This Saturday at UFC 129 on April 30, the mixed martial arts (MMA) world will be treated to a championship fight between long time division king Georges St. Pierre and (on paper) the most credible challenger to his crown in years.
As soon as the news broke that Shields would challenge St. Pierre for the welterweight title, the MMA world was set on fire through countless debates as to what the challenger presents to the champion that no other challenger has brought to the table before.
Would it be Shields' unrelenting pace that has seen him grind though countless opponents? Would it be the same ingredients that awarded Shields with fifteen consecutive victories over the span of over six years?
Or quite simply, is it the world class breed of jiu-jitsu that Shields has named American Jiu-Jitsu (AJJ) that will help him prevail over the intensely conditioned and well-rounded skills of St. Pierre?
Let us look deeper into the grappling throughout his storied career after the jump.
Jake Shields began his mixed martial arts career in October of 1999 with a TKO victory in a bout he took on short notice to fight in place of an injured teammate. His young career had heavy roots in wrestling and grappling.
Shields early combat start from Wikipedia:
Shields began amateur wrestling at age nine. He has competed in over 600 folk, freestyle, and submission wrestling matches. Shields was a four year varsity wrestler and state qualifier at Calaveras High School, finished 2nd place at the Amateur Athletic Union National Freestyle Championships, qualified for U.S.A./ FILA Nationals & World Team Trials in both the junior & university men's divisions. He is also a two time All American wrestler from Cuesta College. In September 1999, Shields began his MMA training by joining Chuck Liddell's SLO Kickboxing Academy.
His start in wrestling would go on to mold Shields into the successful fighter he is today. With roots starting in the wrestling scene, Shields would go on to incorporate grappling and submissions into a mixture very unique in nature.
His blend would be heralded as "American Jiu-Jitsu." Shields' unique martial art form is a no-gi oriented blend of throws and transitions from wrestling and positional dominance and submissions from traditional Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ).
When blending the art forms, Jake refined BJJ to better suit his own style. He has been one of the most successful guard passers in the entire sport and has won countless fights against grapplers in the welterweight and middleweight divisions.
His grappling credentials from Wikipedia:
He is a three time Grapplers Quest Advance Champion, Pan American Championships Jiu Jitsu Champion, Pan Am Open Advance Submission Champion, Gracie Open Superfight Champion and finished 3rd place at the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship in 2005. His victory at the Pan American Championships (which requires wearing a uniform) as a purple belt is notable because Jake Shields claims he has trained "about four hours" with the gi in [his] life.
In his early career Jake would meet his first truly elite match-up when he signed to fight in Shooto for the very first time against a 19-2 Hayato Sakurai.
The humble Shields, at 7-3 with a loss only months prior to the bout, Sakurai was the clear favorite. After being mounted and threatened with submissions early, Shields would show his tremendous heart and truly amazing ability to win as he would reverse and control Sakurai for the remainder of the fight with awesome scrambles and takedowns from the clinch.
This would only be the beginning of Shields successful career.
Jake Shields is not the most successful takedown artist in the business. The mixed martial arts world would go on to recognize Shields as a grappler who uses positional wrestling and suffocating jiu-jitsu to make his opponents uncomfortable and constantly frustrated. But for every high there is a low.
Let us take a look at a few of Jake Shields' low points in the grappling department.
Jake has been a notoriously poor takedown percentage wrestler. In comparison to his opponent, St. Pierre has always had a very high success rate in his attempted takedowns. In his early career Shields constantly struggled to use any sort of effective striking to set up his takedowns.
And if you aren’t able to set up your takedowns you will quickly become very predicable and at this level facing elite fighters it will lead to reversals, counters and other bad scenarios.
The Yushin Okami fight was a low point in the grappling and overall mixed martial arts game for Shields. While winning a majority decision, many believe and have argued that Yushin Okami deserved to win the fight.
Jake was an ineffective two out of 11 in the takedown department, while never passing into any dominant positions and hardly threatening with any sort of legitimate submission attempts. The fight saw constant pressure along the fence applied by Okami and constant takedown attempts from Shields with no real set up.
