SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.—At the El Nino Training Center, Jake Shields sits in a puddle of his own sweat while making the case for why all his hard work will pay off at UFC 129 when he challenges UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre in front of a sellout UFC record crowd of 55,000 fans at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada.
"If you look at our two records over the last six years, I think my record is definitely as good as his—my record is better than his,” said Shields, correcting himself to Bleacher Report in a sit-down interview.
The UFC welterweight No. 1 contender is on six-year, 15-fight win streak that’s seen him capture belts at 170 and 185-pounds and defeat seven notable champions in the process.
His titles came in multiple organizations including an eight-man Rumble on the Rock 175-pound tournament victory. He sealed the tournament by earning the nod against Yushin Okami and Carlos Condit in one night—fighting the full 15 minutes each time.
But better than St-Pierre? Shields believes so and that’s why he began calling out “Rush” in 2007.
“He's one of the greatest champions that has ever been seen in this sport. That's why I wanted to fight him,” said the Mountain Ranch, Calif. native. “My goal is not just to be the UFC champ, it’s to be the greatest. Being the UFC champ period is a great accomplishment, something barely anyone will ever accomplish, but to me, it’s a lot bigger than that—it's about dethroning GSP right in his prime."
The Cesar Gracie jiu-jitsu fighter promises he won’t wilt under the pressure of a dominant champion vying for a division record of six consecutive title defenses because he’s unlike St-Pierre’s previous opponents.
“They kind of get stuck there by winning a couple fights in the UFC and all of a sudden, they're the contender, but none of these guys seem that excited to go out there and take this opportunity,” he said. “I don't think they believe in themselves. I do. Mental edge is a huge, huge advantage in this sport."
Shields is a 3.5-to-1 underdog versus St-Pierre, but the last two times he’s faced pound-for-pound opponents, he overcame the odds. Hayato Sakurai in 2002 was a 10-to-1 favorite. Despite being the challenger to Shields’ Strikeforce Middleweight Championship, Dan Henderson was a 4-to-1 favorite in 2010. If Shields can topple St-Pierre in only his second UFC appearance, it will call attention to the numerous accolades he spent a decade collecting outside the Octagon.
"I've held many world titles and I've fought five rounds,” said the 32-year-old. “Some of the fans might not know who I am as much, but that doesn't really bother me."
Shields lost one of his seven title fights. St. Pierre lost two of 10 championship bouts. The welterweights are as decorated and dead even as it gets.
"I think GSP's already got good jiu-jitsu. His jiu-jitsu is underrated. My stand-up is underrated,” said the 11-year veteran. “This is an interesting fight. We're both coming to fight everywhere."
Shields hoped to be a professional snowboarder in his younger days until an undeniable feeling summoned him to pursue a fighting championship. He has a chance to finally the get the right piece of hardware and fulfill his goal of being the first Gracie Fighter to bring home a UFC belt. Alongside Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez and Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Nick Diaz, Shields likes to lead quietly through work harder principles.
All the gold acquired throughout his career has meant a lot to him, but the UFC strap is the one he’s always desired most admits the fighter who held four other world title belts.
"I'm in this sport to challenge myself. I didn't get in this port to get money and to get famous,” said Shields. “I went in for challenges. If I didn't have challenges, I'd have no reason to fight."
Danny Acosta is the lead writer at FIGHT! Magazine. Follow him on twitter.com/acostaislegend