Jake Shields had finally made it to the big show.
But despite being the former Elite Xtreme Combat (Elite XC) welterweight champion and the most recent Strikeforce middleweight title holder, he was not given an immediate shot at Georges St. Pierre when he made his UFC debut in Oct. 2010.
He had to earn it. And he had to do it the hard way.
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), including the ups and the downs and the highs and the lows. We'll examine the instances in time that have helped shape the men that headline this Saturday's (April 30, 2011) card, the biggest in UFC history.
We are mere hours away from the big event. The fighters are likely making last-minute adjustments in their hotel rooms and trying to rehydrate before they step into the cage.
Let's take a look at the fight that landed Shields in the position he's in today:
By July of last year, news broke that Shields had officially signed with the UFC. And not only had he jumped ship from Strikeforce, but he was returning to the weight he had fought at for almost all of his career:
The California native fought tooth and nail against the "Hitman" in a fight that may not have impressed fans or convinced them that Shields was deserving to face "Rush;" however, it's the same kind of fight that the former Strikeforce champion was supposed to lose, but ended up winning.
But against all odds, he did.
When he made the jump back up to middleweight, he wasn't supposed to be able to beat Robbie Lawler, Jason Miller and especially Dan Henderson. These men were too big for him. Shields belonged at welterweight, right?
But against all odds, he did.
And when he finally signed to with the UFC, Shields was supposed to be exposed now that he was in a much deeper talent pool.
Instead, he gutted out a win against a very game Dane.
Let's take a quick look back and see how it all went down.
To start the fight, Shields rushed Kampmann early and took him down. He attempted to get into side mount, but "Hitman" had enough grappling chops to prevent him from doing so.
From half-guard, Shields managed to get mount, but Kampmann exploded out and both fighters ended up on their feet. He shoved the former Strikeforce champ against the cage and landed some knees to the body. He attempted a guillotine, but was taken down.
"Hitman" was then forced to let go of the submission attempt so he could get back to his feet. He didn't want to spend too much time on the mat with the decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) expert.
The two traded kicks on their feet and the Dane sprawled out of a takedown attempt. Shields landed a couple of inside leg kicks and shot in again, but was stuffed by his opponent as the round ended.
The second round opened and Shields almost immediately shot in. He, like his opponent, didn't want to spend too much time in a position in which he didn't feel comfortable.
The takedown was again stuffed, but "Hitman" was pressed against the cage. He threw a knee that connected in a big way and the California native dropped to his knees. He's still had enough sense to attempt to get Kampmann down despite being rocked.
Shields ended up in side control, but Kampmann popped back up quickly. They clinched and "Hitman" landed several knees to the body before slamming another knee into his opponent's skull. Shields dropped again, but was soon back onto his feet.
The Cesar Gracie student was now bleeding and looked up at the clock. He couldn't take too many more knees like that.
Another takedown and Shields ended up in Kampmann's mount. He did little with it before the Dane exploded out. The round ended with the American eating a counter hook and a jab. He looked exhausted.
With only five minutes remaining in the fight, Shields had another takedown attempt stuffed. Kampmann landed a weak head kick and sprawled to avoid another takedown.
Kampmann was pushing the pace at this point. A weak takedown landed the American in a bad position. He turtled up and the Dane landed punches to the head and knees to the body. Another aborted takedown landed the American in an equally bad position.
"Hitman" teased with a D'arce choke, but was denied. He landed some elbows and punches from up top, but somehow Shields -- as exhausted as he was -- was able to sweep his opponent.
Kampmann tried to stand, but Shields -- from behind -- dragged him down and teased a rear naked choke. The fight ended with the Dane stuck in a body triangle with Shields punching from behind.
Shields ultimately earned the split decision victory that night and with it, a welterweight title shot. It wasn't the prettiest win, but the Cesar Gracie black belt proved he could hang in the UFC.
Which leads us to tonight.
The 32-year old has a history of doing the unexpected and is hoping history repeats itself in Toronto. When everyone else counted him out, he believed in himself and trained harder.
Will we have a new champion tonight? Or will "Rush" prove too much to handle for Shields?
Only time will tell. One thing, however, is for certain: Looking at Shields' career, there's very little argument that he doesn't deserve this shot.
He is a former Shooto middleweight champion, former Elite XC welterweight champion, former Strikeforce middleweight champion, and Rumble on the Rock welterweight tournament winner.
Tonight he gets the chance to add the biggest accomplishment to his resume:
UFC Welterweight Champion.
Photo via ufc.com