Jake Shields was one of the top fighters outside the UFC for a long while. He was undefeated from 2005 to 2010 and racked up loads of wins in the Rumble on the Rock, EliteXC and Strikeforce promotions.
During this time, he beat a long list of solid names, including Dave Menne, Yushin Okami, Carlos Condit, Mike Pyle and Paul Daley. During his three-fight stint in Strikeforce at middleweight, he became a bona fide star in the United States by submitting Robbie Lawler, handily beating Jason “Mayhem” Miller and most famously, outlasting Dan Henderson.
Then he joined the UFC, and things went awry.
Shields, deciding to move back down to welterweight, ended up having a rough weight cut and kicked off his UFC career with a less-than-stellar outing against Martin Kampmann. While he would win, the bout was not exciting, impressive or indicative of Shields' actual skills, as he faded quickly but held on to a lead with two of the judges to get a split decision victory.
This set up for UFC 129's Georges St-Pierre versus Jake Shields headline, where St-Pierre would handily beat him (though Shields gave GSP more trouble than almost anyone else in recent years). He would then follow this up with another loss, an ugly first-round knockout courtesy of Jake Ellenberger (the fight, though, came very shortly after the death of Shields' father).
Though his most recent fight was a win against Yoshihiro Akiyama, the return to middleweight was roundly welcomed by his fans. His first opponent at his old-yet-new weight is Ed Herman.
Ed Herman is no slouch. He is riding a three-fight winning streak, two of them by submission, one by TKO. He has been around the block many times, and has fought many top fighters.
While he is certainly nobody to look past for Shields, this matchup is specifically tailored for him to win with relative ease.
Keep in mind, Shields' last win at middleweight was against Dan Henderson. He did this by taking Henderson down and holding him there for four of five rounds. Henderson is a better fighter than Ed Herman. There is no question about that.
Again, Herman is good. But Shields has repeatedly beaten better.
But what would a win mean for him?
If he ekes out a narrow decision victory, as he did against Kampmann or Akiyama, it would be a catastrophe, and would suggest that Shields has fallen into the middle of the division's pack. That, truly, would be a disappointment.
On the other hand, if Shields returns to his good old days, where he would simply take down an opponent and dominate him, that would certainly be a positive sign.
But being satisfied with “a positive sign” is not Jake Shields-like.
Again, Shields was one of the top fighters in the world for a very long time. Shields is a fighter who should, at all times, be in the title picture. In the last six months, though, he has been very, very far from a belt. As such, Shields needs more than a “positive sign” to return to being the top-five fighter that he was.
Shields should, at all times, be eyeing the belt. Besting Ed Herman does very little towards bringing him closer to a fight with Anderson Silva. If his mentality is what it should be, such a win would mean next to nothing, short of a shocking KO that vaults him into title contention.
In Shields' mind, this should be just one small step toward a substantially larger goal. If beating Herman does mean much to Shields, then maybe the real Jake Shields is the one we saw struggle against Martin Kampmann, and not the one we saw outright beat Dan Henderson.