I awoke on Monday morning to the strangest news: Former Strikeforce champion Jake Shields was released from the UFC, per Ariel Helwani of MMAFighting.com.
Jake Shields, who had defeated Yoshihiro Akiyama, Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia over the past two years. He also beat Ed Herman, though that one was overturned due to a failed drug test.
Jake Shields, who was nearing title contention heading into his UFC 171 bout with Hector Lombard. Sure, Shields lost that bout, and he wasn't excited to do so. But that doesn't mean he wasn't discussed as a potential title contender going into it. He loses the fight, and loses his job.
How does that make sense?
The answer: It does not make sense. Not at all.
You see, Jake Shields is still one of the world's better mixed martial artists. His stand-up has improved from his early days on the fighting circuit, but he'll never be confused with an Anderson Silva. He's still a monster of a grappler.
We can talk until we're blue in the face about the good things and the bad things Shields does in the cage. None of it means anything, because the truth is that Shields was fired from his job because he is a boring fighter.
That's it. Like Jon Fitch and Yushin Okami before him, Shields is boring, and he paid the price. The bloodthirsty fans attracted to UFC events don't enjoy watching him fight. Why would they, when they have been conditioned by years of UFC programming highlighting "wars" and "battles"?
The greatest fights in UFC history are wild brawls featuring a lot of blood and not much in the way of cardio or technique.
Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar? Check. Dan Henderson vs. Shogun Rua? Check. Bigfoot Silva vs. Mark Hunt? Check.
Diego Sanchez is held up as a model for the kind of fighter the UFC would like to see. He competes on guts and heart. He'll take 500 punches to the head to give out one of his own, as long as the crowd is cheering. And it's okay if his record is just 3-5 in his last eight Octagon appearances, because he's a warrior, man. A warrior.
It doesn't matter if he loses (and he mostly loses these days), because he leaves it all in the Octagon.
Whatever that means.
Dana White likes to champion a future where the UFC is the biggest sport in the world. This is a ludicrous idea, of course.
Despite White's assurances to the contrary, fighting is not in our DNA. Most of us don't get it. Most of us don't like it.
Most of us, seeing a fight break out on a street corner, would not sit by and watch like a buffoon. We'd call for help and try to break it up. We would call the cops, because fighting is not a civilized thing. It is a brutal thing. It is an untamed thing.
Some of us fell in love with the wild side of fighting long ago. But I am cognizant enough to realize that I do not speak for the majority of the world's population.
If the UFC were to somehow make incredible gains in popularity and overtake the NFL and soccer, it still would not be the biggest sport in the world. Because it is not a sport. It is a professional wrestling promotion sans predetermined outcomes.
The UFC can't create something like The Undertaker's legendary streak that ended at WrestleMania. But they sure as hell can keep boring fighters out of their Octagon in favor of guys who aren't.
And it doesn't matter if you lose three or four fights in a row; if you are exciting, you will get every chance in the world to keep your job.
If you aren't exciting? If you are a Shields or Okami or Fitch?
Well, you better have a backup plan, because you will find out that the way you have chosen to pursue your art is not the correct one.
It is an unfortunate reality, but it is reality. And it is a reality that will continue to mold the style of the fighters we see in the Octagon for decades to come.
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