What a difference four years makes.
News this morning that one-time UFC contender and former Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields has been released by the promotion sent pugilist pundits from the MMA hemisphere of the combat sports world running for their Twitter accounts to voice their immediate reactions.
It’s a tough pill to swallow given that when Jake Shields in on his game, as when he fought Dan Henderson or Mike Pyle in Strikeforce, his is one of the most smothering and constrictive styles to counter. However, when Shields isn’t firing on all cylinders, like in the case of his fights against GSP or Hector Lombard, he bears the brunt of criticism from fans and promoters that his style is “boring”.
I’m not convinced that Shields’ lack of style points is the result of his release. It’s hard to argue that, though, given the fact that other fighters with longer losing streaks and more “exciting” styles have been kept on board for a longer duration (Pat Barry, Leonard Garcia, and Dan Hardy come to mind).
Before his fight against Lombard, Shields hoped to use a spectacular win over Lombard to help him in negotiating a new deal with the UFC, as he only had one fight after UFC 171 left on his contract. With Shields’ most recent loss, one that was so completely one-sided in Lombard’s favor, does it stand to reason that his UFC 171 performance was enough to leave a really bad taste in the promotion’s mouth, one it would use when it came time to re-negotiate for a new contract? Or, in the case of Shields just completely cut ties? Perhaps. Perhaps there’s more than just the surface “boring” accusations, though.
Consider Shields’ time in the promotion outside of his record. Shields’ wins over Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia are solid wins on paper, but both were split decisions and far from as dominating and comprehensive as his wins over opponents like Dan Henderson and Yoshihiro Akiyama. Add to the mix the dominating loses to GSP and Jake Ellenberger and a win over Ed Herman that was overturned due to a failed drug test, and suddenly the UFC seems to have a pretty big negotiating stick. Or at least, it has plausible deniability regarding his release as being a case of the borings. After all, what if Shields had been consistently as dominate over his UFC opponents as he was over Dan Henderson in Strikeforce or as he was over Akiyama? Would that change how fans and the promotion view Shields?
When Jake Shields signed with the UFC in 2010, he used big wins over Hendo and Robbie Lawler as leverage to get a very favorable contract. Could it be that now, at the end of that contract, the UFC felt the juice simply wasn’t worth the squeeze? It’s all speculative as the fight world hears from Jake Shields, and he’s staying quiet for the moment.
The outrage from MMA analysts over Shields’ release seems more directed at the UFC’s promoter and his penchant for fighters who just bang, bro. I understand it. I see the hypocrisy in keeping around fighters on a losing streak and rewarding them, but objectively, I don’t know if this is the only reason Jake Shields found himself on the outs with the UFC.
Here’s the rub: while Jake Shields’ record may not matter to the UFC, the UFC shine may be just what catches the eye of Bellator or the WSOF, with Shields’ winning record coming in a close second (I say Bellator though Bjorn Rebney has a bias against styles like Shields’). Everyone gets used in this situation. Did the UFC use Jake Shields to help put Strikeforce on its back and to help give GSP’s title reign legitimacy by having GSP fight a top-10 contender? Yes. Will Jake Shields use his run in the UFC to help him get a new deal outside of the promotion? Absolutely.
Furthermore, if all of the cosmic tumblers fall into place and Shields signs with someone like the WSOF and ends up running the table (a difficult task considering Palhares, Fitch, and Burkman are all studs at 170), Shields will be right back where this all started, on the arm of Dana White and with a larger price tag for the UFC to pay. It’s cyclical. Just ask Dan Henderson.
It’s a shame that fight fans will not get to see Shields apply his brand of combat against the likes of Aidan Amagov, Matt Brown, Dong Hyun Kim, or Kelvin Gastelum in the Octagon just yet. However, it also doesn’t mean he won’t ever be seen inside of the UFC again either. Fight fans and pundits could take a page from the Jake Shields book of game planning—be patient because persistence and wins cannot be denied.
Unless you’re Ben Askren.