At the moment of this writing, Jake Shields is a +360 betting underdog. He lacks visibility or awareness among UFC fans. Even the hardcore followers or experts who are deeply familiar with his accolades give him little chance of taking Georges St. Pierre's title at UFC 129 this weekend.
So, why is Shields brimming with confidence? Candidly, because he should be.
Shields is doing for this bout what he has done in nearly every contest where he was not expected to win: create his own world within the world. When the outside world says he's got no chance of winning, his peers, coaches and friends encourage him to work harder in his world. When the outside world says Shields doesn't have the skills to win, he's surrounding himself with an all-star cast of training partners or coaching specialists in his. When they outside world says don't believe, he ignores them and moves on.
And that's precisely how Shields has arrived at this point, the biggest fight in his career against the best opponent for the biggest prize. Shields is a believer in two key principles: self-determination and achievement through perseverance. Had he absorbed the remarks of those who've assessed his career at various key intervals and abandoned his beliefs, he wouldn't even be around here to be counted out now.
Besides, being counted out? That's familiar territory. Shields has a wealth of experience there, one that he believes informs his judgment to ignore those who offer such commentary.
I spoke to Shields last week and while clearly preoccupied, he did not appear shaken or overwhelmed. He's aware of the gravity of the moment, but has used his remarkable track record to fuel his own confidence and answer the call to action.
He defeated every welterweight put in front of him since 2005. He even won fights against three elite middleweights (Yushin Okami does not count for these purposes): Dan Henderson, Jason Miller and Robbie Lawler. He's won fights where he's dominated early and had to fight back from the brink of defeat. He's fought in front of sympathetic crowds and in hostile territory. In short, he's run the gamut of MMA experiences. While UFC 129 will offer new moments and unique challenges, there really is nothing new under the sun. Not for the purpose driven, anyway.
In this exclusive interview I did with Shields on my radio show (MMA Nation on 106.7 The Fan), the welterweight title challenger talks handling the newfound attention, his teammates Gilbert Melendez and Nick Diaz, where he belongs in the pound-for-pound rankings, training with Phil Davis and Chael Sonnen, having his strengths underrated and much more. Full audio and transcript below:
Luke: Jake, how are you sir?
Jake: Hey, doing good. Just about to head back to the gym.
Luke: Jake, have you ever had to do this many media requests in your life?
Jake: No, it's been pretty crazy trying to fit them all in. Obviously, there's been too many so we've been turning most of them down. But we've been trying to get a few in here and there, but it's definitely been crazy. But, I guess it's a good thing to be wanted.
Luke: Is it almost too much to handle? Is it in anyway impacting the training cycle?
Jake: I'm not letting it affect training. This week of interviews here and there but that's why I've had to turn so many down. I can't let the media affect my training.
Luke: Before we get into your big fight at UFC 129, I want to talk real briefly about some of your teammates and the success they had. Make the case, why is Gilbert Melendez who won at the Strikeforce event, why is he the number one Lightweight in the world?
Jake: After BJ (Penn) losing and moving up in weight, the weightclass is really shaken up and I just think he's done more than anyone else there. It's Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard and they've done a ton too, they're great fighters, but Gil's resume is just stronger. He beat Aoki not too long ago and Aoki was ranked number one at the time and his complete domination of Kawajiri, Gil's been in the game for a while and he's been dominant. It's always hard to argue who's number one and two because it's all subjective but I think he's the top 155 pounder and I would love to see him get a crack at the winner of Edgar/Maynard.
Luke: Your teammate Nick Diaz, listen I know you guys have said you wouldn't fight each other and I know it's a hack question at this point to ask. But if the stakes were high enough and the money was right, and the stakes were a title, is there any circumstance where you guys would face off?
Jake: Nick's like my brother, so it's something I don't even think about. We'll just find a way to avoid each other, I can move up in weight like in Strikeforce he was the 170 champ so I moved up to 185. We've been training together for ten years, we've helped each other get where we're at. We're like a family, we're not like a regular team where we come in and we're a bunch of sparring partners, it's a completely different situation.
Luke: If you weren't in the UFC and he was, do you think he could be champion?
Jake: Yeah, I think he could beat Georges St. Pierre, it'd be a phenomenal fight but he's got the tools to do it. I think his pressure, especially in a five rounder, if he keeps coming forward, Nick can beat anyone in the world on any given day. He's definitely at that level.
Luke: In terms of Pound For Pound ranking, where do you think you belong on the top 10 list?
Jake: Pound for Pound rankings are so difficult to do because it's so subjective but I've done quite a bit going up and down between two different weights. That seems to make a difference so I'd probably put myself in the top five but again, those things are tough to do cause they're so subjective.
