In this series of special Judo Chops on the 'American Jiu Jitsu' of Jake Shields leading up to his UFC 129 fight with Georges St. Pierre I'm going to be looking back at some of the key fights in his career against the fighters who gave him the most trouble and how he was able to eventually overcome and beat them by using his blend of Wrestling and BJJ. Rather than write Shields off in a match up with GSP I hope to uncover the elements Shields possesses that could give GSP the most problems.
Last time I looked at his fight with Dan Henderson from 2010 and prior to that his fight with Yushin Okami from 2006. This time I'm going to look at his fight with Jason Miller from 2009, a bout in which he was given a run for his money and came perilously close to being submitted by the one called Mayhem.
Join me after the jump for an in depth breakdown illustrated with animated gifs.
Georges St. Pierre vs Jake Shields coverage
Relaxation Is Key - Starting off the fight you can tell straight away Shields is very upright and stiff throwing his strikes while Miller is very relaxed to the point he is able to easily avoid Shields' punches before landing an easy jab-overhand right combination. Shields absorbs the punches and reacts by dropping levels and shooting in with a double leg which he blasts through getting Mayhem to the ground. Something similar could easily happen during the fight on Saturday only GSP more likely than not will sprawl and the battle will take place from this position hinging on Shields' success at shot recovery. It's possible he's picked up some tips and tricks from training with Chael Sonnen and Ben Askren to better his chances from such a likely situation but for now we can only speculate.
What Shields does do after the take-down of Miller is Figure Four / triangle his legs over both of Miller's and controls while arching back and driving in. This type of leg ride has become more popular in MMA in the last couple of years and has been notably used by Shinya Aoki as well. The benefit of this ride forces all of Miller's weight onto his butt while Shields uses the length of his body to prevent Miller from pulling his legs into a Butterfly Guard / Elevator position where he has more options. Keeping Miller's legs straight and raised means Miller is forced to use his shoulders and arms to stop his back going to the mat although in this instance the cage fence is acting as a brace for Miller allowing him to stay relaxed and not expend that much energy. Eventually Miller gets a leg free and this is key in order to start getting back to his feet. He's able to move his hips and he's able to push down on Shields head and start to use the fence as an assist. However Shields makes a subtle adjustment from gripping with a waist-lock to a 2-on-1 Bar Arm before diving into Miller and turning him over giving Shields his back and allowing him to flatten Miller out after switching to a double Bar Arm (a single grip on each arm, something also found in the fundamental basics of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu).
Unfortunately for Shields, Miller is skilled on the ground himself and is able to turn himself into Shields' mount denying the opportunity for a rear naked choke which is the most common submission attack to a belly down flattened out opponent. It is possible to keep a belly down opponent flattened if you're riding higher up the body while using your hooks to elevate his hips but the trade off is you're no longer in a position to choke. This is when the use of 'unorthodox' holds such as Further Nelsons and Bar Nelsons would be useful to affect neck & shoulder submissions, or even using a Reverse Nelson to control and punch the head (think of it like a back version of what Brock Lesnar did to Frank Mir using a Stockade).
Technical Errors - This escape from Miller is pretty neat. He takes advantage of Shields not using hip pressure from the low mount position as well as having very loose and passive grapevines. Shields should be sprawling into Miller and lifting his hooks up and out to kill Miller's hips. It means Shields can't posture up for Ground & Pound the same way but as we saw in the previous Judo Chop looking at the fight with Henderson, a high mount is the best place to posture to punch. What Miller does is secure head and wrist control and buck Shields off with an almost Hip Bump manoeuvre, all because he's able to plant at least one foot on the mat because of Shields' poor technique. If this sort of lapse can cost Shields an advantage against Miller you can bet it'll cost him against St. Pierre. Miller easily transitions to double under-hook clinch on the feet and drives Shields into the fence throwing a knee to the body for good measure, although Shields ends up using an opening from Miller to get another single leg take-down. Something tells me if GSP were in Miller's place, no such opportunity would present itself but then again GSP is still human.
