I'm not here to suggest Jake Shields does or doesn't have a chance against Georges St. Pierre later this month at UFC 129. There's plenty of time for the debate. I'd prefer not to devolve into that quick sand here. What I do believe merits acknowledgement, however, is the unreal array of training partners Shields has managed to work with in the course of preparation for this monumental bout.
There's Cesar Gracie mainstays Nick Diaz, Nate Diaz, Gilbert Melendez and others. This time there's also been UFC light heavyweight and former Division I NCAA national champion Phil Davis, two-time Dan Hodge winner and two-time Division I NCAA champion Ben Askren, two-time All American Chael Sonnen and middleweight legend (of sorts) Matt Lindland. As the video embedded above indicates, there's also now famed grappler, ADCC and Mundial champion Marcelo Garcia.
Let me also own up to the limitations of what training partners can offer or what having them in your camp means. Generally by the point most fighters reach the UFC, the vast majority of their skill set is in place. Strategy can change, best practices improved and athletic potential can be realized, but typically technical skill sets are hard to augment.
Shields also isn't spending inordinate amounts of quality mat time with each of these combat athletes. This aren't extended training retreats removed from the demands of daily life where Shields can look for reinvention. In the case of Phil Davis, Shields' exposure appears to little more than a few workouts. None of this is to undermine that working with this caliber provides clear value, just that the expectations of that value need to be managed.
Still, if any team in MMA can help prep Shields for many of the specific challenges GSP offers or to help refine and dimensions to his own game, it's this one. None will be capable of perfectly mimicking St. Pierre's diverse game. Few will be able to anticipate and strategize around the various attacks the Canadian will offer. But this is a team of highly-skilled, highly-credentialed, highly-experienced, elite professionals whose abilities, talents and focus can provide Shields with many of the right tweaks and adjustments he'll need to wrestle the title away from St. Pierre.
If the issue of training partners were sufficient to win world titles, everyone would earn the title. Shields' training partners won't be the difference maker on April 30th. But we can rest assured that Shields will be excellently prepped. Shields will enter the cage with the confidence that he did his due diligence. He put himself in the best position to win. He'll know it and be elevated by it.
Say what you want about Shields' chances. Whatever calculation you make, though, you'd best count on that.