As you see in the above GIF, Shields doesn’t fluidly use his strikes to transition into his takedown attempts. Instead, he throws strikes and pauses before he pushes forward seeking a leg. He then goes on to pull guard allowing Okami to reach a more dominant position and would hold the advantage for the duration of the last and final round.
When attempting to get inside on your opponent (which Shields will need to do against St. Pierre) it is important to use some sort of effective strikes to set up your level changing in hopes of gaining a takedown.
What Rashad does in the above clip is perfect. His strikes do not land cleanly and hardly does damage but they keep Rampage guessing and not able to predict what is to come next. Rashad changes levels as Rampage is still matching punches and Rashad uses his lack of defense to explode into his power double.
If Shields plans to get this fight to the ground he will need to utilize that same skill set. He will need to offer some sort of effective strikes instead of shooting in outside of range. If he hopes to gain body locks and trip takedowns the same applies.
St. Pierre is far too dynamic, quick and powerful to shoot in on with predictable takedowns.
If Shields has ever hit a low point in terms of his grappling game it has been in his lack of high percentage takedowns. In his fight with Kampmann he showed his lack of ability to use advantageous opportunities to inflict considerable damage or try to end the fight.
While he gained top position and takedowns over and over again he failed to show any sort of considerable offense.
But for every low point in the grappling of Shields there has been plenty of highs. Let's take a look at a few of the more notable grappling feats Jake has accomplished.
Jake Shields is a monster at gaining advantageous positions. He is a master at making the fight ugly and swarming his opponent until he finds his desired position. Jake, while being completely gassed, still managed to take down Martin Kampann throughout their fight. His takedowns will never look good, will never overly impress but that is the beauty of Jake's art.
He gets it done.
In this clip, Jake is finishing a single leg takedown. He doesn't finish it with his opponent flat on his back, instead Shields continues to apply pressure and leverage until he overwhelms Kampmann. From there he passes into mount in one of his ten passes completed in the fight.
Jake has always been successful passing into dominant positions. While only achieving four out of fifteen takedowns on Kampmann, he managed to attack aggressively with 10 passes out of the guard and 50/50 positions.
To put into perspective, Dan Henderson is the much larger fighter in this clip. Jake uses amazing positional grappling control to keep Dan Henderson planted beneath him. Shields has his legs tucked in the low hip/high thigh area of Henderson which gives Jake tremendous balance and he has his weight planted on the low midsection of Henderson to prevent any sort of bucking and loss of balance.
While his ground and pound is not vicious, it is effective.
His punches keep Henderson from being comfortable enough to shrimp out or to attempt any other sort of escape. Jake Shields passed Hendo's guard sixteen times, attempted seven submissions and was not reversed a single time.
Those are impressive numbers.
The submission skills of Jake Shields should never be doubted. Even though he was not able to finish Mayhem Miller he threatened throughout the fight with different positions and submissions. In the clip above he attacks with the set up to the twister. Coming from a traditional jiu-jitsu background his knowledge of more modern systems show his willingness to progress his grappling game to the highest of heights.
Shields was nine of thirteen in his five round fight with Miller including fifteen passes into dominant position. In that fight his heart showed throughout when Miller reversed and countered with his own submissions and pressure.
In Shields' biggest fights he has shown time and time again how dangerous his grappling can be. In the most crucial of situations he has displayed aggressive technique and swarming pressure to gain the upper hand.
In his fight with Robbie Lawler, Shields played the stand-up game with the superior striker until Robbie made the mistake of attempting to clinch. Shields, the opportunist, saw his opening and attacked. Without apparent knockout power, Jake has the equivalent in the grappling world.
One wrong motion or angle and Jake will snatch an arm or the throat and will have the finishing ability to end the fight instantly.
While every fighter has their high and low points, Jake Shields has been fortunate to come out on the successful end of most of his low points. His American Jiu-Jitsu style is a style that is tailor made to grind through people that succumb to the pressure.
Will it be enough?
We will find out Saturday night when Jake Shields puts his six year, 15 fight win streak on the line against Georges St. Pierre.