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Before they were stars: Jake Shields earns a fight with Georges St. Pierre at UFC 129

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Jake Shields heads into this Saturday night's main event with a 26-4-1 record, earning titles in Strikeforce, Elite XC, Shooto and Rumble on the Rock.

The 32-year-old's accolades also include:

  • Capturing the gold at the Pan American Games as a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu
  • Winning a bronze medal in Abu Dhabi Combat Club
  • Earning the Grapplers Quest Advanced championship on three separate occasions

Before Shields began fighting for Elite XC and Strikeforce, only hardcore fans had even heard of the Cesar Gracie pupil, despite defeating fighters such as Carlos Condit and Yushin Okami (in the same night), as well as Hayato Sakurai.

In the last few years, Shields has also defeated the likes of Robbie Lawler, Dan Henderson, Paul Daley, Jason "Mayhem" Miller and Martin Kampmann, among others.

Still not impressed?

Then follow us after the jump to learn about the number one welterweight contender's early, early days and his foray into mixed martial arts:

Before entering the sport of MMA, Shields wrestled all throughout high school and college on the amateur level.

In 1999, Shields met UFC legend Chuck Liddell at a local party and didn't really take "The Iceman" too seriously. The young Shields would ultimately take the future UFC Hall of Famer up on his challenge to battle at the nearby SLO Kickboxing Academy in San Luis Obispo, California.

And after getting handled by Liddell, Shields immediately fell in love with MMA and wanted to compete in the sport.

On October 23, 1999, Shields first cut his teeth in the sport of MMA and easily dispatched Paul Harrison via technical knockout because of strikes in the first round. It was on this night, that Shields also earned a whopping $200 for the bout.

Then in 2001, Shields would join San Francisco State University on a wrestling scholarship, while having to care for his newborn daughter. In the same year, Shields join the Cesar Gracie gym by dumb luck, as Shields originally went just because it was close to home.

But as Shields spent time at the gym, he would instantly know that it was the right place to be.

Shortly thereafter, the Californian would meet the stiffest challenge in his career when he met Japanese legend Hayato "Mach" Sakurai. Not many people were giving Shields a chance during this fight ... especially after having suffered a loss at the hands of Ray Cooper.

But on this night, Shields would prove all the doubters wrong, when he put his wrestling on display in a hard fought decision victory over the Japanese standout.

After the win over Sakurai, Shields would go 2-0-1 in his next three bouts, getting a chance not only to avenge his loss to Ray Cooper (who at the time was considered a top fighter), but a chance at the Shooto middleweight (168 pounds) title on the Shooto Hawaii card.

Cooper caught Shields early, but Shields would immediately recover and work for a sweep and as Cooper would scramble, Shields would pressure Cooper into the corner and get the takedown. From there, Shields would get to work and would get the back of Cooper and sink in the fight-ending rear-naked-choke.

The next fight for Shields was a rematch against Akira Kikuchi, who at the time was regarded as one of the sports elite welterweights outside of the UFC. The fight was set for Shooto's year-end show in Tokyo, Japan, and on this night, Kikuchi managed to dethrone Shields in a back-and-forth fight, earning the title via unanimous decision.

Two-years later, after having defeating Toby Imada via decision, Shields would get a chance to compete in one of the most star-studded welterweight tournaments in MMA history, the Rumble on the Rock welterweight tournament.

Actually, while the tournament is now considered star-studded, Anderson Silva, Yushin Okami, Carlos Condit and Shields himself, weren't the biggest named fighters at the time. In the first round match up of the tournament, Shields defeated former UFC middleweight champion Dave Menne via unanimous decision.

From there, Shields would defeat Carlos Condit -- who had recently dispatched of former UFC title challenger Frank Trigg. And on the same night, Shields would gut out a hard-fought decision over now number one middleweight contender, Yushin Okami, to win the Rumble on the Rock welterweight championship.

For Shields, despite being a top welterweight, the recognition just was never there until his bouts started to air on television. Now, Shields will head into the biggest fight of his career after years of being one of the sports best fighters and fighting top competition outside the Octagon.

Before he was a star.

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