Eight months is a long time to wait. Especially for a fighter who is more than anxious to prove he belongs alongside the elite welterweights in the world.
Yet that’s exactly how long it has been between Jake Shields’ successfully defended his title against Paul “Semtex” Daley at EliteXC: Heat way back in October 2008.
Needless to say, a lot of events have transpired in between.
EliteXC announced shortly thereafter they would cease operations. Then in February 2009, Strikeforce stepped up to purchase the remaining Pro Elite assets, including the contract of Shields and many others.
For his first Strikeforce fight Shields was scheduled to do battle against Joe Riggs at the “Shamrock vs. Diaz” April event, but opted instead for a step up in competition (and in weight), much to the dismay of “Diesel.”
Shields’ new and improved adversary?
Another former EliteXC champion in “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler, who once laid claim to the 185-pound crown.
The result is a headlining fight at a catchweight of 182 pounds and a classic striker vs. grappler matchup that is sure to produce fireworks.
We tracked Shields down in between training sessions to share his thoughts on EliteXC, how close he came to the UFC, Robbie Lawler, and his uncertain future in the fight game.
Derek Bolender: I understand you started your MMA career at Chuck Liddell’s SLO Kickboxing Academy in 1999. Did you know Chuck prior to going there or did you meet him at the gym?
Jake Shields: I knew who he was. He wasn’t really known to the world back then but he was known around town. I didn’t actually personally know him. I’d see him around town and he had a rep as the town tough guy, but I didn’t actually get a chance to meet him until I went to the gym.
Derek Bolender: What were those first few weeks and months of MMA training like for you and what comes to mind when you look back at your experience there?
Jake Shields: It was awesome for me. I was just a young kid. I was like 20 or 21 and just went in there. I was watching old UFC’s and then getting to go in there with Chuck. I mean Chuck wasn’t news back then but he still just knew a ton.
It was just the wealth of knowledge between the standup and the submission fighting. It was an awesome experience.
Derek Bolender: I want to jump forward to the end of your EliteXC tenure. The news comes out that they were ceasing operations. At that point everything was in limbo. What was that uncertainly like for you, not knowing what organization you were going to fight for or when your next fight would be?
Jake Shields: It sucked definitely not really knowing what was going on. It’s never fun. There’s nothing you can do about it. I just tried to look at the positive side. I could open my gym.
I concentrated my energy into that. I just took time to get my gym running good. I kept training, kept working on new skills, and now I’m just happy it finally got resolved with Strikeforce and I’m excited to be back in the cage.
Derek Bolender: It took a good three to four months between that point and the announced purchase of the remaining assets by Strikeforce. In those three to four months, I’m assuming you and your management explored all avenues. Was joining the UFC one of the things you looked into?
Jake Shields: That was definitely my No. 1 option. We were just trying to get the contract cleared. We were very ready to go to the UFC. At my weight that is where the top competition is. I was pushing really hard to go to the UFC. I already hired a lawyer. We had a lawsuit all ready to file.
Scott Coker bought it and I have a good relationship with Scott Coker. I sat down and had a good meeting with him and decided I would honor my contract with Strikeforce.
Derek Bolender: Is it safe to say you would be in the UFC today if Strikeforce didn’t come in and purchase your contract?
Jake Shields: Oh yeah, definitely. That was definitely my plan. If someone would have bought the contract I didn’t like we probably would have gone ahead with the lawsuit. Since I get along quite well with Scott Coker and he’s doing a great job I figured I’d fight for him.
Derek Bolender: Now it will be roughly eight months between your last fight against Paul Daley and your upcoming Strikeforce fight with Robbie Lawler. How bad have you been chomping at the bit to get back to competing on that stage?
Jake Shields: Bad. I just feel like I’m right in my prime right now. I want to be out doing big fights. I feel like in your prime you only have a certain amount of time, so I don’t want to be taking too much time off.
I want to get to the top and I’m trying to get back in there. I’m really excited they gave me Robbie because I think he’s a guy that really lets me test myself.
Derek Bolender: How has training camp been going? What is a typical day like for you?
Jake Shields: It’s going really good right now. I mix it up a little bit, but pretty busy. For example, I just got done sparring a bunch of rounds and hit mitts.
Now I’m going in for my lifting training. I’m trying to put on a little weight for this fight so I’ve been doing a little more lifting than usual.
After that I’ll head to jiu-jitsu practice. It’s going to be a good workout today between sparring, grappling, pad work, lifting, and running. It’s quite a bit of training.