More Technical Errors - Shields repeats his process of control and leg riding from before so I won't needlessly show that in gif form again. Miller remains relaxed throughout and allows Shields to expend energy although at the same time allowing Shields to score points as well. I think Miller was right to stay relaxed this early on in the fight and as we can see he chose his moment well to stand back up, pummelling to an inside collar tie and shallow under-hook which allowed him to turn Shields into the fence. He drops levels and is able to pick Shields up for a take down as Shields failed to shift his hips in time block this.
With Miller in his guard, Shields does a reasonable job of limiting Miller's Ground and Pound but I can't help but think GSP would be more damaging. Miller's mistake comes from standing up in order to throw more damaging blows as it allows Shields space to avoid a heavy, telegraphed attack. The key to protecting yourself in Guard is to either keep your opponent close and compact to limit the damage he can do or to create enough distance where your opponent can't reach you with strikes or can easily have the strikes slipped and deflected off-course which is basically what Shields ended up doing.
Shields thinks about going for the similar Inner Weave / Anaconda Guard / 50-50 leg-lock control we saw in the Henderson Judo Chop, but changes his mind and opts to use Miller's leg to get back to his feet. Shields has an ankle pick but loses it in the scramble and tries to follow through with a head inside Single to Double Leg take-down attempt but Miller is working for under-hooks to get back to his feet. Shields persistence in trying to keep hold of Miller leaves him open to a knee to the body which helps Miller set him up for a turn into the fence.
This whole sequence doesn't fill me with confidence in Shields going into a fight with GSP, even though the Miller fight happened nearly 2 years ago which could be enough time to address these highlighted issues. Firstly if GSP is in Shields' guard I can't see him standing up like Miller did allowing Shields space to move and counter. Shields appears much better defensively if given space like this rather than in close and he still favours double wrist control from Guard which against a good Ground & Pound guy who can use elbows is in my opinion a serious strategic mistake. Unless Shields has become much sharper technically I can see him being brutalised by GSP like so many before him. Secondly, even if Shields works hard to get back to his feet his tenacity in pursuing a take-down or clinch leaves his body open to strikes because he's still guilty of reaching to grab a hold of the opponent rather than counter a strike or look for an opening to do so. There's only so many strikes one can absorb before enough cumulative damage takes its toll and sometimes just one well placed shot to the head or body is all it takes to completely turn the tide.
Back Trouble - Towards the end of round one and soon into this round Miller gets Shields back standing and pretty much has his way with Shields in taking him down at will from a rear waist-lock. Shields has nothing defensively for this; he doesn't shift his hips forward and attempt to attack an arm of Miller with a 'Kimura' / Double Wrist Lock attempt (something Kazushi Sakuraba is masterful at) or at the least reach an arm back and attempt a switch. He doesn't attempt to get a single grapevine to block a throw or end up on top of Miller in a form of reverse mount. He doesn't even reach down and attempt a rolling leg-lock. A smart strategy from GSP's camp may be to take full advantage of this glaring hole in Shields' game though to Shields credit his ability to scramble against Miller once on the ground is good enough to turn things around and end up in a strong controlling position on top. Is it good enough if he ends up in a similar situation against one of the absolute best in the world though?
Back In Control - If the analysis of the fight so far seems a bit Doom & Gloom for Shields' prospects going into a fight with St. Pierre, this sequence is the minuscule glimmer of hope we've been searching for. When Shields focuses on controlling his opponent from on top there are few who can ride better in MMA. Miller bucks Shields off from mount with a cage-walk assist, but Shields is able to stick close and use a front headlock to set up a go-behind and get double under-hooks before slipping a 'hook' / leg inside. Shields turns Miller to his side and is able to get his other hook in while switching to the familiar over-under lasso / harness control. Shields changes his mind and decides to go back to mount, Miller tries to bump and turn Shields but Shields flows again to take the back. Miller again rolls and looks to use the cage but Shields' balance allows him to flow and end up in top side control and then take Miller's back again as he turns. All throughout this Miller is the one expending the most energy while Shields uses his weight to ride and end up in a good position throughout. A beautiful blend of Down Wrestling and Top Game Jiu Jitsu that's transitionally brilliant even if offensively lacking. This is the aspect of Shields' game GSP should be looking out for as its a potential round stealer.
