Jake Shields is a card-carrying member of the "Been there, done that" club in mixed martial arts.
The 34-year-old Tennessee native has competed on the sport's biggest stages, locked up with the best competition the world has to offer and maintained a level of success few of his peers can match. Shields has claimed numerous championships throughout his journey across the MMA landscape and built one of the most impressive resumes of the past decade.
He's overcome adversity of personal and professional varieties, all with the goal of making the one accomplishment not yet realized—a UFC title—the crowning achievement in a storied career.
While he came up short in his first bid to claim championship gold under the UFC banner against welterweight king Georges St-Pierre at UFC 129 in 2011, the resilient former Strikeforce titleholder is bound and determined to re-establish himself as a legitimate threat to the throne.
Shields dove back into middleweight waters for one bout in 2012, but this year has marked a focused return to the 170-pound weight class, where he has every intention of making another run at the welterweight title.
While his first step was certainly a closely contested one, it was ultimately a successful one as well, as the former No.1 contender edged out Tyron Woodley via split decision at UFC 161 back in June.
"It was a good step," Shields told Bleacher Report. "Tyron (Woodley) is a really tough opponent and a tough stylistic matchup for me as well. Even though it wasn't a finish, it was nice to go out there and get that win. It felt great to get back on track and start my push to get back towards the top.
"It felt good. He's a big knockout guy and I showed that I could stand with him and still win the fight on my feet. That shows I'm making improvements in that area. I still have a long ways to go, but I feel every fight my striking is getting better."
The victory solidified Shields' place in the highly competitive ranks of the 170-pound title race and guaranteed his next challenge would come from higher up the food chain.
And that is precisely what has unfolded.
The former EliteXC champion's next assignment will come against an opponent who has quickly established himself as one of the most dangerous fighters at 170 pounds in Demian Maia. Their tilt will serve as the main event for Fight Night 29, as the bout will feature two of the premier submission artists in mixed martial arts.
Where Shields has just started to build momentum in the weight class, the Brazilian grappling ace has dismantled all comers since dropping down from the middleweight division, as he's collected three consecutive lopsided victories.
Despite not securing the finish in his most recent outing against former title contender Jon Fitch, Maia's showing was perhaps his most impressive to date. He thoroughly controlled and out-classed the savvy veteran for every bit of the 15 minutes they shared inside the Octagon at UFC 156 back in February. The American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) staple is a proven grappler in his own right, but that night in Las Vegas, Maia showed definitive proof his skills were on an entirely different level.
With the victory over Fitch, the 35-year-old former middleweight title challenger sent a stern message to the rest of the welterweight division, and it was one Shields was happy to receive.
After 14 years competing inside the cage, there isn't much the "American Jiu-Jitsu" practitioner hasn't seen. Nevertheless, he acknowledges the unique skill set Maia brings to the table, and his "game recognizes game" mindset has him motivated to prove he's the better man on Oct. 9.
"I think it's a great stylistic fight," Shields said. "We are two of the best Jiu-Jitsu guys out there and I think we are both going to want to use those skills in this fight. I'm going to go out there and try to take him down and submit him, and I expect the same from him. I'm hoping for some great Jiu-Jitsu exchanges, but I'm going to be prepared in the stand-up game as well. I'm ready for all-out war.
"I'm not going to say what happened to Fitch can't happen with me because a guy at Maia's level can make anything happen. I think Fitch is a great opponent and a good grappler so watching Maia dominate him like that was very impressive. But it's something I'm very prepared for. I think my Jiu-Jitsu is a lot better than Fitch's and I mix my wrestling with it. Those are the skills I bring to this fight and I'm super-excited because Maia's last three fights at 170, he looked amazing in all of them. That makes this fight that much more exciting for me."
In addition to mixing it up with one of the toughest stylistic matchups in the welterweight division, Shields will face another unique challenge with the bout taking place in Brazil. The country's passionate fanbase has developed a reputation for providing raucous support to their countrymen inside the cage, and this creates an electric environment unmatched on the current landscape of combat sports.
Nevertheless, Shields has been working his trade across the globe for more than a decade, and doesn't believe the fight taking place in Brazil will be a factor.
"Of course it's something I've thought about a little bit," Shields said. "If I said I didn't think about it at all I'd be lying. But it's basically just a pain in the a**. I'd much rather fight at home or Canada, but it is something I just have to deal with. I've fought in Japan a bunch and competed all over the world. It's just one of those things I put in the back of my mind and go out there and fight. It's just going to be Demian and I in the cage, and the fans can't do anything to interfere.
"I'm coming into this fight feeling the best I've ever felt. I'm ready for all-out war. I'm going to go out there and bring the pressure. I'm going to look for submission, knockouts and work for the finish at all times. I want to go out there, put on a great fight and beat Demian Maia."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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