photo via sherdog.com
Jake Shields is one of the top fighters in the welterweight division. He combines solid wrestling with a dynamic submission grappling game, making him one of the most dangerous men on the planet at 170 pounds. Shields is so good that he was able to move up in weight and take Strikeforce's Middleweight title, beating not just Robbie Lawler, but high priced free agent signing Dan Henderson as well. Our own Kid Nate set the stage for what followed:
Jake Shields shocked the world by shutting down an out of shape and visibly aged Dan Henderson to retain his Strikeforce middleweight title.
Shields went into the fight a free agent, despite his title. UFC head Dana White has spoken openly of wanting to sign Shields. It's no secret his welterweight division needs a challenger for George St Pierre.
Ironically Dan Henderson had just signed with Strikeforce after failing to come to terms with the UFC post his Knock Out of the Year against Michael Bisping at UFC 100. Dana White's eye for talent and shrewdness is as good as ever. CBS is now stuck with an expensive and apparently done Dan Henderson and Jake Shields is free to "move up" to the UFC.
Technically, Shields was a free agent after the fight, but he made it very clear that he was heading to the UFC. He sat with UFC President Dana White in front of the cameras at WEC 48, telling the world he was all but gone. But Shields still needed Strikeforce as a fall back position. He had certain demands, including a desire to fight at Middleweight to begin his UFC tenure. If he didn't do well at 185, well, he could always go back to 170 pounds and try his hand at his natural weight. It would give him double the opportunities to succeed, an important factor in a promotion that will cut struggling fighters quickly.
Shields had it all figured out-until Strikeforce pulled the rug right out from under him. In one of the great all-time "F-U" moves, Scott Coker didn't play along. Strikeforce had several weeks in which they had the exclusive rights to negotiate with Shields but, instead of making him an offer he could publicly refuse, released Shields without warning. According to BJPenn.com, Shields was shocked:
"I hadn’t really been talking to Strikeforce and pretty much everyone knows that I want to go to the UFC. We got our negotiations going with the UFC and they (Strikeforce) dropped me without any warning and it came out of nowhere. It is what it is and I’m moving ahead with the UFC contract and hopefully that will be worked out soon."
"[Strikeforce] They certainly didn’t treat me like a champion. I went up there thinking that I was the champion, didn’t have any tickets and wasn’t able to get in. Finally one of the Showtime guys was able to get me in and then Scott Coker had some tickets for me but they were way way way up in the stands where I barely could see and I was really surprised because I didn’t realize that is how Strikeforce treats their champs. ...They obviously wanted Henderson to win from the beginning and they were a little upset about that but I guess they just got mad at me for winning.
Now without any leverage at all, it was Zuffa's way or the highway. Shields will join the UFC as a welterweight, not as a middleweight, first facing the tough Martin Kampmann at UFC 121 in October. If you're the UFC right now, it might be time to wonder why Strikeforce is snickering. It might be time to wonder why the internet is not ablaze with the news. The answer is simple. Jake Shields is not a draw.
Shields has never been a popular fighter with the fans. Fair or not, a Shields classic is as likely to be met with loud chants of "boring" as it is a rousing round of applause. It's not just perception that proves Shields doesn't bring in fans. Plain old fashioned numbers work too.
Shields has come up snakeyes in his two highest profile fights on CBS. In a war of attrition on the ground against "Mayhem" Miller, Shields actually lost almost 100,000 viewers leading into the main event at Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Rogers. When, astoundingly, he was given the main event spot against Dan Henderson this April in Nashville, Shields set a new record for futility, attracting less than 3 million viewers, down 30 percent from November's subpar performance. The numbers were a disaster on every level. As USA Today explained:
Among males 18-to-49 -- mixed martial arts' core demographic and the only reason networks have any interest in the sport at all -- CBS Saturday Night Fights at various times trailed Cops, The Biggest Loser, Shark Tale and a re-run of Law & Order SVU.
When it came time to resign Shields, MMA legend and Strikeforce broadcaster Frank Shamrock has a simple solution-don't bother:
I don't like Jake. I've got nothing for him....he has no personality. He’s a boring fighter. And when he got on to CBS, and it was his chance to be a star, he leg humped [Jason "Mayhem" Miller] all night long and killed our ratings."
The UFC machine is well oiled and firing on all cylinders. 2010 looks to be another record setting year at the box office. Shields will join most of the world's top ten fighters on the Zuffa payroll. But hopefully they know what they've bought-the ultimate channel changer.