Jake Shields will finally get his shot at the Elite XC welterweight championship belt on July 26 in Stockton, Calif., when he takes on Nick Thompson on the CBS "Saturday Night Fights" show entitled, "Unfinished Business."
Over the past few months, injuries and a bizarre string of events involving Drew Fickett have put the first ever division title fight on hold. With a new opponent, and nothing holding him back now, he'll look to claim the title that he feels has always been his anyway.
Most people who have seen the Gracie jiu-jitsu black belt compete believe he is among the top 170-pound fighters in the world. Still, others -- perhaps those who have not seen him compete -- feel he needs to prove himself against better competition before he can claim that status.
One could argue wins over guys like Hayato "Mach" Sakurai, Dave Menne and Mike Pyle are enough to prove he can beat tough competition. But it would be close to impossible to argue that wins over WEC Welterweight Champion Carlos Condit and number one UFC middleweight contender Yushin Okami -- in the same night -- aren't impressive enough to earn himself a place among the top ten.
Boasting a gaudy professional record (20-4-1) and riding a nine fight win streak, Shields will take on one of his toughest foes to date in "The Goat" in less than two weeks in front of millions of viewers across the globe. Thompson is on a 12-fight win streak of his own, including a sensational knockout win over Eddie Alvarez last April to claim the Bodog belt.
In fact, had it not been for a submission loss to Karo Parisyan at UFC 59, Thompson would be on an unheard of 20-fight win streak.
It's clear Jake Shields has his hands full with a very experienced Thompson (36-9-1) on July 26. To get his thoughts on that fight as well as some of the injuries that have kept him out of action, as well as where he feels he stacks up in the discussion of top welterweights in the world, we caught up with Jake and asked him a few questions.
Let's get to it.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Tell us a little bit about the injuries that have kept you out this year, and what you've done to heal yourself up.
Jake Shields: I threw out my lower back. I fucked it up doing some conditioning work and swinging a hammer. It went out really bad on me. I don't know exactly what I did, but it was out for about three months. I couldn't train. It was really frustrating, but luckily it got better. I got it better with just rest, and I did a lot of rehab work with a strength trainer. And I found a really good chiropractor, active release guy, to finally heal it up. Now I'm back training at 100 percent. I'm more motivated than ever to fight. I've been 100 percent for about a month. I've been going hard and my back is holding up fine.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Talk a little bit about your training for this fight and what gyms you've been working with.
Jake Shields: My training is really good. My primary gym is Cesar Gracie, and then I have my own school over in Daly City. That's where I do most of my training. I go to Cesar's and train with Nick and Nate [Diaz]. I've also been doing a little bit of training now with Jon Fitch at American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) just because Fitch is training for that big title fight versus GSP, and I've got my title fight. So we're both getting ready for five and five, so I've been going down and sparring him twice a week, too.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): What areas are you focusing primarily on for this fight? Does working with Fitch mean you're trying to improve your wrestling?
Jake Shields: I'm doing everything. When I go with Fitch we do MMA gloves sparring for five and five, and we go at it. I've just been training everything. I'm always doing boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, jiu jitsu. You've got to do everything in this sport. I'm a fighter, and you don't know where the fight is going to go.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Are you more nervous or excited to be fighting in front of what is essentially your home crowd?
Jake Shields: Both. I think it's always exciting to be at home. All your friends and family can come watch you fight, and that's awesome. It's exciting, but it also adds more pressure.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): I've heard guys come right out and say they'd prefer not to fight on CBS. What are your thoughts on fighting on network television?
Jake Shields: I think it's awesome fighting on network television. I think that's huge exposure. It's a good opportunity to be seen by millions of new fans. Not to mention that all the sponsorship dollars are great. I think it's great to be fighting on network television.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): What did you think of the May 31 show?
Jake Shields: You know, it was good and bad. There were some things I liked, and other things I didn't. Overall it got good ratings. A lot of people liked it. Obviously there were a few things I didn't like about it, but overall it was good.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): What were some of the things you didn't like?
Jake Shields: I just thought maybe the main event wasn't the greatest. But Kimbo is a huge name so you can't really blame Elite XC for pushing him. But myself, being a hardcore fan, that part of the sport, you know, it's hard to watch someone like that get pushed with all the hype in the main event. But it's selling so you can't really blame Elite XC for it.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Well like you said, Kimbo appeals to the masses. Do you think not having him on this card is going to cause the ratings to suffer?
Jake Shields: You know, it will probably suffer a little bit. Kimbo has that immense popularity. It's kind of strange he gets it off the Internet. But I don't think they'll be pushing this fight quite as much, but I'm sure it will still do good. I mean everybody's gonna want to watch free fights on CBS, and I think it's going to be a good show. I plan on putting on a great fight. I think Robbie Lawler will put on a good fight. And Nick Diaz, so it's gonna be a great show. I think it might not have the ratings as the last one, but I think it's gonna be a better show.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): You were originally set to fight Drew Fickett, and that fight fell through a couple times. How did you go from fighting him to fighting Nick Thompson now?
Jake Shields: Well, they didn't want ... Elite XC wasn't happy with Fickett, so they dropped his contract. I mean, I would still fight Fickett. I still want that fight. But after they dropped him and I was asking who was out there, they mentioned Nick Thompson's name. He's a great fighter on a huge win streak, so when I heard his name I was like let's bring it. You know, I heard he called me out in a few interviews so I wanted it, and this will be a great fight for the fans. This might turn out to be a better fight than versus Fickett.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Which fight stylistically do you feel is tougher for you?
