UFC 144 (Japan) is approaching, setting the stage for a night of spectacular fights with the lightweight title on the line in the headliner. UFC will go to the “Land of the Rising Sun” and deliver one of the most stacked cards of this year. This will truly be a night of crucial nature in each of the fighters' careers.
For Rampage Jackson, he is looking to bounce back from his recent loss. For his opponent, Ryan Bader, it is to reestablish himself in his division after a rough 2011. For Cheick Kongo and Mark Hunt, this is the fight that will determine who moves up into the upper echelon of the heavyweight division.
Similarly, for Anthony Pettis and Joe Lauzon, a win will help throw their name back into the list of talent-heavy contenders in the lightweight division. In the main event, Frankie Edgar wants to keep his belt, and Benson Henderson wants to make his own history as UFC champion.
But the most vital fight is a welterweight matchup between Jake Shields and Yoshihiro Akiyama. Both are in dangerous waters right now, having acquired a few losses in a row. Not necessarily to the point of getting cut, but either man taking on another loss would be devastating at this point. Akiyama is coming off three losses, and Shields two.
This is the debut of Akiyama as a welterweight, and Jake Shields is set to give him a welcome party like no other.
Gregory Chase spoke with Shields about his upcoming fight, his camp, his training partner Nick Diaz, and more:
GC: You have a big fight coming up at the end of February at UFC Japan, facing Yoshihiro Akiyama in his Welterweight debut. Is this a fight that sparked any particular interest to you when it was offered?
JS: Yeah, you know it kind of came unexpected with Akiyama being a 185 pounder, so I wasn’t expecting it, but I’m down for the fight. I lost a fight and thought it would be a good win, especially in Japan, so I took it right away.
GC: In what ways have you prepared for Akiyama, and is there anything new that went on in your camp for this particular fight?
JS: Mostly the same training. I am always trying to tweak things and make some little changes. I trained with [Michael] Bisping for a week, been out in Florida here training with the guys out here in Imperial. No big changes, but I really want to go out there and pressure him and fight and make him tap out.
GC: So you’re going to be looking for a submission?
JS: Yeah, of course. If something else comes, of course, I’ll take it. But I’m a submission fighter, so I would love to go out there and tap him.
GC: Now you describe that style as “American Jiu-Jitsu,” could you go into further detail as to why you call it that?
JS: Yeah, well I never train with a G.I., so my style is more of a mix between Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and American wrestling. I took the two and kind of fused them. There are a lot of guys who have done both, but I have really mixed the two and turned it into one thing, which is kind of an American Jiu-Jitsu.
GC: Last year, you “upgraded” to vegan status, how do you think your diet helps you, or hinders you, in ways compared to other fighters who are not vegetarian or vegan?
JS: I think it gives me more energy and better cardio, and I feel really good. It is easy making weight right now. My weight's down, so that’s good. I’m not a strict vegan; I’ll still eat a little bit of egg, not a lot, but occasionally. But yeah, I feel great right now.
GC: It was extremely unfortunate that your father passed last year as well, but even more admirable that you walked into the cage about two weeks after it had happened. Do you feel like the whole situation had an impact on your fight with Jake Ellenberger, and, if so, in what ways?
JS: You know, there was so much going on at the time. It was tough, but I felt like it was the right decision to go out and fight, and I made that decision to not make any excuse about the fight. I went out there and it wasn’t my night, so all I can do is move forward and try to bounce back with Akiyama.
GC: Now, you train with some top-level guys, the Diaz brothers, and, very notably, Gilbert Melendez. What are your views on the whole Strikeforce situation and what the future may hold for the organization, since many feel it is up in the air right now?
JS: Yeah, really what I hear is it is up the air, just from meeting other fighters. I don’t really have any information that you guys don’t have, but it definitely seems up in the air. They’re not pushing it that heavy…they don’t seem to be putting up many shows. It seems like they only have a couple of real fighters left.
You know, Gilbert I’m sure, is the biggest guy now. Luke Rockhold is a great up-and-comer, but they just don’t have big divisions. You know, send some talent over there and promote it more, or just kill it.
GC: A lot of controversy came out of your training partner, Nick Diaz’s fight with Carlos Condit. Since you train with him, I want to get your thoughts on how you think the fight went and if you agree with the decision made.
JS: No, I don’t agree with it at all. I was really surprised when they gave it to him. I thought Nick was chasing him all over the place, and I don’t know how you’re going to win running backwards, throwing leg kicks. I mean, you can argue Condit landed a few more strikes, but the majority of those were tiny little leg kicks.
I really don’t see how. I mean, I give Condit the fourth, but other than that, I thought Nick took all the rounds. I don’t know, I can’t imagine Condit really being too happy with himself right now.
GC: I think a lot of people are on the same page with you. Even Joe Rogan, for instance, went back and looked at it and agreed that he would give the fight to Diaz after a second thought and look at it.
JS: Yeah, and I would say at least half the people that think Condit won, probably picked that because Rogan picked it, because a lot of the fans don’t really know what’s going on and will just kind of pick whatever the commentator says.
You don’t realize how much sway that has. I think if Rogan would have picked Nick winning the fight, I think pretty much everyone, maybe like 10 percent would have picked Condit.
GC: The UFC Japan card is stacked and have some really exciting fights. I want to get some predictions from you for the main card. So first, Anthony Pettis versus Joe Lauzon?
JS: That’s a tough fight, I haven’t really watched either one of them fight enough to say.
GC: How about Cheick Kongo versus Mark Hunt?
JS: I would probably go with Kongo. It’s an interesting style matchup, but Mark Hunt hasn’t been that “on” in the past couple years.
GC: So how would Kongo win the fight?
JS: I think he would probably take him down and ground-and-pound him. He has showed it in the past, he’s one to take people down.
GC: How about Rampage Jackson versus Ryan Bader?
JS: It’ll be a good fight back and forth. I gotta favor Rampage by a little bit but it wouldn’t be a total shock if Bader pulled off an upset either.
GC: Do you think Bader will just be looking for the takedown, or do you think he’ll stand up and trade with him?
JS: I think he’s gonna do both. His hands have been improving. He’s a tough guy and he’s right in his prime. I think he’ll go out there and bang with him a little bit. But Rampage, you know, definitely has some advantages as well. So I have to give a slight favor to Rampage.
GC: And of course the main event, Frankie Edgar versus Benson Henderson?
JS: These are all good competitive fights. They’re tough to call. It’s a really tough one to call, I guess I would give a slight edge to Frankie just because he’s on such a good winning streak. He’s really evasive and hard to get your hands on, but I think Henderson holds the advantage in jiu-jitsu if he can get him down there.
GC: Last but not least, who wins between Jake Shields versus Yoshihiro Akiyama, and how does that fight end?
JS: Oh, that’s an easy pick…Jake Shields (laughs), by submission!