Iowa Twist - What we see here is an over-leg ride breakdown that's popular among Iowa wrestlers as it's a great way of opening an opponent up to get a hook in and go for either a Cross-Body leg ride or a Split-Scissors / Banana Splits, both of which can lead to various pins or back points in wrestling. In this instance Shields opts for the latter and uses it as the start of a Wrestler's Guillotine / 'Twister' set up. Shields goes through the process with relative ease trapping Miller's right arm behind his head and looking to wrap his left arm around Miller's head, locking down Miller's left leg and remaining deep under his hips. Miller does his best to block Shields arm from trapping his head, and at one point Shields is nearly successful but Miller is fighting Shields off from joining his hands so he can start cranking. It surprises me a little that Shields didn't continue to fight as he was so near completing the hold. It may have been down to a lack of confidence in finishing the hold, or it may have been an instance of risk assessment where Shields decided there and then not to waste energy fighting Miller's hands because they're still both early into the fight and instead give up the hold to transition to a more orthodox control position. This is a likely scenario and a general issue with the majority of Shields' fights. In choosing to remain conservative Shields avoids trying to end fights there and then possibly afraid of gassing out or allowing his opponent to escape or counter. While there is a benefit of staying in control, allowing fights to continue on for the duration and go to decision is a continual opportunity for an opponent to work for an opening and advantage. It's a similar criticism appropriately levied towards GSP where conservative control can ironically be a risk in and of itself the longer a fight goes on for. So far GSP has been able to get away with it because of his vast superiority in skill, ability or both, and to a degree the same can be said of Shields even if proportionately different when compared to St. Pierre. In short, sometimes too much focus is put on risk and not enough on reward.
Mayhem Scrambles - Speaking of which, these words of wisdom provide a nice segue for this following sequence. Miller is always trying, always taking a chance and shows it can pay off though sadly too late into the round for Miller to do anything with his eventual advantage. Miller rolls forward as Shields tries to put his hooks in, and is able to turn into Shields' guard and stand up and control by gripping Shields' ankles. Mayhem looks to throw a hard left punch, sitting on a leg of Shields who is turning initially trying a sweep and then settling on the now familiar leg-lock control from earlier. Shields tries for an inverted heel-hook but Miller wraps a leg to stop Shields pinching his knees together to make the lock tighter as well as fight one of Shields' hands to stop him rotating. Miller tries to briefly control Shields leg similarly but instead opts to punch Shields in the face before posturing up and shifting to the side in order to ground and pound. Shields fights to put Miller back in position for a leg-lock but Miller is able to ride out the end of the round.
Trading Takedowns - The beginning of round 3 sees Miller heading forwards still loose, and Shields still a little stiff but not as bad as in previous rounds. I've noticed in a lot of Shields fights that go the distance it can take him a couple of rounds to ease into the fight at least in the stand up department. Miller lunges forward with a lead hook and short right but only hits arms, then tries a jab, over-hand right and straight left hitting arms again but using it to get in close and clinch. With double under-hooks Miller quickly drives into Shields and uses his right leg to trip Shields as he off-balances his upper-body getting Shields down to the mat and in side control. In the right hands double under-hooks make all the difference in getting an 'easy' take-down which is why most fighters look to pummel to get this advantage over their opponent.