Jake Shields: I feel Thompson style-wise is tougher for me. I think Thompson is a bigger guy. He's more of a stand up fighter, wrestler. I think Fickett is more of a grappler, and that plays right into my strength. Jiu jitsu is what I'm good at and I think I'm a better grappler than he is. I think Fickett is a great fighter, but style-wise he's an easier match for me.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Fickett was saying something in a interview about some e-mails between you and him, and how those e-mails proved he wasn't avoiding you and if anything, you were the one avoiding him. I thought that was a little strange since...
Jake Shields: The guy is an alcoholic. I'm not even gonna comment. Who knows what he's talking about. Some of those e-mails said he wanted to fight me still, but it's weird he says he wants to fight me, then he goes and pulls out of my fight and fights in a different show. I think the alcohol is telling him I'm trying to avoid him (laughs).
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): You mentioned Nick Thompson's win streak. Has it been hard to find holes in his game since he's been doing nothing but winning?
Jake Shields: Yeah, I mean, he's a great fighter. He doesn't have a lot of holes in his game. But I've been watching his fights and I do see some holes in his game. I see some things that I'm gonna try to exploit. I'm sure he's watching my fights, trying to find some weaknesses as well. It's just going to be whose gameplan plays out better, and I think I'm on top of my game right now. I think I'll be able to go out there exploit the holes in his game. My plan is to go out there and put him away.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Can you elaborate on some of those holes you see in his game?
Jake Shields: No, not really (laughs).
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): He trains up in Minnesota with a camp that produces fighters with insane cardio. You've never fought a five round fight, and really haven't even been out of the first or second round in a couple years. Do you think as the fight goes into the later rounds it's going to favor him?
Jake Shields: No, I think he is known for his great conditioning, so he's gonna be in shape, but I'm pushing my cardio like crazy so it's not going to favor him. I think if anything it's going to favor me. I'm a cardio machine. I've been doing cardio cardio cardio. He's gonna be in shape too, so this could end up being a, I mean, obviously I want to go out and finish him, but I think we're both coming in shape, so this is one of those fights, you never know, it could end up going five rounds.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Most people have always looked at you as the face of the welterweight division in Elite XC. You've always kind of been looked at as the champ, even though there technically wasn't a title. Do you think that adds extra pressure on you now that this is actually for the championship?
Jake Shields: Yeah, I think it adds a little pressure because they've been building me up as their welterweight champ. My last one was supposed to be for the title. I almost feel like I'm the uncrowned champion. So I feel a lot of pressure to get this belt. I think if I don't get this belt, I'll be really let down. I kind of feel like it's already almost mine, so I really need to get it and just clinch it. I'll be pretty damn disappointed if I don't. I've been training my ass off, and I plan on going out there and taking it.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): The consensus on where you belong in the discussion of the best welterweights in the world is kind of split right down the middle. There are those who feel like you're a top five guy, and others that don't think you are even top ten. Where do you think you stack up, and what do you say to those people that feel like you're not one of the elite yet?
Jake Shields: I think I'm top three in the world. To the fans that don't think so, I guess they just have to keep watching and seeing. I plan on going out there and keep putting people away. Eventually they're going to realize I'm one of the best fighters in the world. They're gonna have no choice when I keep winning.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Do you feel like the competition in Elite XC is strong enough for you to keep proving that to those fans?
Jake Shields: Definitely. You don't know who they're gonna end up signing, but right now they got some good talent. I mean, Nick Thompson is a great fighter. The guy has a 12-fight win streak, he's the Bodog champ -- he knocked out Eddie Alvarez. He's a huge talent. You got guys like the IFL champ coming in. Who knows they could sign Aoki. Guys from the UFC might come to Elite. There's all kinds of possibilities. I think the only reason why the guys from the UFC are ranked high is because that's who people watch fight. But a lot of those guys aren't any better than the guys I'm fighting, but it's just because they're in the UFC, you know?
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): That's another reason why CBS is good for you guys.
Jake Shields: No question.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): What's your contract status with Elite XC? Didn't you just re-sign?
Jake Shields: Yeah, I got about another year on my contract. But right now I'm going to perform. I plan on going out there and beating whoever they put in front of me, and who knows, maybe one day we can do a super fight with the UFC champ vs the Elite XC champ.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Would you be interested in doing the welterweight grand prix if DREAM were to host one? I know you've had some success with the tournament format in the past.
Jake Shields: Definitley. I went to the Rumble on the Rock tournament and won that. I think that's one of the toughest tournaments, I think that is the toughest tournament ever put together in my weight and one of the toughest tournaments ever. I feel like I showed mental toughness and won that, and I would definitely do another tournament.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Which rules do you prefer, Japanese or American?
Jake Shields: I like elbows and kicks to the face, you know? The Japanese don't allow the elbows and Americans don't allow stomps to the face, so either way they're pretty even to me.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Right on. Do you want to make a prediction for your fight on July 26?
Jake Shields: I think it's gonna be a war, you know? He's a really tough guy, so it's tough to make a prediction, but I'm gonna go out and, I'm feeling great right now, so I'm gonna go ahead and I guess I'll say me second round TKO or submission.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Awesome bro. Thanks so much for your time Jake, I know you're a busy guy. Do you want to say anything to your fans or thank anybody or mention anyone?
Jake Shields: Just thank all my fans and all my training partners for helping me train.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Cool, thanks Jake. Good luck to you on July 26 and in the future brother.
Jake Shields: Alright, bye.