Jake Shields was enjoying the best year of his young career.
Not only had he avenged his loss to Ray Cooper, he also managed to become the Shooto middleweight champion in the process. He was fighting all across the world and back home in California, he was teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) at a Fairtex gym.
In short, life was good was the All-American wrestler.
"Road to Toronto" is a special series leading up to UFC 129: "St. Pierre vs. Shields." We'll take a look at some of the most important moments in the careers of the champion (Georges St. Pierre) and his challenger (Jake Shields).
From the ups and the downs to the highs and the lows, we'll examine the instances in time that helped shape the men that headline this Saturday's (April 30, 2011) card, the biggest in UFC history.
Today, we'll discuss Shields' first -- and only -- title defense against Akira Kikuchi. The California native had bested him the year prior and a rematch was set for Shooto's last show in 2004.
Needless to say, it didn't go quite as planned for the champ.
The Shooto title shot that Shields got wasn't actually awarded to him. He won the honor by defeating Kikuchi in 2003, a fight Shields won fairly easily.
So when Kikuchi, fresh off of three wins, (including victories over UFC veterans Sam Morgan and Jutaro Nakao) came knocking on Shield's championship door the following year, the American was more than happy to oblige him.
Shields had already beaten him before and was the best he had been so far in his career, so what was there to worry about?
As you'll see from the fight description, plenty.
Shields comes out swinging. He lands a couple of leg kicks but whiffs all his punches. One such punch, Kikuchi ducks under and follows through with a takedown. Shields gives up his back and turtles for a moment while his opponent is raining down blows.
The American scrambles up and is able to grab onto his opponent's leg. Kikuchi gets caught in the ropes and the referee initiates a stand-up. Back in the center of the ring, Shields shoots in but is stuffed by the challenger who swiftly spins around to take the champion's back.
Minutes into the first round, Shields is getting out-grappled, plain and simple.
From back mount, Kikuchi is landing punches and teasing chokes. The champion is finally able to slip out from under the Japanese fighter but the round ends, nullifying the effort.
At the beginning of the second round, Kikuchi is perfectly executing the gameplan that Shields is miserably failing at. He puts together combinations that aren't meant to knock the champion out but to keep him off-balance, making the takedown he throws immediately after completely successful.
Shields is dropped onto his back and Kikuchi begins the ground and pound. So desperate is he to get away from the barrage, the champion nearly falls out of the ring. He once again gives up his back and once again is able to parlay that into a reversal.
Now on top, the American seeks to give his opponent a taste of his own medicine but yet again, as if the forces of fate are against him, the round ends.
The third and final round starts and Shields has to know he’s behind and must go for broke. Instead, his head snaps back after eating a stiff jab from the challenger.
The American smacks a kick into Kikuchi’s body and sprawls when the Japanese fighter shoots in for a takedown. They spin around, jockeying for position and the champion, having already been training under Cesar Gracie for three years now, threatens with a Kimura.
Kikuchi drags him to the ground and Shields is forced to give up the submission attempt. Immediately after, the challenger hops onto the champion's back and they stand.
He shoves Shields face first into the corner, landing small knees to the leg. Kikuchi then explodes, spinning around in front of his opponent and dropping him down to the mat.
The Japanese challenger is putting on a grappling clinic against the over-matched champion.
Shields is able to reverse position on his opponent once on the mat. Now in Kikuchi’s guard, he spends more time trying to pass and improve his position than cause damage with strikes. But the challenger is having none of it and he defends perfectly.
The champion finally begins to unload some ground and pound but is met with equal fervor from the man on bottom. Kikuchi begins striking from underneath Shields like a man possessed, forcing the American to cover up.
An ill-timed stand up by the referee forces both fighters back to their feet and the challenger immediately dives in and begins to attack Shields with a flurry of punches. The American fighter, fatigued from nearly 15 minutes of fighting, easily drops to the mat to avoid the onslaught.
Now on his back, Shields attempts to catch his opponent with several upkicks, none of which land cleanly. Kikuchi follows the champion to the mat and almost immediately gets full mount. The normally-reserved Japanese crowd is becoming deafening.
After eating a handful of punches, Shields spins around and in a moment that has become very familiar in this fight, gives up his back to the challenger. The punches don’t stop, however, they keep landing and landing until the bell sounds.
Jake Shields was beaten. Badly. It wasn’t like his first fight with Ray Cooper. He lost to Kikuchi by a unanimous decision. And with that, he also lost his Shooto title.
What was next for him? One thing that is known is that Shields grew a distaste for losing that night. So much, in fact, that he hasn't done it since.
Tomorrow: Shields returns to Hawaii and gets his groove back.