Shields keeps his elbows in as Miller tries to control his right arm while Shields uses his left arm to brace and block Miller's right hip. Shields uses the cage to help turn his hips but rather than move to regain guard he gets his legs under him so he can get under Miller and go for a leg to set up a take-down. In response Miller transitions to a Front Headlock (arm-in) and keeps his weight on him. Feeling Shields drive into him Miller tries to deflect the energy and spin to Shields' back but Shields is able to posture up and turn with Miller to avoid this before driving Miller into the fence with a double-leg grip and then switching to a head-inside single-leg. Shields is able to pull Miller's leg out and towards his other leg before driving to get a classic take-down along the fence.
Not shown is Shields doing another great job of passing guard and getting mount with Miller able to regain half-guard momentarily before Shields regains mount and does another good job of riding Miller between mount, back mount, and side mount (not side control, mounting the opponent when he's on his side). Shields is again let down by his Ground & Pound which at the most only pepper Miller but as mentioned before, the Strikeforce No Elbows rule could be partly to blame.
Mayhem Monkey Roll - From the back Shields tries to set up a body triangle but can't quite close it and ends up with only one hook in, controlling miller with Double Bar Arms / Double Wrist Control from the back. This form of control is only really effective when flattening the opponent out and not when they have a strong turtle posture. Typically in Jiu Jitsu the aforementioned over-under lasso / harness control is better plus in wrestling a power nelson can be easily transitioned to which would help keep the opponent's head down and coax them to turn to their back to relieve pressure. Of course in Jiu Jitsu the guy on bottom has no problem going to his back since there's no pin fall, and with that in mind Miller waits for an opening in Shields hand grip between Ground & Pound strikes so he is able to roll forward and start a scramble to get to a better position. Had Shields had the lasso control locked, even with just one leg hooked in he could have rolled with Miller and still have his back making it more difficult for Miller to turn into his guard while he works to get his other hook in.
Get Up, Stand Up - Shields on his back with Miller in guard, he has double wrist control, Shields opens his guard and Miller is able to pass to Half-Guard though its unclear if Shields baits Miller to do this as Shields quickly follows up threatening with leg-lock control but then uses it to push Miller off base enough to escape out and go for a single-leg take-down. It's interesting to see Shields use his guard work to stand up and go for a take-down first, before trying to sweep or submit. In the context of MMA where the scoring more often then not favours the man on top I've personally believed the order of priority for the guy on bottom should be Stand-Sweep-Submit, but that's just my subjective take on ground game strategy. Having said that, even in Jiu Jitsu competitions where there is scoring for sweeps, take-downs and passes it's not a bad idea either; a sweep from half-guard into your opponent's half-guard often isn't scored because it's only deemed a reversal of position, but getting to your knees and getting a take-down may score a couple of points (once your head is clear) that can be added to points for any pass to side control or mount from there. I think for Shields to have any success against GSP whom most expect to be the one controlling take-downs and being on top, Shields has to be able to get back to his feet and go for take-downs of his own. Even if he can't get GSP down once back up, at least he's not eating elbows from the champ while hanging out on the bottom.
The trouble with Shields though as seen in the gif is he has a tendency to chase the take-down and forget to protect himself. Miller partially connects with a spinning back fist; if GSP does something similar and it lands cleanly it could spell the beginning of the end.
(Not Shown) Miller ends up reversing positions in the clinch and has double under-hooks but John McCarthy halts the action to have Miller's loose glove tape attended to. However when McCarthy has them resume position, he tells them to go over-under. It's difficult to see from the angle provided by the Strikeforce cameras but Miller may have let go of his grip on the right side to work a body punch or go for a leg prompting McCarthy to make the separation rather than splitting them up when Miller had the more dominant position. Hard to tell and shows the fine line referees walk between making a good or bad call in a fight.