Derek Bolender: With regards to Robbie, we know he has great hands and likes to go toe-to-toe with guys and turn his fights into standup battles. How do you plan on attacking him and what are some of his weaknesses you want to hone in on?
Jake Shields: I don’t put big game plans together, but obviously I’m more the grappler and he’s more the striker, so at some point I would like to get this to the mat. I don’t want to go out there too fast, but get out there, speed things up a little bit, and see where it goes. Hopefully put him on his back.
His biggest weakness is fighting off his back. His strength is the standup and I think he’s got a solid top game as well. Obviously, if I want to work at his weakness I can put him on his back and try to submit him.
Derek Bolender: If you could pass along a message to Robbie about what he needs to be prepared for on June 6 what would that be?
Jake Shields: I think Robbie is going to be prepared so there’s nothing really to know. He knows what he’s up against. He’s going to do everything in his power to get ready for me and I’m going to do everything in mine. I think we’re both going to show up ready and I’ll be really surprised if Robbie doesn’t show up ready to fight.
Derek Bolender: What I really want to know is do you think Robbie is going to have the same fate as the kid you fought on MTV’s Bully Beatdown?
Jake Shields: (laughs) Certainly not. Robbie’s a top-five middleweight. It’s not going to be an easy fight like that. I think I’ll go out there and be able to stand my turf. I wouldn’t take the fight if I didn’t think I could win. I don’t think it’ll be that easy of a fight though.
Derek Bolender: Looking further into the future, is it safe to say you could be at the 185-pound limit for a while because there are more quality opponents there?
Jake Shields: It’s definitely a possibility. At this point I’m just worried about getting through Robbie and see how I feel...if I feel strong enough at this weight or not. If I do get through Robbie and do feel strong then maybe I’ll stay here for a few fights.
I think, overall, 170 is my best weight, though. That’s where I want to spend most of my career. If it’s a good move to get the big fights, I’m willing to stay up.
Derek Bolender: It’s a fact that the majority of the best welterweights in the world are in the UFC. Who out of that group would you like to challenge yourself against?
Jake Shields: There are a lot of guys I’d liked to fight. They have a really stacked division. If I could pick one it would have to be GSP (Georges St. Pierre). He’s been the standout in the UFC right now and I think it would be awesome to get a chance to get in there and fight him.
Derek Bolender: Is there any doubt in your mind you could step into the UFC and be a title contender from day one?
Jake Shields: There’s no doubt in my mind I’d be in there with the top.
You never know what’s going to happen when you get there and fight but I know for sure I could go in there and compete with the best.
Derek Bolender: If you don’t mind me asking, what’s your current contract status? When does that expire? Is it by year or by fight?
Jake Shields: There is time and fights on it. I don’t deal with that. Any contract coming in my manager deals with that. Things were shifted around a bit with the buying out and renegotiation so I don’t know exactly what’s on there, but I think it’s somewhere around a year.
Derek Bolender: Is coming to the UFC still realistic sometime in the future or is it completely out of the realm of possibility?
Jake Shields: At this point I just want to fight for Strikeforce and get these fights done and see how things go. I’m really happy with Strikeforce, so I don’t want to be like, “oh, I’m going to run to the UFC.”
I’ve been a huge fan of the UFC for years and I really do want to go out there and fight the best at my weight, so it puts me in a tough situation. For now, I think I’m just going to worry about getting through my contract and then reevaluating the situation and take it from there.
Derek Bolender: Is it safe to say you are going to try to fight again before the end of the year? It won’t be another eight month gap will it?
Jake Shields: Man I sure hope not. I would really like to get a few fights in. I’d really like to fight right now. As long as the Lawler fight goes good and I’m not hurt at all I’d like to fight again in the show in August. I would love to jump right back on that one.
Derek Bolender: Well Jake that’s all I had for you. Is there anything you would like to pass along to your fans out there or any sponsors you would like to thank?
Jake Shields: Just thanks for the support. Be sure to watch June 6. I’m sure it’s going to be a good fight. Be sure to tune into Showtime.
Derek Bolender: Thanks again. I appreciate the time. We’ll do it again in the future. Best of luck to you in a few weeks.
Jake Shields: Awesome man. Thank you.
Derek Bolender is a staff writer for InsideFights.com. His articles have also been featured on MMAmania.com, FoxSports.com, CBSSports.com, and TopGunMMA.com.