UFC Fight Night event at the New Orleans Convention Center on September 17, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. via UFC.com
Jake Shields is a very talented fighter.
Let's get that out of the way right at the start. Because in the wake of his upset first round stoppage loss at the hands of Jake Ellenberger at UFC Fight Night 25 last night, it's a statement that needs repeating. Jake Shields, the former Strikeforce and EliteXC champion, is good. There's a temptation after a loss to not only write the loser off for the future, but to also retroactively invalidate his earlier career. For Shields, that temptation will be even stronger.
Consider his UFC history so far. Brought in as the best Welterweight in the world outside of the UFC, he had an uninspiring debut against Martin Kampmann in a fight many people felt he lost. That earned him a title shot at Georges St. Pierre where many were upset at the slow pace of the fight. Then last night's loss to Ellenberger. With his big wins coming outside the UFC, it's tempting to view him as just another unfairly hyped nobody who couldn't make it on the big stage. And while that's unfair, there is an undercurrent of truth there that every Strikeforce fighter needs to be aware of.
The reality of Jake Shields is this: he was one of the pound for pound best in Strikeforce, putting together a very impressive streak of wins across weight classes. He beat Dan Henderson, he choked out Robbie Lawler - he was virtually unbeatable. But, as last night proved, being one of the best in Strikeforce is not the same as being one of the best in the UFC. And Jake Shields, for all his skills, is not one of the very best in the UFC.
In recent years, we've learned a lesson in regards to Japanese fighters - that the level of competition in Japan these days is lower than in the US, and Japan's best are often overmatched by their American MMA counterparts. Now, we may be about to discover the same thing about Strikeforce.
In the coming months, we have both Nick Diaz and Alistair Overeem set for high profile UFC fights. Both, like Shields, are former Strikeforce champions who never lost their titles. Both, like Shields, were among the very best in Strikeforce. And both, like Shields, come in to the UFC heavily hyped. But as they move into the deeper waters of the UFC divisions, their level of opposition will move from men like Brett Rogers and Cyborg to men like Brock Lesnar and B.J. Penn. Which means both will run the risk of ending up the same as Shields - two more super-hyped names who discover that the best talent Strikeforce has to offer does not always stack up to the best in the UFC.
As more Strikeforce fighters come over will this same fate await men like Gilbert Melendez, Daniel Cormier, and Antonio Silva? It's too early to say for sure, but any Strikeforce name looking to make an impact in the UFC should rewatch last night's fight very closely and hope that Jake Shields is not a sign of things to come.
SBN coverage of UFC Fight Night 25: Shields vs. Ellenberger