Former UFC title contender Jake Shields has been stuck between a rock and a hard place for the last few years while juggling his weight to move between the welterweight and middleweight divisions.
In 2009, while fighting in Strikeforce, the challenges at welterweight dried up, so Shields decided to try his hand at 185 pounds—just to test himself against a new crop of talent.
The experiment worked.
Shields not only beat Robbie Lawler and Jason "Mayhem" Miller in consecutive bouts, but he picked up arguably the biggest win of his career when he took out former Pride champion Dan Henderson over the course of five rounds in 2010.
Following the fight with Henderson, Shields exited Strikeforce and was signed to a multi-fight deal with the UFC. There was just one problem—they wanted him back at welterweight, where he had been a force for many years.
So Shields ventured back down to welterweight, and, while he did earn a title shot just one fight later against champion Georges St-Pierre, his body never quite got back in sync after adding so much weight over the previous two years to compete at 185 pounds.
After going 2-2 in his first four fights in the UFC, Shields opted to try one more fight at middleweight. However, his body just wasn't adjusting to the extra pounds so, for the final time, he decided 170 was the best place for him to call home.
"It's definitely tough, especially when I started fighting at 185 it took me a couple of fights to feel really comfortable there and you come back down to take a couple of fights. The back and forth is really tough," Shields told Bleacher Report. "I feel like last time I moved up I never really put the weight on, I was only like 192 or 193 so it was easy going back down because I never got big.
"It took me three or four fights at 185 to really put the weight on properly. By the time I fought (Dan) Henderson, I started to feel really good, but then they wanted me to drop (back to welterweight) and the drop was tough, so it's definitely hard on the body going up and down."
Over the past few months, Shields has gotten his body back in tune for a fight at welterweight and says he only weighs around 185 pounds currently, which is much lighter than when he first came to the UFC and had to shed some serious pounds to make the 170-pound limit.
Back in the training room, Shields is alive again with more energy and happy with his decision to go back to welterweight. It even feels like the old days, when he was considered the No. 2 fighter in the world at 170 pounds with the addition of some old friends to his training camp.
With San Jose just about an hour away from his house in the San Francisco Bay area, Shields traveled to American Kickboxing Academy several times during this training camp to bolster his workouts while preparing for his fight at UFC 161 against Tyron Woodley.
Shields had actually worked at the camp for several years when he was in Strikeforce, but, once he made the move to the UFC, he felt it would be a conflict of interest to train there anymore.
"I hadn't trained there in about three years because as soon as I signed with the UFC, with (Jon) Fitch and (Josh) Koscheck both being top contenders at 170, I figured there was no way I should train there, but with Koscheck kind of pulled up and left and Fitch leaving the UFC, it kind of made it wide open so I could go down there and train again," Shields stated.
With his training camp hitting its peak and his body feeling right back at 170 pounds, Shields was ready to jump right back into the deep end of the welterweight division. His hope was to land a fight with a name like Carlos Condit or Rory MacDonald, but, instead, the UFC opted to give him a former Strikeforce title contender in Woodley.
Woodley recently debuted in the UFC and made quite the first impression with a quick knockout of Jay Hieron. But he wasn't the name or ranked fighter Shields was hoping to hear when matchmaker Joe Silva offered him his next fight.
"He's kind of a name, he's a really tough fighter, he's got a following, but I would like to fight someone that's a slightly bigger name, but as far as how good he is, I think he's a really top fighter," Shields said about Woodley. "I think the UFC's aware of that, so they're not throwing a name at me that the UFC thinks is a nobody. He's a really tough fighter."
Leading up to UFC 161, Woodley hasn't been shy when uttering Shields' name, saying that he's "on his way out" and he plans to "exploit him and get him out of there." This fight is Woodley's chance to beat a legitimate UFC welterweight contender, and he's had no problem explaining to everyone why he's the superior fighter against Shields.
On the flipside, Shields has never been too much of a fan of trash talk leading into a fight. He doesn't do a ton of interviews where he calls his opponents names or tries to get attention based on his words. Shields is more about action, and he plans on giving Woodley a dose of humility come June 15.
"I think he's a little bit cocky, a little bit arrogant, he thinks he's a little better than he is," Shields said. "I want to go out there and put a reality check on him. I want to go out there and give him a big beating and let him know he's not ready for the top fights yet."
By beating Woodley, Shields hopes he also reminds the entire MMA world that it wasn't long ago he stood at the top of the welterweight class. He knows the road back there doesn't stop at Woodley, but he hopes to use this fight as a good first step back to the peak of the division.
"I think a lot of people kind of forgot about me," Shields commented. "I want to go out there with a big, exciting finish to show the world that I'm back in a big way and I want to get another shot at that title."
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.