Do Style Points Count More Than a Record? – The UFC Releases Jake Shields

2010: "He's mine..."; 2014" "He's all yours..."

2010: “He’s mine…”; 2014:” “He’s all yours…”

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.

Shields & Lombard stare down before UFC 171

Shields & Lombard stare down before UFC 171

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.


The Power of Social Media: Josh Burkman & the WSOF Make Nice

peace, love, & understanding

peace, love, & understanding

It may have not been a national nightmare, but the speed bump in the 5-fight relationship between Josh Burkman and The World Series of Fighting is over.  Jeremy Botter has the details of the reconciliation.

At the center, money and Burkman feeling he had not being compensated via the terms of his contract while fighting on last minute notice at WSOF 9 against Tyler Stinson.

Burkman took to Twitter 24 hours after voicing his desire to be let out of his contract:

Contract negotiation tactics via Twitter.  Promotional executives attacking fighters’ integrity over social media.  This is MMA; still in its infancy.  Imagine an NFL executive or a CFL executive by comparison implying that a linebacker was scared of an opposing tight end or fullback. It would never happen.   It’s absurd.  It’s also why the NBA, NFL, and MLB have policies for their players, coaches, and executives regarding social media.  That’s what differentiates MMA and promotions like the UFC and WSOF from those more established leagues.  It’s also the tradeoff.

This is an exchange I had with UFC lightweight Donald Cowboy Cerrone earlier today:

The NFL or MLB doesn’t have the same fan connection or access.  Jerry Jones doesn’t indulge players’ complaints via traditional media let alone Twitter.  Russell Wilson doesn’t trade Tombstone quotes with fans.  So the drama of a Twitter conflict between an employee and an employer becomes something unique to MMA.  It becomes just as much a draw as the fighters who face off in the cage. Whether or not that’s a good thing remains to be seen.

In the short term, seeing the airing of grievances via Twitter eight months before Festivus proved to be a good thing for Josh Burkman.  In fact, it could be argued that Burkman is now 5-1 in the WSOF after taking on matchmaker Ali Abdelaziz and getting not only what he asked for from a monetary perspective but also a title fight against the winner of Rousimar Palhares and Jon Fitch.

Lost in the reconciliation and tidings of comfort and joy is what happens after Burkman’s next fight, the last fight on his contract with the organization.  Is there a title clause that prevents him from taking the WSOF welterweight title to a different organization if he beats the winner of Palhares/Fitch? Does Burkman want to continue fighting for the WSOF once he has completed his contract?  Will the WSOF institute a social media clause that keeps its fighters from pressuring them in public the way Burkman did?  Lots of questions remain despite the resolution.