Jake Shields' UFC career has been anything but a smooth ride as the former Elite XC and Strikeforce champion has endured more than his fair share of personal and professional bumps in the road over the last two years.
The Cesar Gracie black belt long rallied for a chance to come to the UFC after dominating virtually every competitor he faced in all of the other promotions he fought for over the years. Once he got to the UFC however, Shields fell on harder times, going just 2-2 (1 no-contest) over his last five fights.
He had to suffer through the loss of his father, Jack Shields just days away from his scheduled bout against Jake Ellenberger in Sept 2011, and then after a brief return to the middleweight division, he tested positive for a banned substance that put him on suspension for the last six months.
After some much needed time off and reflection, Shields is truly ready to turn the page on the last couple of years of his life and get back to the business of being one of the top welterweights in the world.
Shields will officially return to the UFC later this year, and he will do so as a 170-pound fighter, the division he dominated until he ran into UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre at UFC 129, which resulted in his first loss in nearly six years.
"I'm hungry to fight right now," Shields told Bleacher Report on Wednesday. "I've been training really hard. The problem is there's not a lot of opponents for me right now, but I want to fight. I'm kind of stuck waiting, but I'm hoping something pulls together quick."
Shields says the decision to move back to welterweight happened when he tried to get his body readjusted to fighting at 185 pounds for his last fight. While he was part of Strikeforce, Shields struggled to find opponents in the welterweight division, so eventually he moved to middleweight where he defeated Robbie Lawler, Jason "Mayhem" Miller and Dan Henderson in consecutive fights.
When he struggled to cut weight and get the same kind of performances once he signed with the UFC as a welterweight, Shields tested the middleweight division again, and he wasn't happy with the results.
"I'm always kind of stuck in the middle, it's either a big cut or I'm small at the weight," Shields stated. "I was constantly trying to keep my weight up, I was eating all the time and lifting all the time. I never really got over 195 pounds and even then all the 170 pounders are bigger than that. Basically I got a new diet, a cleaner diet, I've got my weight back down into the high 180's."
Shields is currently fasting on an all fruit and vegetable juice diet, and in his daily life, he's a vegetarian, but already notices a big difference with the dietary changes he's made.
"I made some changes, my weight came down, my cardio feels better, I feel a lot cleaner with more energy," said Shields.
With his weight in check, Shields is now focused on restarting his career in 2013 in the welterweight division. It's a harsh reminder how quickly the world forgets that it wasn't long ago Shields was clearly defined as the No. 2 welterweight in the world behind St-Pierre, and now his name has vanished from the rankings.
Shields hopes to rectify that with his next few fights, and he'd love the chance to start with an old foe that he fought after the tragic loss of his father.
"I'd like to fight someone tough. I'd like to fight Jake Ellenberger," Shields said. "That's the one loss that I felt I'd really like the chance to repeat myself on, so I'd like that. I just want to fight one of those top guys, to show that I can still beat those guys and get back into title contention."
Ellenberger is currently matched up with top ranked welterweight contender Johny Hendricks at UFC 158 in Montreal, so Shields is happy to face any top competitors the UFC sees fit. He'll even stand by the ready in case they need him for the UFC 158 card where the show is stacked with welterweights.
"Carlos Condit would make a lot of sense. He's really good or (Rory) MacDonald, he's good. Just any of these guys that are good. I'm willing to fight whoever they put me against," Shields commented. "I'm staying ready in case someone gets hurt in March I might be able to jump in and fill in for somebody. I certainly wouldn't want to wish injury upon anyone, but it's good to be ready just in case."
Shields actually defeated Condit during the Rumble on the Rock welterweight tournament in 2006, and the New Mexico based fighter has talked about a rematch several times in the past.
No matter who he faces, what Shields doesn't want to live with is the fact that he didn't try to come back and show the world that he can still be one of the best fighters on the planet.
"I don't want to look back in five years and say I did okay in the UFC. I had some wins, had some losses, fought for the title, but I never reached my potential. I'm willing to do whatever I takes," said Shields.
"I don't know how much longer I can do this so I'm really looking to come out and get some big wins and hopefully in dominant fashion. I want to go out there and finish some fighters."
Damon Martin is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained first hand unless otherwise noted.