Close Choke - Shields works hard for a take-down against the cage but ends up in a similar situation he found himself in the Henderson fight (which happened after the Miller fight). Miller doesn't go for a back crucifix though and instead gets a lasso grip from the back and tries to work his leg out from Shields' grasp. Miller is able to take Shields back with Shields bridging slightly possibly so he can look to turn into Miller's guard. Miller however locks a body triangle to stop the turn and then looks to fight for the choke. Shields defends well to start with but Miller is able to switch it up with his hands, using a right cross-face (almost a neck crank) to open Shields' neck for his left arm to slide under his chin. Miller gable grips and tightens the choke but doesn't quite have his right elbow in position to really lever his left arm to make the choke tighter. As a result it's an 'air choke' rather than a 'blood choke' (strangle) and Shields is able to gut out the last few seconds of the round. Shields' tenacity in getting a take-down is clearly a double-edged sword especially when going for a head-outside single-leg that leaves you more open to attack then a head-inside. The trouble is the head-outside single is right there to transition to off of a failed double so it's an easy option especially when the opponent's weight distribution makes it difficult to opt for something like a High Crotch instead. Coupled with the cage wall which can as be as much an enemy as a friend and you're sometimes limited in what to do next.
Switching It Up - Much the same as before, Shields is still stiff on his feet and takes some strikes from Miller before working for a take-down. Perhaps learning from before Shields transitions from a single-leg to a body-lock once he has Miller's weight shifted on his right leg landing Shields in a safer position where he can triangle his legs over Miller's as he did earlier in the fight. Shields goes on to pass, mount and ride as he has done before, is briefly stood up for in-action but then repeats the process at one point trying for the Salaverry Mounted Crucifix / Cross Body Arm Scissors, then a mounted arm-triangle but eventually ends up on Miller's back looking for a choke of his own. Shields has the lasso grip, his feet are crossed but are high up enough to not be in immediate danger. Shields opts to return to mount as it's potentially easier to set up an arm triangle because he had lasso control from the back. Miller defends by putting his hand against his ear like a telephone so Shields postures up and tries to land some Ground & Pound. Miller bucks, Shields rides to the back, Miller rolls, Shields, sits out and spins to a brief Front Headlock to a Go Behind and Rear Waist-lock, Miller rolls again but Shields is able to go with it and switch his hips to keep Side Control. Shields steps over to mount and the round ends. Great transitions and scrambles from both fighters but Shields suffers again from not wanting to commit more to submission attempts.
KNEES! - Round 5 starts much the same as before, Shields looking stiff on his feet and Miller looking relaxed, Shields shooting for a single-leg, Miller escaping but Shields pursuant and driving Miller into the fence and a reversal of position. However at one point Shields is able to lock in a standing guillotine as a form of control (chancery) and uses it to throw some knees to Miller's head. It's something we rarely see from Shields which is a shame as any kind of offence from a good control position can help soften an opponent up for a more easily applied, fight ending submission. It doesn't offer Shields the same level of control as a Front Headlock (which can be transitioned to an arm-in guillotine) but we've seen Shields able to finish previous opponents suddenly with his guillotines so its not surprising he opted for this. Miller though is able to pop his head out and immediately Shields drives for a single-leg although nearly giving Miller his back again in the process. Shields bails and tries to get up, Miller tries a double-leg of his own, Shields sprawls and uses an over-under for a Go Behind.
Miller Goes For Broke - The rest of the round plays out fairly similarly to before, though Shields gets Miller's back and locks a body triangle to keep him there and this time really fights to get a choke. Miller however fights very well for control of Shields' wrists and eventually manages to escape. A scramble ensues and Shields goes to his bread and butter single-leg but Miller sprawls, Front Headlocks and drops back for an arm-in guillotine but is unable to close his guard. Shields is one of those fighters like Jon Fitch who is notoriously difficult to choke anyway, something Martin Kampmann found out the hard way when he wasted energy trying to prove he could submit the Submission Wrestler. Down on the scorecards, Miller going for it wasn't surprising though.
