Jake Shields has spent his entire mixed martial arts career gathering accolades and respect for his talent. As a champion of multiple organizations, Shields' resume includes victories over some of the sport's top fighters, and it doesn't take a deep investigation to understand what he does best is win.
Over the course of five years, Shields rattled off an impressive 15-fight winning streak, including victories over the likes of Carlos Condit, Martin Kampmann and Dan Henderson. In addition to the titles he amassed along the way, it also opened the doors to the most prominent organization in all of mixed martial arts.
His transition into the UFC didn't come without snags. Shields won a razor-thin split-decision over Kampmann and, then, for the first time in his career, dropped two straight bouts against Georges St-Pierre and Jake Ellenberger. For a fighter whose ultra-competitive nature has elevated him above his peers throughout his career, not having his hand raised at bout's end ignited a fire inside of him.
Reinvigorated and eager to return to the top of the division, Shields stepped in against Yoshiro Akiyama at UFC 144 in Japan. Despite a solid effort from the always game Akiyama, Shields was able to apply pressure and impose his will en route to a unanimous decision victory. Shields not only got back into the win column, he also took his first step toward returning to title contention.
"For this fight with Akiyama, I was hungry again," Shields told Heavy MMA. "I hate losing, and the win over Akiyama felt great. I got me back into the win column and back on track. I'm hungry to get back to the top. Now I'm waiting to get my next fight. I really want to get back on track and earn another title shot.
"I'm already back in the gym trying to get better. I'm pushing my standup and every element of my game to become the best fighter I can possibly be. I'm hungry, and I want to go out there and take somebody out."
Head trainer and close friend Tareq Azim has been with Shields since 2006. Over that time, he has seen the tireless effort Shields invests in improving his game. But Azim saw something different leading up to the bout with Akiyama, leading him to believe Shields was prepared to take things to the next level.
"Leading up to the fight with Akiyama, I saw a very hungry and angry Jake," Azim said. "He was relentless, and he showcased it in this fight. He kept the pressure on Akiyama and didn't retreat the entire fight. He went back to being Jake in this fight. He did what he does best, being relentless and coming forward. I think he put on a great performance and fought a smart fight against Akiyama because he didn't have an answer to what Jake was bringing.
"I don't think anyone has an answer for Jake Shields, because he can keep that relentless (attack) up and come at you for 24 hours if he has to. Adding striking to his game only makes him that much more dangerous. He has a great straight punch when he launches it, and that was obvious in how he got Georges St-Pierre and Akiyama to respect it.
"Jake has developed confidence to where he knows how to keep distance and to manage footwork. He knows how to shoot off of a jab or off a straight. I think my style and my system has worked great for Jake, and we've done really well together so far. Jake is back. Without a doubt, Jake is back."
Working behind top-notch grappling and his "American Jiu-Jitsu," Shields has made the canvas the last place his opponents want to find themselves. But in order to claim championship gold in the UFC, he knows it is going to take solid striking and the ability to use his standup for transitions. While that portion of his game may not be exactly where he wants it, Shields is confident everything will come together and he will become the UFC welterweight champion.
"My striking still has holes, but it has gotten a lot better," Shields said. "I am going to continue to work and develop my skills, and I believe in the next year I'll be able to stand with the best strikers out there. I still have a little ways to go, but we have definitely made big improvements.
"I came so close to the title and fell short. Now I feel like I'm close again. I've beaten the current (interim) champion, Carlos Condit, and Martin Kampmann, who is a top contender right now. I know I can beat these guys, and it all depends on me working my way back up and getting my shot. I'm not sure what's next, but hopefully the UFC will give me a contender so I can get back up where I want to be."