The Jake Shields Free Agency Rant

Darren WongSenior Analyst IJune 16, 2010

HOLLYWOOD - MARCH 17:  Strikeforce World Middleweight Champion Jake Shields attends the CBS' Strikeforce MMA Fighters Open Media Workout on March 17, 2010 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Valerie Macon/Getty Images)
Valerie Macon/Getty Images

The Jake Shields free agency feels like the Dan Henderson free agency all over again.

Let me explain.

Dan Henderson fought the final fight of his UFC contract at UFC 100.

Henderson's status was elevated as he was coming off a highlight reel knockout over Michael Bisping.

When Henderson became a free agent, all of the fans said the UFC needed to sign Henderson, and that letting Henderson sign elsewhere would be a complete embarrassment and disaster for the promotion.

Through negotiation, it turned out that the UFC didn't think Dan Henderson was as valuable as Henderson thought he was, and the two sides parted ways.

Fast-forward to the present day, and MMA fans are saying that the UFC needs to sign Jake Shields.

However, although UFC management certainly wants to sign Shields, fans must learn there is a lot more to being an owner than just going out and signing everybody.

The Un-Complexity Of Free Agent Signings vs. Reality

I come from a town largely dominated by Toronto Maple Leafs fans, so I feel uniquely qualified to comment upon horrible free agent signings.

Maple Leafs fans always have the idea that whenever a good player is out on the market, the Leafs should sign him. AT ALL COSTS.

For years, Leafs' management largely obeyed the wishes of the rabid fans, and because of that, they ended up overpaying a ton of guys.

I can specifically remember some of my high school friends (and unfortunate Leafs fans) telling me about how the Leafs "have to sign Bryan McCabe," because he was a cornerstone of the franchise.

Somehow during free agency, McCabe's reputation swelled up to the point that people started to talk about him as if he were some super-mobile All-Star defenseman, with great skating and playmaking abilities to go along with his admittedly fantastic point shot.

After he was signed, of course, it became clear that the actual Bryan McCabe wasn't the same guy the fans talked about during his contract negotiations.

What Happened To Dan Henderson?

Strikeforce learned the same lesson as Leafs fans when they signed Henderson.

From what you could hear from fans and media members, you would think Dan Henderson was some sort of MMA messiah.

Somehow, Strikeforce got the impression that aside from Henderson being a well-known and well-respected fighter, he was also a huge star capable of selling masses of tickets and drawing huge ratings.

They also seemed to forget he was 39 years old.

When Dan Henderson finally fought, the truth became all too clear.

Despite being a known commodity, Henderson was never the huge draw that Strikeforce thought he was, and the ratings showed that.

Furthermore, although a former Olympic wrestler, it quickly became clear that Henderson's take-down defense wasn't nearly as good as his pedigree.

Along with that, his historically poor cardio reared its ugly head again. He also showed that if he couldn't land that big right-hand bomb, he really didn't have a whole lot of other techniques to fall back on.

Since Strikeforce put all their eggs in one basket by signing Henderson to an expensive contract, while choosing to let Shields move into free agency, they now find themselves spending a fortune on a guy who they can't immediately place in a big fight because of his one-sided loss to Shields.

Not only that, but they are now also on the verge of losing one of their title belt holders to free agency.

The Lesson Learned?

The lesson that all fans (and promoters) should learn from the the Leafs and the Dan Henderson signing is that an athlete's value needs to be tied to actual, empirical evidence, rather than to catchphrases like, "he's the backbone of the defense, heart of the team," or "he's an MMA legend."

Although UFC management wants to sign Shields, they're not about to just pay him whatever he wants.

In the end, they're going to work out a number based on how valuable he is to them, and what he actually brings to the table.

So, rather than just saying that Shields is the best free agent out there and that the UFC needs to sign him, let's look at what he actually brings to the UFC.

What Jake Shields Brings To The Table

When talking about a fighter's worth, there's an interesting angle that cannot be missed.

Because Strikeforce is trying to position itself as a competitor to the UFC, his value for the UFC depends on two parts; how much money Shields can make for the UFC, and how much money the UFC can take away from Strikeforce by signing him.

