UFC Fight Night 29 complete fighter breakdown, Jake Shields edition

Photo by Esther Lin for MMAFighting.com

MMAmania.com resident fighter analyst Andrew Richardson breaks down the mixed martial arts (MMA) game of UFC Fight Night 29 headliner Jake Shields, who will attempt to prove that his brand of "American" jiu-jitsu is superior to the Brazilian form that his opponent, Demian Maia, has seemingly perfected this Wednesday night (Oct. 9, 2013) at Jose Correa Gymnasium in Barueri, Brazil.

Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight title contender -- and "American Jiu-Jitsu" founder -- Jake Shields is set to take on Brazilian jiu-jitsu phenom, Demian Maia, this Wednesday (Oct. 9, 2013) at Jose Correa Gymnasium in Barueri, Brazil.

For many years, Shields was widely regarded as the best 170-pound mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter outside the Octagon. Tearing apart competition in promotions across the globe, Shields accumulated a 25-4-1 record with key wins over Dan Henderson, Carlos Condit and Hayato Sakurai. He was finally brought to UFC in Fall 2010, matched against Danish kickboxer Martin Kampmann.

Shields, clearly fatigued, managed to will his way to a lackluster split decision victory. Despite his disappointing performance, he was awarded a title shot against Georges St. Pierre. However, St. Pierre dominated Shields, sending him far back down the ladder. Then, a fairly uneventful decision victory over Yoshihiro Akiyama sent Shields back up to Middleweight, where he looked pretty good with a solid decision win over Ed Herman.

It was overshadowed, though, when Shields failed drug test afterward and was forced to serve a six-month suspension.

After serving his suspension, Shields dropped back to Welterweight to fight one of UFC's hottest prospects, Tyron Woodley. It was a typical Shields' grinding affair, with the Californian taking the decision. Now, Shields is faced with a different challenge, taking on one of the very few fighters who -- at least on paper -- most likely possesses better jiu-jitsu than him.

Can Shields overcome this challenge?

Let's take a closer look:

Striking

Shields was not, is not and will never be a good striker. His robotic movements lack any fluidity of an experienced striker and his arm punches pack very little punch. Nor is his defense particularly tight, relying heavily on his iron chin to get by.

The reason Shields is so awkward is probably that he doesn't train his boxing very often. Some fighters who are specialists prefer to train solely in their area of expertise, rarely branching out into other martial arts. This is most likely the case with Shields, as his clumsy movements and amateur reactions to getting punches show a total lack of experience.

It's not that Shields cannot learn to strike, it's that he chose long ago not to pour himself into it.

However, determination takes him a long way. Shields has made a habit of pressuring more technical, more powerful and simply better strikers by constantly pressing forward with strikes. He eats counters frequently, but it hardly deters him. Willing his way to victory is a recurring theme in Shields' MMA career, and it starts with his poor, yet bizarrely effective in its own way, striking.

The Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu-trained fighter is very active with his jab. He will pressure forward with the jab, often doubling it up. While it lacks snap, he does a fair job keeping his jab in his opponent's face. Shields will occasionally follow up his jab with an equally weak straight right. Shields almost always fails to fully extend his punches and use his hips/legs, which severely weakens his punching power.

What he does do well is move forward with his punches, which allows him to get the clinch.

Shields loves to throw kicks. He is constantly throwing inside and outside leg kicks, occasionally in quick succession. Unfortunately, he doesn't set them up, making them easy to counter. His favorite strike seems to be the switch kick to the body, which he lands with a decent amount of power.

Due to the generally unspectacular nature of his striking, no gifs of him successfully striking with his opponent exist. However, the UFC recently uploaded the video of his fight with Akiyama, which is a superb example of Shields' awkward striking overcoming a more talented kickboxer.

Fight Night Barueri Free Fight: Shields vs. Akiyama (via UFC)

Wrestling

Shields, a two-time Division II All-American wrestler, has one of the worst successful takedown percentage of any grappling specialist. That's not to say he's a bad wrestler because he's not. He may fail on more takedowns than he succeeds with, but he never stops. One way or another, Shields will drag his opponent to the mat or suck him into a draining clinch battle.

Once again, Shields' willpower makes him very dangerous.

Shields' ability to make fights ugly with his wrestling is difficult to stop. While horribly fatigued, he still forced Kampmann to play right into his hands. In his last fight, Shields was clearly the lesser wrestler, yet this didn't stop him from consistently out-working his opponent in the clinch, which eventually earned him the win.

When Shields shoots, he almost always goes for a single-leg. He can transition to doubles as necessary or run his opponent into the cage, but he'd rather run the pike in the center of the Octagon. Shields is excellent at applying pressure to his opponent's hip, forcing him to the mat. This takedown is a perfect example of Shields' American Jiu-Jitsu, as it leads directly into his guard passing.

