What a difference a year makes, or for that matter even six months. If Georges St-Pierre vs Jake Shields had been made back in October of 2010, I imagine many, both pundits and public, would be giving Shields much greater odds than he is getting now. He would be the welterweight that did the impossible, defeating the number two middleweight in the world Dan Henderson, while GSP, even though he dominated the fight, had been unable to finish Dan Hardy in five rounds that was spent mostly wrestling on the ground. It is hard to imagine GSP having that much success fighting the same fight against a grappling ace like Shields. Of course, now no one imagines their fight even resembling the Hardy bout. Instead the images we have going into this fight is Shields making a tepid UFC debut against Kampmann and GSP demolishing an elite level wrestler in Josh Koscheck by staying on the outside and beating him to a pulp. For a man with a notoriously weak stand up game like Shields, that doesn’t bode well. Which is unfortunate, because I hate St-Pierre and am a big fan of Shields.
OK, that last sentence isn’t 100% true. I don’t really hate St-Pierre. From all evidence he seems like a genuinely nice guy. And I don’t hold it against him for fighting "boring" fights or not finishing his opponent. He fights to win and I for one am impressed by his performances. No other fighter currently competing has such a complete skill-set. He is the 2003 Fedor of today.
But I am a petty, petty man. And I hold it against him that he is so good, so successful, and so God damn handsome. Every fight of his that I watch alongside a young lady I can’t help but feel like Bob Evans dancing with Ali McGraw as "she was looking at [Evans] and thinking of Steve McQueen’s cock." So yeah, I hate him.
As for Shields, although he "is truly an extremely good looking man", I’m not really a big fan of his by my own accord, but instead I feel as if I was drafted to defend him while he was fighting outside the UFC. During this time it was common for the clueless masses to disregard his accomplishments and to claim that he would he get "destroyed" as soon as he stepped into the Octagon ("Really? As evidenced by the fact that he had already beaten half-a-dozen fighters that are or were successful in the UFC?" Frigging idiots.). I even kind-of-cheered for him against Dan Henderson, even though I really gave him no chance and am by far a much, much bigger Hendo mark than I could ever be for Shields. But damn if I didn’t felt sorry for him going into that fight. Plus there was a great deal of curiousity on my part to see what would happen when he negotiated a new contract as a free agent and Title-Holder who wasn't restricted by a Champion’s Clause (man, did he blow that). And while I gave him no hope against Henderson, I did promise myself that if he beat Hendo I would favor him against GSP. So while I normally would give him no hope against Rush I am going to stick to my personal pledge and pick Shields to win. Now I only have to create the evidence I need to justify the outcome I want.
So how the hell is he going to beat Georges St-Pierre? Barring some miraculous Moe Szyslak scenario, witchdoctor spell, or psychological technologies, Shields is going to have beat the best fighter in his division, and perhaps the best fighter in all of mixed martial arts, inside the Octagon. What makes this task so difficult is that it is almost impossible to imagine how he wins. Sure Shields's resume is as impressive as any fighter in the division, including the UFC's big four of GSP, Fitch, Koscheck, and Silva. In fact. I think his is superior to all but Georges's, but does he really present that much of a different challenge than Fitch or Koscheck did? That's why it seems so impossible, But just as no one saw how you could make an adaptation of the "The Naked Lunch" that worked, I am going to script it anways.
Thankfully I think we can throw out the Kampman fights as any kind of barometer of how Shields will do. Not only was it his first fight back at 170 lbs in almost two years, but he reportedly went into that fight with a short camp after injuring his back training and then had to cut over 20lbs for the weigh in. Instead I have looked elsewhere for a shred of evidence that he can win. I have re-watched numerous fights for both Shields and St-Pierre; I have listened intently to the Ceasar Gracie’s analysis; I have studied KJ Gould’s masterful breakdowns of Shields’s fights with Okami, Henderson, and Miller; and have observed with great interest the number of high profile wrestlers Shields’s camp has brought in. With all that in mind here is how I envision a Shields victory unfolding:
Georges St-Pierre comes into the fight following the same game plan he did against Koscheck, staying on the outside and using a lunging jab as his primary offensive weapon. Shields though, does a much better job of protecting himself than Josh did, occasionally forcing the clinch to stall St-Pierre’s attacks. After a couple of fairly uneventful rounds, Shields either perfectly times a shoot while GSP is in the middle of a strike (a "counter-shoot" as it would be) or goads St-Pierre to shoot on him and is ready and waiting to roll and reverse it, thus getting the fight to the ground and gaining top control. Getting control on the ground is his only path to victory so it has to be his strategy. And from the sounds of his camp, rolling with Sonnen, Lindland, Askren, and Davis, I'm guessing this is his and Gracie's plan. Once he has it on the ground, he rides GSP until he finally gets a more dominant position and then - to the horror of all 50,000 Canadians in attendance - he starts to rain devastating elbows to GSP’s pretty face. In this case I am assuming that the rumors of Jake having very effecive elbows is true. And while it is hard to believe everything you hear coming out of a fighter’s camp, I am going to go with Melendez as evidence that it is true. The result: "He ain’t pretty no more."
I don’t see Shields finishing the fight unless St-Pierre slips up trying to defend himself and gives up his neck or a limb. What I do see is Shields grinding out the last couple of rounds after his Tito Ortiz/Ken Shamrock moment, as GSP struggles being "the nail to his hammer", and is thus awarded a clear 3 rounds to 2 victory from the judges.
Now that I have convinced myself that this can happen, lets see if Shields can make it so, setting up my Champion vs Champion dream fight for the 2012 Superbowl card: Jake Shields vs Yushin Okami. Make it so Jake.