Ed Mulholland for ESPN.com
Jake Shields passed the test last night at UFC 121, but it was hardly with flying colors. The Cesar Gracie grappler took home a split decision win over UFC veteran Martin Kampmann, but impressed no one over the course of 15 minutes. Shields looked tired in the very first round. By the middle of round two, he was blatantly checking the clock to see how much time was left. By the third round he was heaving.
Color commentator Joe Rogan blamed a hard weight cut down to 170 pounds. Shields had most recently competed in Strikeforce at 185 pounds and the cut was perhaps a bit more challenging than he expected. But another factor may have played a role in his performance. As first reported by Bloody Elbow and our partner videocast Fight Fix, Shields had suffered a back injury in his preparation for the fight. Did that preexisting injury Dustin Green told us about, combined with the huge cut, leave Shields at less than his best?
Shields was able to do just enough to win, but that has more to do with Kampmann than anything Shields did in the cage. The Xtreme Couture fighter was insistent on engaging Shields on the ground, running into the clinch and refusing to trade at distance, where he had the obvious advantage. I'm not sure why Ron Frazier didn't do more to corral his fighter. There was either a major problem in Kampmann's gameplan, his discipline, or his corner. Perhaps in all three. He turned a winnable fight into a losing proposition by failing to fight to his strengths.
Now Dana White has a tough decision to make. He promised Jake Shields a title shot if he pulled off a victory. But does he deserve one after a lackluster performance? It wouldn't be the first time Dana has reneged on a promised title shot. Ask Karo Parisyan about his long promised shot at the welterweight belt. I still believe Shields is a deserving challenger. After last night, however, I no longer believe he is a competitive one.