It wasn't that long ago that Jake Shields had won 15 consecutive fights over some pretty big names, putting himself in position to be considered one of the world's best 170-pounders.
Fast-forward to late 2011 and he's now coming off back-to-back losses for the first time in his career.
After falling to the Canadian jab of death against Georges St. Pierre at UFC 129 last April, the former Strikeforce middleweight champion was stiffened by Jake Ellenberger at UFC Fight Night 25, just days after the passing of his father back on Sept. 17.
In short, it's been a pretty shitty year for the American Jiu-Jitsu grappler.
That's why his first bout of 2012, a welterweight scrap against Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 144 on Feb. 26 in Japan, is such an important first step in re-establishing himself as a dominant force in the promotion's crowded 170-pound division.
"I'm feeling great about my opponent. [Akiyama] is someone that I should match up good against. I just wanna have a great year. 2011 wasn't my best year and I just wanna get back on track and get a couple of big wins to get myself lined back up for another title shot. I would like to be the number one contender by the end of 2012. Right now I wanna see Nick [Diaz} go out there and take that belt and then I'll worry about what I'm gonna do from there."
Hear more from Shields, courtesy of Fighting Famous TV, after the jump.
Anyone think Shields gets back "in the mix?" Or is he going to be relegated to the role of division gatekeeper for the foreseeable future?
For more on Shields vs. Akiyama at UFC 144 click here.