Jake Ellenberger's demeanor leading up to his UFC Fight Night 25 main event bout with former Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields wasn't what fans might expect. The biggest fight of his twenty-nine fight career was imminent, and he still felt that Carlos Eduardo Rocha, the man he narrowly defeated at UFC 126 in Las Vegas, was a tougher test than what he'd face on Saturday night in New Orleans. Ellenberger's cockiness now seems to have merit. He knocked out Shields in only fifty-three seconds.
The defeat marks the first time in Shields' twelve-year mixed martial arts career that he's suffered back-to-back losses. He lost to UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre at UFC 129 in April, a fight that was the culmination of Shields' entire career. He came up short. Last night was his attempt to get back onto the bicycle and pedal his way back up the mountain.
During his reign in Strikeforce, the shallow depth of the welterweight division and the dominance Shields displayed left him unequaled at the top. In fact, Strikeforce had to convince him to move up to 185 lbs. in order to create match-ups. Shields obliged, beating both Jason "Mayhem" Miller and Dan Henderson. Oh, how times have changed. Instead of standing alone, Shields now finds himself in unfamiliar territory, staring at the top of the mountain from miles below.
At 32 years old, Shields is at a crossroads in his career. He's no longer the young buck with the upside of youth. Age will have a profound, visible effect on his skills moving forward unless he can find a way to improve his apparent weaknesses in the stand-up department. Even if that happens, is it too late for Jake Shields? Did Jake Ellenberger lend credence to the notion that Shields is on his way out as an elite level talent?
Ellenberger proved he's a legitimate talent in the upper-echelon of the UFC's welterweight division, but Shields needs to understand his glaring weaknesses in the face of a closing career window. He's still a deficient striker in comparison to some of the better talent in the upper reaches of the division. Most of the top ten has the wrestling credentials to thwart his takedown attempts. That leaves Shields in a difficult situation, vulnerable to repeat performances like that of Ellenberger.
Glancing at the long list of welterweights on the USAT/SBN Consensus Rankings, only one thought comes to mind. Jake Shields' status as a top five welterweight is long gone, and it will never happen again. Losses to Georges St. Pierre and Jake Ellenberger are by no means indications that Shields is a bad fighter. His competition atop the division is simply too good to ignore. There are way too many challenges that put Shields at a disadvantage, and Ellenberger is only the beginning of a disastrous downfall into mediocrity.