After a failed bid at the welterweight title, Jake Shields has decided to move up to middleweight and at UFC 150 claimed his first victory in the land of 185 under the Zuffa banner.
His defeat of TUF 3 finalist Ed Herman reaffirmed what we already knew about Shields: that he was a solid fighter who is best when he has his opponent on the floor.
Although unable to defeat Herman by any and all means available, he still ground out a solid victory in Denver, and now he is in the mix.
But how deep in the mix is he already?
Many of his fans point to his domination of Dan Henderson as a sign that he is probably a top five contender already, and given his past accomplishments, they may have a point.
Still, he struggled against Martin Kampmann, was dominated by GSP, TKO’d by Jake Ellenberger early in the first round of their bout and has yet to secure a victory in the UFC by any means other than a judge’s decision.
Now, he has a whole slew of possible opponents waiting for him and most of them will be bigger and stronger than he is.
So, who’s next? Here are five possible fights for Shields at middleweight.
With Frank Mir being sent to Strikeforce, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that a sharing of fighters between the two Zuffa-owned companies is just beginning, and with that being acknowledged, a fight between Shields and Luke Rockhold is very compelling.
Shields would have an edge on Rockhold on the ground, which is no surprise as he has an edge over almost anyone he faces once the fight hits the mat.
However, if Rockhold could keep the fight standing, Shields could be in a lot of trouble. Rockhold is the better striker of the two, and he’s looking to make a name for himself in the division and to that end, he looks to be willing to mix it up with anyone.
Shields is a known name in the game, and that would probably see Rockhold really step up his game should the two ever be put in the same cage.
When styles clash like this, it’s almost always exciting, and a little excitement attached to Shields' name would do him some good.
Another possible fight for Shields would be against TUF 1 star Chris Leben.
Granted, Shields would have many advantages in this fight, but one thing Leben has over him is brutal punching power, and when the fight goes deep, he’s proven to be one of those men who simply won’t stop.
This is a fight that should see Shields shine, as Leben does not possess the best takedown defense in the world. It would also serve as a litmus test for Shields because Leben typifies what he would face in the middleweight division in terms of physical power.
Yes, there are some fighters at 185 who are stronger, but few hit harder, and Shields needs answers for those kinds of questions.
If Leben does manage to touch the chin of Shields and Shields manages to survive and win, then he knows he’s not out of his depth.
If Leben clips him and ruins his night, then perhaps he needs to think about a return to 170.
If there’s one thing the middleweight division has in spades, it’s a slew of fighters who have a strong wrestling base, and sooner or later, Shields is going to have to look that critter in the eye, as Don Frye would say.
Munoz took a brutal battering in his last fight against Chris Weidman, but up until then he was sitting firmly in the top four of the division, and he would be a great test for Shields, and vice versa.
Shields looks to have a better submission game, but when it comes to positioning, Munoz may be the better man. Munoz also hits harder than Shields, which may actually be the norm in the middleweight division.
Either way, Shields needs to find out of fighters of this style are simply too much for him, given their size and power advantage.
Fresh off a disappointing debut against Tim Boetsch, Hector Lombard may be the perfect next opponent for Jake Shields.
Lombard is coming off the derailment of a hype train that was 20 cars long, and most of those victories came by way of KO/TKO. To say that Lombard loves to swing big lumber is an understatement, no matter what his first fight in the UFC looked like.
Should Lombard go for broke and swing for the fences, Shields has the timing to score those takedowns and do business from the place he likes best: top position.
Of course, he has to keep from being hit, and that has not been easy for Shields since he arrived in the UFC.
A victory over Lombard would be just what he needs to hone his takedown skills and timing to a needle point, and threading the needle amid big bombing runs by Lombard would indeed be exciting.
Another big, strong middleweight with obvious KO power, Tim Boetsch is riding a four-fight win streak in the UFC, and if Shields could defeat him, he’d have some wind in his sails for his first run in the middleweight division.
Boetsch isn’t the greatest pure striker in the division, but he can deliver the kind of blunt-force trauma with his fists that will put your lights out, as Yushin Okami discovered at UFC 144 in Japan.
Shields would need to put Boetsch on his back and keep him there as often as possible if he wants to get a victory without a medical suspension of any kind, and that would be the real question: could Shields make this an easy fight?
Shields still has a lot of strengths and in the past he was able to play to them like few others.
A fight with Boetsch would show if he still has them to the same degree when we saw him rally back from a brutal shellacking against Dan Henderson in order to win the last four rounds of their bout.
Shields needs to get back to that form, and a fight with Boetsch could be just the vehicle he needs to get there.