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Shields is also very capable from the clinch. He'll control his opponent against the fence until he feels secure in his grip, then work for a trip. In his fight verses Akiyama, Shields finally adjusted to "Sexyama's" judo attempts, ducking past a trip to drag Akiyama to the mat. It's classic Shields after, as he fails on two attempts to hold down Akiyama before forcing his way onto the back.

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Shields is excellent at smothering his opponent from top position. His constant pressure passing leaves his opponent focused on defense, not escape. Once he secures a dominant position, he can control from there until a submission opens up or the round ends. Against Henderson, Shields controlled "Hendo" for the majority of five rounds from the mount.

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Shields is not a devastating ground striker, but he does land effective shots from the top position. He focuses more of passing the guard and submitting his foe, which is more likely for him than landing a flurry of knockout strikes from the top. However, he did finish Renato Verissimo with a vicious flurry from the mount.

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Shields has pretty good takedown defense. His Jiu-Jitsu is so dangerous that the few men who can take him down, such as George St. Pierre, have no interest in playing that game for extended periods of time. When he is taken down, he's quick to sweep or return to his feet.

American Jiu-Jitsu

Shields' branded his style of grappling "American Jiu-Jitsu," as it combines techniques from wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Shields trains jiu-jitsu under Cesar Gracie and has competed in many tournaments. His greatest jiu-jitsu achievement is his bronze medal in 2005 at ADCC, submitting Leo Santos (who had flying armbarred St. Pierre earlier in the tournament) early in their match.

The most impressive part of Shields' jiu-jitsu game is his incredibly guard passing. One of the things he does very well is never allow his opponent to establish as a guard. Immediately after his single leg, Shields will begin back stepping around the guard, keeping his hips back and free of his opponent's legs. Avoiding the guard in the first place is much easier than having to pass it after.

When his opponent does achieve a guard, it's rarely full guard. Shields almost always works from his opponent's half guard, where he will attempt to pass by pushing his opponent's leg down with his instep and then cut through. Shields' head control as he works through half guard is excellent. He's often drives into his opponent's head and neck while maintaining an underhook, which makes any movement difficult for the bottom grappler. He'll also latch onto a guillotine and then work for the pass while threatening the neck.

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The put Shields' guard passing ability into perspective, let's take a look at the numbers of his recent grappling heavy fights. Against Kampmann, Shields managed to pass guard 10 times. Shields slipped through "Mayhem" Miller's guard an astonishing 15 times, which is one less than the number of times he passed Henderson's guard. These are absurd numbers and true of every fighter that spent prolonged periods of time on the mat with Shields.

Shields' best submission is his guillotine choke. His squeeze is extremely powerful, as he can strangle his opponent from less than ideal angles. Against Robbie Lawler, it only took a brief moment in the clinch for Shields to find his neck and quickly force a tap. Shields did an excellent job leaning into the choke and holding guard, not allowing "Ruthless" any space despite his bucking.

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Against Nick Thompson, an oft forgotten but still talented fighter in his day, Shields demonstrated his guillotine prowess. After using the guillotine to pass, Shields hung onto the choke with one arm. By stretching his opponent out and twisting into the choke, Shields has more than enough leverage to force a submission, even without his other arm.

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Shields' overall top game is a claustrophobic's worst nightmare. For the most part, he lets submission opportunities arise, rather than forcing them. However, he will occasionally go after his opponent's arm. In addition to his armbar of Paul Daley, Shields utilized the kimura in his victory over Ed Herman and in his BJJ match against Jon Fitch.

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The one position where Shields' finishing ability is very clear is the back mount. He's aggressive with the rear naked choke, forcing his way through his opponent's defenses. To compliment his rear naked choke, he's very good at taking the back, either by securing one hook and rolling or hopping onto the back after getting the seat belt grip.

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One of the best parts of Shields' top game is his ability to ride his opponent. Regardless of how often they buck their hips, Shields will smoothly transition between mount and back mount, or he'll use their frantic movements against them from side control to take the mount.

Shields has excellent submission defense, both in MMA and grappling competitions. That said, his opponent, Demian Maia, can submit any man on any given day. Luckily for Shields, so can he, although it's significantly less likely.

Best Chance For Success

Since his opponent has a jiu-jitsu advantage, Shields needs to make this a wrestling match. Grinding in the clinch is a Shields specialty and would work wonders for him against Maia, whose cardio can be rather iffy. Although Maia's cardio looked solid grinding three-round win over Fitch, he was in complete control the entire time, which is far from taxing.

Working for takedowns against the fence would also be very beneficial for Shields. Maia's guard isn't a safe place for any fighter, but Shields' submission defense is probably good enough to survive. Getting on top of Maia is ideal, as it's the fastest way to tire out the Brazilian.

If Shields can't drag Maia to the mat, he has to try to outwork him on the feet and against the cage. If he's active enough, he can win exchanges. Maia is the better striker, but he doesn't possess the kind of power that can put Shields to sleep. Shields must recognize this and be fearless on the feet.

Can Shields overcome the odds and take out the finest jiu-jitsu practitioner in the Welterweight division or will Maia become the first man to submit Shields in an MMA fight?

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