About a month ago, I shared a Southwest flight back from Las Vegas to San Francisco with then-Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields.
By shared, I mean we were both on the plane, but in different rows. Nevertheless, we were seated close enough that I had a chance to talk to him about his win over Dan Henderson and what it meant for his future.
The Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu team member said back then that he was coming to the Ultimate Fighting Championship and I assumed it meant he'd join the middleweight division.
Several commenters pointed out Shields' natural weight was 170 pounds so he'd enlist in the welterweight ranks.
Score it: Readers 1, Idiot 0.
The UFC has officially announced the move that everyone expected and the former title-holder at 185 will, indeed, be vying for Georges St-Pierre's welterweight belt. At least for the time being.
The acquisition does two things.
First, it marks another one-step-forward-one-step-back moment for Scott Coker's brainchild.
Strikeforce was building some sincere momentum with the metamorphosis of Alistair Overeem, Shields' blossoming star, Muhammed Lawal's soaring stock, the impressive return of Cung Le, and the appeal of Shields' colorful Cesar Gracie teammates—welterweight champ Nick Diaz and lightweight king Gilbert Melendez.
There's also the tiny little matter of Fabricio Werdum's vocabulary-defying victory over Fedor Emelianenko.
The loss of its top dog at 185 pounds isn't crippling because Shields is only beginning to build a national profile amongst the casual mixed martial art fan. In other words, his drawing power probably didn't land him amongst Coker's most prized ponies.
But it will sting because the departure is still a double-whammy—it further thins out a comparably shallow talent pool and it makes the sports' 800-lb gorilla stronger.
Shields, who once trained with Chuck Liddell, might not be the most exciting fighter. His style of forever playing to his wrestling and grappling strengths doesn't get your average aficionado's pulse racing, but it's proven to be massively effective.
Nor will he provide the media with a bunch of nonsense to feed the hype machine.
However, once you graduate to the big leagues, you can do very well simply by winning and that's all Jake has done recently. So, despite the inevitability of the individual exodus, his absence will be felt.
Oh well, such is life as the underdog.
Second, as alluded to, the addition of the 31-year-old introduces another big fish to a well-stocked pond that's already in a feeding frenzy.
Top contenders are butting heads left and right in the welterweight division.
Arguably the top two will square off at UFC 117 when Thiago Alves and Jon Fitch finally touch gloves for their thrice-rescheduled rematch. A second set of dangerous 170-lb men will engage in hostilities at UFC 120 when Carlos Condit and Dan Hardy meet.
The London card will also see two undefeated welterweights battle when Dong Hyun Kim faces John Hathaway.
There's also Josh Koscheck (who will get another shot at St-Pierre), Martin Kampmann, Anthony Johnson, the underrated Chris Lytle (who is fighting Matt Serra in a rematch at UFC 119 for some reason), John Howard, Dustin Hazelett, Paulo Thiago, and several other developing threats.
And, of course, "Rush" St-Pierre rules them all.
The Canadian icon has utterly dominated or clearly defeated "The Outlaw" Hardy, "The Pitbull" Alves, Fitch, and "Kos." GSP also has two thrashings of Hall-of-Famer Matt Hughes in three contests and is a perfect two-fer-two against future Hall-of-Famer B.J. Penn.
Now, Jake Shields gets plunked into all that foaming, pink water.
As a reward for 14 straight wins over opponents in two weight classes, including defeats of Hendo, Robbie Lawler, the exiled Paul Daley, Condit, and Yushin Okami.
This is the pot of gold at the end of rainbow that's included a black belt in BJJ, an EliteXC welterweight belt, the aforementioned Strikeforce middleweight one, and a Shooto title in the same division.
Oh well, such is life as a fighter.
All things being equal, I'd rather be an underdog.
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