Jake Shields has an impressive resume that's made him deserving of a high ranking in both middleweight and welterweight divisions.

Those rankings are nice, but they themselves don't really make the UFC money.

It would be a nice feather in the UFC's cap to sign another pound-for-pound quality fighter. But as we've seen, having Shields around hasn't really made Strikeforce any money.

In fact, Shields was probably more of a liability for Strikeforce. His fighting style doesn't appeal to the kind of meat-head masses that might randomly tune in to a CBS broadcast.

His fights have generally been ratings disasters.

Before the Henderson fight, it became clear that Strikeforce didn't want him as their champion anymore. They were hoping that Henderson would come in and take the belt away, thus becoming the marketable champion they wanted.

With that in mind, the truth is that the UFC can't really take away Strikeforce's money by signing Shields at this point in time.  Strikeforce can gain some value back if they sign Shields again and have him lose to a more marketable fighter.

But that's an expensive endeavor, which is why some sources say Strikeforce has been considering releasing Shields outright rather than going through the whole contract negotiation ritual.

Interestingly, a crafty UFC executive might think the UFC could actually hurt Strikeforce the most by having Shields return to Strikeforce, and then beat all of their more exciting and marketable fighters.

Such thinking is a bit too "outside the box" for most, though. So really, the UFC will probably just look at what he can actually bring to the UFC.

As previously stated, Shields isn't a ratings draw himself. The UFC really can't offer him a ton of money based upon how he's going to affect PPV sales on a regular basis.

The truth is that Shields is marketable only in certain fights that people want to see. Beyond that, he's actually a bit of a liability on PPV cards, because the UFC wants fights that will be exciting for casual fans.

The only real Shields fights that will make money for the UFC are fights opposite title contenders and champions, and those fights themselves will only be draws as long as Shields can continue winning.

For example, the UFC could throw Shields in a title fight opposite Georges St. Pierre, and they would probably end up making a lot of money.

If Shields ends up losing (and nearly everybody does), the UFC could put him in a kind of contender match up opposite a guy like Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves, or Josh Koscheck.

But if he lost a second time, then I don't think he's the kind of guy the UFC wants filling up the middle of their fight cards.

However, there is one more way in which Shields may be valuable for the UFC.

The Hidden Value Of Jake Shields

Dana White is consistently harassed by fans and media alike about putting together a fight between Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva.

Most people think there are no other worthy title challengers for St. Pierre at 170 pounds, and that talk is only going to intensify if St. Pierre is successful against Josh Koscheck.

Dana White may soon have no other option but to throw St. Pierre and Silva together in a match. While he could stand to make a lot of money quickly, he could also lose significant asset value in the long run.

Because Jake Shields and Nick Diaz haven't been facing UFC competition, they have been getting a lot of attention for deserving a crack at St. Pierre, but haven't had one yet.

If Dana White matched up St. Pierre opposite Shields, there would be few cries of outrage like there were when St. Pierre was paired up against Dan Hardy, who isn't seen as a contender up to the standard that St. Pierre had already fought in BJ Penn, Jon Fitch, and Josh Koscheck.

Long story short, Jake Shields could buy Dana White time.

Time to move Anderson Silva up to 205 pounds.

Time to build up another marketable contender for Georges St. Pierre.

Time for one more fight before the seemingly inevitable clash between St. Pierre and the Spider.

The four to six months that Shields could buy the UFC could possibly be worth a lot of money.

But how much is the UFC willing to pay?

Jake Shields Posturing

Since entering free agency, Shields has been playing an interesting game of posturing.

Jack Shields, Jake's father and manager, has said that, "The options are all good."

This is a funny statement because in reality, there are only really two options out there, and the Strikeforce option may not be very good at all.

In truth, the UFC may be the only good option for Shields, which may affect his bargaining power more than he's willing to admit.

For now, the UFC and Shields will play a game of "how much are you really worth," until somebody finally gets what he wants.

At this point, it's not a bidding war, but one of the more intriguing negotiations that can be found in sports.

Personally, I'm hoping that the UFC signs Shields. He's earned his spot in the UFC, and deserves to be there against the best, that is if the UFC is the league where all the best fighters fight.


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