UFC 144 fight card: Jake Shields vs Yoshihiro Akiyama prediction, preview and breakdown

Yoshihiro Akiyama (L) makes the 170-pound welterweight limit for the first time at the UFC 144 weigh-in on Sat., Feb. 25, 2012 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, prior to his fight against Jake Shields (R). Photo by Esther Lin via SBnation.com.

With five consecutive losses between them, expect an air of intensity as Jake Shields and Yoshihiro Akiyama face disastrous career consequences should they come up short later tonight (Feb. 25, 2012) in their welterweight bout set for UFC 144 from the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.

It’s a battle of similar styles as both have solid chins and modest-at-best stand up, but Shields may have an advantage with Akiyama dropping to 170 pounds for the first time ever in his mixed martial arts (MMA) career after three straight losses at Middleweight.

Shields’ shocking first-round knockout loss to heavy-handed Jake Ellenberger last September was a real setback, especially considering the tragic loss of his father just days prior to the match. Shields proved himself as one of the most consistent, elite-level fighters in the sport prior to his title-fight decision loss to Georges St. Pierre, and that consistency was underwritten with solid grappling and great gameplans.

He’ll need both against Akiyama, whose quickness and athleticism will likely give Shields fits if Jake can’t dictate early.

Follow me after the jump for a complete breakdown of the UFC 144 fight between Jake Shields vs Yoshihiro Akiyama:

The Breakdown

Shields’ mindset should be clear for this one. He needs to win first, and worrying about erasing the GSP and Ellenberger losses later. Akiyama, meanwhile, can’t help but think he’ll be cut if he loses his fourth in a row. Also, the drop to Welterweight is another dire wildcard for the Japanese battler, as a first-time weight cut almost always leaves a fighter with a reduced gas tank as he struggles to adapt to the lighter weight. A common thread in Shields’ losses to GSP and Ellenberger was that he was never able to find his range to dictate where the fight went – against Akiyama, he’s likely to have some time to think and adjust, which almost always results in Shields making tactical decisions that prove beneficial.

The Pick

Shields has his back to the wall here, even more so than Akiyama, considering the big-time billing the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) gave him coming from Strikeforce. He’s one of the best nuts-and-bolts grapplers you’ll find in MMA, with solid takedowns and a great guard game he rarely has to use, because he is exceptionally difficult to control and plant on the mat.

Akiyama is an exciting fighter, but still seemed a bit of a ‘tweener at middle – not quite strong enough to overpower people, despite his world-class judo credentials, and not potent and heavy-handed enough on the feet to dominate a striking match. When he won, it was on energy, verve and persistence. Those aren’t going to be enough to beat Shields, who will study the angles, avoid damage on the feet, and score takedowns in the first and second rounds, where he’ll deliver intelligent ground and pound, while making Akiyama work to get up.

Shields will cruise on autopilot, repeating the trick in the third, to take a comfortable, unanimous decision in a bout where neither fighter is close to being finished, but the gap between them in class is readily obvious.

Shields via decision

Be sure to join MMAmania.com this evening for LIVE, detailed UFC 144 results of all the "Edgar vs. Henderson" pay-per-view (PPV) action. It will include blow-by-blow coverage of the Facebook video stream, FX "Prelims" bouts, and of course, the PPV broadcast. We'll start RIGHT HERE at around 7:30 p.m. ET and carry straight on through early Sunday morning.

See you later!

Jason Probst can be reached at www.twitter.com/jasonprobst and at jason@jasonprobst.com.

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