So, there we have it. 3 epic Judo Chops all dedicated to Jake Shields with his strengths and weaknesses on display for the world to see. Even when breaking these fights down it's hard to see GSP losing and for some it's convinced them even more that Shields doesn't have a chance. I think that's a bit unfair, everyone has a chance no matter how low the percentages might be in their favour.
If Shields has addressed certain flaws in his game and has a solid game plan I believe at the very least he can make it an ugly fight and maybe even take a round or two. Here's what I took away from the Judo Chops (for those of you still reading)
Shields has a very good blend of Wrestling and Jiu Jitsu, though there are areas of both that are in need of improving.
Shields' tenacity in going for a take-down is good and bad. Good in the sense he doesn't give up and pursues it to completion, but bad as it can leave him open to counter-strikes and counter-grappling putting him in precarious situations. Shields ability to switch up his take-downs by changing angles and elevation is a definite plus point though.
Shields is hit & miss in the clinch. As long as he can fight off double under-hooks he can usually make space to drop for a single. Shields was better in the clinch against Henderson then Miller, and the Henderson fight was after the Miller fight providing time to improve. However Henderson's back problems and weight cut issues for 185lbs are validly used as to why Shields out wrestled him. I don't think that's solely the case, but it certainly doesn't help Shields out when being critiqued.
Shields striking has got better. Again, much better in the Henderson fight then against Miller mostly because Shields was able to loosen up as his confidence grew after surviving Henderson's thunderous right hand. Shields has been working on his striking, and while it's fair to say he won't catch up to GSP's level I don't think being completely dismissive is fair either. If his striking has improved to the point where he's a lot more relaxed and loose standing up it means his ability to set up his take-downs with strikes or being able to slip his opponents' strikes for a take-down is much greater and he'll find that aspect a lot easier.
Shields has great guard passing. Something that could have been dismissed against Henderson, Shields almost as easily passed Miller's guard. It'll be interesting to see this play out if he ever ends up in GSP's guard (GSP has had Dan Hardy in his guard after a failed leg-lock attempt, so it can happen though the risk of Dan Hardy in your guard isn't even remotely as great).
Shields wins in scrambles. I don't really recall GSP being in that many scrambles. Usually his take-downs and top control is so dominant his opponents rarely have the opportunity to get one going. Shields has shown he can use his guard to get back to his feet and scramble for a take-down or use the Front Headlock to Go Behind and try to secure the back. Once he has the back his ability to ride and maintain a good position whether it be back mount, mount or side control is very good and he lets the opponent expend the energy.
Shields lets opponents scramble. The other side of the coin, sometimes Shields doesn't have the optimal control from the back and allows opponents openings to scramble, which can cause a lot of energy expenditure to get back control.
Shields is too conservative with submission attempts. Similar in a lot of ways to GSP on this point, too much focus on risk rather then reward of a submission and both need to work more on efficiency of technique and economy of motion when going for a potential fight ender. There are plenty of submissions fighters can go for that don't completely compromise position. Falling back for arm-bars and leg-locks without a really sharp set-up and control.
Shields has weak Ground'n'Pound. This is a big problem, and not just for ending fights with strikes. I've recently been reading a book on ground'n'pound (review coming soon) and in it the author suggests based on analysing hundreds of fights of high level MMA in the UFC as well as the defunct Pride organisation, a significant number of submission victories were set up with effective striking on the ground. Good ground striking makes finishing fights much easier by stoppage OR submission, and Shields' lacking in this department only hurts his submission game. At least Shields can now use elbows to the head on the ground after years of not being able to within Strikeforce and as his Scrap Pack team mate Gilbert Melendez showed, elbows can be truly devastating and do far more then just cut.
Shields has become a better athlete. From the Okami fight through to the Miller and Henderson fight we've seen a significant improvement in Shields athletic ability to compliment his technical skill. Against the calibre of fighter in Georges St. Pierre, he'll need every bit of it.