On Saturday, April 30th, 2011at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada UFC 129 will take place. The main event for what is expected to be a record crowd will have UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre (21-2) defending his title for a sixth time against Jake Shields (26-4-1). Rush is coming off a five round domination over Josh Koscheck, while Shields earned his number one contender status after a very close split decision against Martin Kampmann at UFC 121. What I find most interesting about this fight is even though on paper this should be the most competitive matchup for GSP since early 2009, most talks surrounding him have been in regards to a Superfight with Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva.
My question: Should Shields be overlooked by the media (and fans alike) the way he has?
I say nay. Furthermore, I do not think it would be shocking in the least if GSP were to lose his title come the last day of April to the former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion. The main reason being: If anyone at 170 has the ability to out-grapple, and control GSP on the ground for 25 minutes, it's Jake Shields.
It's no secret that GSP has not finished a fight in quite some time. This is only relevant in the eyes of spectators, and the way in which they are entertained while watching a fight. As a former wrestler with formal training in BJJ, I have a great respect for the ground game, but to say I do not hold fighters who take risks and "finish fights" in higher regard would be falsehood. WIth that being said, those who call GSP's style "Lay and Pray" are usually those who have not seen him fight. If you have ever had the pleasure of watching GSP dominate a match you know as well as I do he does considerable damage when his opponent is on his back. While I'm 100% sure GSP would like to finish his fights, I'm also equally certain he loses no sleep if the outcome represents a "W". Meaning his game plan of defeating his opponents with well executed takedowns, and dominant top-control might stick around for a while.
There is one problem though. Regardless of how highly touted Josh Koscheck and John Fitch are in the grappling department, they are not Jake Shields.
15 consecutive victories. No losses in five years. Elite XC Welterweight Champion. Convincing victories over elite level competition on route to becoming the Strikeforce Middleweight Champion. Combatant in over 600 wrestling matches. Black belt in BJJ.
I continually find myself questioning how, and why this man is being overlooked the way he is. Perhaps it is because of his less than stellar peformance against Kampmann. Perhaps because his style, which some might deem unexciting, does not quench the bloodthirst of the "Stand and Bang" happy media (sound like anyone else we know?). What I do know however, is this may be legitimitely the first time we will see GSP step into the Octagon with someone he truly will not be able to out grapple standing up, or control on the ground. If you saw the way in which Shields took Dan Henderson's best overhand right, and proceeded to suck the life out of the former Olympic wrestler for four rounds afterwards, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
I ask you Bloody Elbow, would you honestly be shocked if come Saturday April 30th, the title changed hands after GSP spent 25 minutes underneath someone who is widely considered to be one of the finest grapplers human beings have to offer? I certainly wouldn't.
Don't sleep on Shields. Even if his style knocks you out for a quick winters nap, by the time you wake up he might be holding the UFC Welterweight Championship.