating five round unanimous decision win over former two-division PRIDE champion and UFC vet Dan Henderson.
“I truly love the sport and I want to test myself,” said Shields of his insistence on fighting the best in the world. “I don’t want to just get some fame and money. Of course, it’s always nice if that comes along with it, but I truly go out there and fight because I want to test myself against the best and see how it goes. If I had to go out there and fight guys that I don’t think are a test, that just doesn’t excite me.”
And though Shields will be debuting in the UFC later this year as a welterweight, he doesn’t rule out a return to 185 pounds in the future, making him a double threat in the Octagon.
“I’ve got to see how things play out, but ideally I’d love to fight at both weights,” he said. “Guys like BJ Penn and Anderson Silva have made an example of it and they’ve both been pretty successful, and I think it’s great. I look for the fight more than the weight, but if I had to pick one weight, ’70 is probably my best weight, but I feel like I can fight at ’85 as well.”
Welterweight will be Shields’ first home though, and he’s already in the gym preparing for his entrance into mixed martial arts’ shark tank.
“I think 170 is probably the toughest division,” he said. “Outside the UFC I never really got much competition there; that’s why I moved up. But I feel like it’s my time to drop back and drop into that mix. It’s loaded with top guys and I’m already training hard and getting ready because I know I’m going in there in a tough mix of people and I want to make a mark for myself.”
Unbeaten for nearly six years, it’s clear that Shields is ready to make his mark in the sport’s premier organization, and he couldn’t be more excited with today’s signing.
“Even though I’ve been fighting at a high level and a lot of the guys that I’ve beat have been UFC fighters, it’s not the same prestige as being in the UFC,” he said. “As they say, it’s the NFL of MMA. It’s the most prestigious, the most watched, and it’s the place to be. I’m ready to go out there, fight with the best of the best, and try to make a title run.”
And for those just being introduced to Mr. Shields, get ready, because he’s promising to bring the heat to GSP and company in the coming years.
“I don’t think I’ve hit my peak yet,” he said. “I think I keep getting better and better and the UFC is gonna be the show for me. I plan on coming out more aggressive and working on my standup, and I think I’m gonna go out there, start bringing the pressure, and just break everyone.”