In the main event of the evening, current UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre (21-2) will hope to defend his crown for a sixth time as he battles former Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields (26-4-1) in what many fans believe will be a classic style clash. The highly anticipated showdown has gained considerable heat in the lead-up to Saturday evening, mostly stemming from the talk that Shields' submission game has the potential to end St. Pierre's reign as champion.
Shields has the résumé to suggest that is a real possibility. His last loss came a little over six years ago, but he's strung together a fifteen-fight winning streak since then, defeating such notable names as Yushin Okami, Carlos Condit, Mike Pyle, Nick Thompson, Paul Daley, Robbie Lawler, Jason "Mayhem" Miller, Dan Henderson, and Martin Kampmann.
In the last two years, Shields has proven his status as a top ten talent. He submitted Lawler in only two minutes and two seconds back in June of 2009 in a bout that many fans felt Shields would lose due to his tremendous disadvantage on the feet. He out grappled Jason Miller in November of 2009 to win the Strikeforce Middleweight crown, and he defended the strap five months later in an impressive performance against UFC and PRIDE veteran Dan Henderson. His success garnered interest from the UFC, and Shields made it known that he desired to test himself against the best that the UFC had to offer.
Shields debuted with the promotion at UFC 121 in October, narrowly edging out Danish fighter Martin Kampmann on the scorecards to earn himself a shot at the winner of Josh Koscheck vs. Georges St. Pierre. For Shields, the fight was a stepping stone to his eventual goal of becoming the undisputed world champion, but it was hard for fans to believe Shields had the chops to compete against a talent like St. Pierre. Kampmann, who many considered a top ten fighter in the division, nearly beat Shields, pressing him so hard that Shields' conditioning failed him in the later rounds. It was more than likely attributed to the weight cut, but it is a concern nonetheless.
For St. Pierre, it's been business as usual. He defeated Josh Koscheck at UFC 124 in December, battered and beat Dan Hardy at UFC 111 in March of last year, and crushed Thiago Alves in a takedown clinic at UFC 100 in July of 2009. He has dominated any and all comers to his crown, and the talk has shifted from continued dominance in the division to a potential super fight with Anderson Silva. A bruising victory over Shields on Saturday night could make Dana White's decision to make the fight happen soon a reality.
Before that can happen, St. Pierre will need to stop Jake Shields, a grappler who has found ways to defeat some of the very best in the world. In many of those fights, he wasn't given a chance against superior strikers and proven knockout threats, but Shields prevailed. Saturday night's showdown with Georges St. Pierre is a similar encounter. St. Pierre has all the skills in his arsenal to destroy Shields in this fight. The question is whether Shields can persevere through the negatives and find a way to win.
It's interesting to see Shields bringing in many notable wrestlers and grapplers into his camp. Phil Davis and Ben Askren are the two that have turned some heads, mainly because Askren is thought of as the guy who could eventually oust both St. Pierre and Shields from perches high above the rest of the division. Both men have a wealth of knowledge in the wrestling game, an area of Shields' skill-set that needs to improve immensely for him to have a chance in this fight.
Unfortunately, St. Pierre is one of the best pure wrestlers in the division, and his takedown defense is exceptional. Many fans have focused on Shields' ability to take down Dan Henderson as proof that Shields can blast through St. Pierre, but Henderson has had mediocre takedown defense for his entire career. Watch the fight again and be amazed at how bad it really is.
Shields will require creativity to bring St. Pierre into his world on the ground. I don't see a scenario where Shields isn't being lit up like a Christmas tree on the feet while he tries to figure out ways to do that. St. Pierre implements a combination punching strategy on the feet, battering Shields for a few rounds before eventually finishing him off on the ground via TKO.