Luke: Alright Jake, in this camp you've brought in a lot of wrestlers, at least that's what the public has learned. Ben Askren, a two time Dan Hodge trophy winner; Phil Davis, NCAA Division One winner; Chael Sonnen...first of all, let's talk about Chael Sonnen. How did it come to pass that he and Matt Lindland were able to train with you guys at Cesar Gracie's camp?
Jake: I've been friends with those guys for a while, I've known Chael and Matt for years and I've always gotten along with them. I invited them to come down and train and they said "yeah" and came down and helped me out for a week. It was awesome to have two great wrestlers around.
Luke: How would you compare the wrestling styles of Chael Sonnen and Ben Askren and Phil Davis? King Mo once told me he thinks Askren and Davis' games are similar. How would you contrast their game with what Chael Sonnen does?
Jake: I think Chael's more similar to GSP cause he's a straight forward blast wrestler. That's why I wanted to get Chael down cause his style is most like GSP to me.
Luke: When you brought him in was it for the specific purpose of mimicking of GSP or was it for general wrestling training?
Jake: More to mimic GSP but also for general wrestling. A little of both.
Luke: In the last fight he had against Josh Koscheck, Georges St. Pierre, he got stuffed a lot. Do you believe that you have the ability to pick up where Koscheck left off? Convince the skeptics, why are you going to be able to take down Georges St. Pierre?
Jake: I think Koscheck did take him down once but then he kind of quit going for it at that point. He got his eye busted early on and kind of lost confidence and kind of froze up. I plan on going out and keep putting on the pressure.
Luke: Have you done anything special in terms of cardiovascular conditioning? You've had five round fights before but at this level, this isn't the same level as Mayhem Miller, have you done anything different? Anything new?
Jake: Yeah, I've done a lot more running and a lot more sprints. I've gone back to the old stuff in this fight. I'm in the best shape I've ever been in and I have no intentions of gassing.
Luke: Joe Rogan described you as a "specialist". A lot of guys want to say "my kicks are as good as my punches and my takedowns.." Do you view yourself as a specialist where hands are important but they're not nearly as important as your grappling?
Jake: I originally started with my grappling so my grappling is definitely better. Now I work on everything evenly but my hands haven't caught up with my grappling just yet. So I don't know if it's fare to say or not but I'd say I'm better at grappling but I work all aspects.
Luke: Does it matter to you to have your hands at the same level or do you believe your grappling can carry you all the way?
Jake: Of course I'd like my hands to be at the same level. But I still want to focus on my grappling. So it's a combination of both.
Luke: Do you believe that being a specialist has in any way impacted how you're viewed? In other words, do you believe you're underrated because you are a bit of a specialist?
Jake: Oh yeah, I think people underestimate me because I haven't gone out there and banged with these guys. They always use the same excuse over and over that I can't strike with them. That's what they said when I beat Okami, I always find a way to win so obviously, you don't have to always focus on everything. Maybe it's better to be a specialist.
Luke: You had tweeted previously when you had visited the Rogers Centre how impressed you were with the facility and the size of it. Were there any jitters when you saw it, like "Oh my God, this is actually bigger than I thought it was..."?
Jake: No, it was more exciting. Like "wow, I'm gonna be fighting here". Unfortunately, it'll be a hostile crowd but it's still exciting to fight in a huge arena.
Luke: When some guys fight, they say that they don't hear anything. Are you that way where you can't hear the rest of the crowd?
Jake: I can hear them a little bit. But this crowd's gonna be so loud that I'll probably hear them a lot but I won't let that affect me.
Luke: In terms of who you have in your inner camp, in the week of the fight are you going to have the same people cornering you as you've had in your previous fights?
Jake: Yeah, I'm bringing in the same camp. I've been successful where I'm at, so I make small changes. I don't want to change too much too fast.
Luke: Before I let you go, make the case for the skeptics. People believe that at 170, GSP is essentially unbeatable. Why is he beatable? What is it that folks fail to recognize about GSP's weakness?
Jake: He doesn't have a lot of weaknesses but I have a lot of strengths too and I just plan on bringing the pressure to him and taking him out and submitting him. He's never faced a real top Jiu Jitsu guy and I plan on showing people that he does have weaknesses.
Luke: One last question, he has been submitted before, most notably by Matt Hughes, do you believe he's a little bit more submission defensively weak than he is standing? Where do his greatest weaknesses lie?
Jake: Probably in his submissions. He's been submitted before, but he's been knocked out before too so he has weaknesses everywhere. Everyone has holes, he just doesn't have a lot of holes. He's so effective because he makes less mistakes than most people.