Yoshihiro Akiyama and Jake Shields square off at the UFC 144 pre-fight press conference on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012 in Tokyo. Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
In a Welterweight fight at UFC 144: Edgar vs. Henderson, former #1 contender Jake Shields (26-6-1; 1-2 UFC) faces Yoshihiro Akiyama (13-4, 2 NC; 1-3 UFC). This is the fourth of seven fights on the PPV main card at UFC 144. Shields is currently ranked as the #8 Welterweight in the world according to the USA TODAY / MMA Nation Consensus MMA Rankings - Akiyama is making his 170 pound debut and is unranked. The UFC 144 PPV card begins this Saturday, February 25 at 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT, and will run for 4 hours on PPV.
This is a very interesting clash between two men with quite similar UFC careers. Both came into the company with a lot of hype. Both barely won their debut fights, with many fans arguing that both should have in fact lost those fights. And since those controversial debuts, neither man has won in the Octagon. They've both main evented and been close to title contention, but each finds himself at a crossroads here. The winner will move up; the loser could potentially see his UFC career end.
How do these two stack up?
Shields: 33 years old | 6'0" | 72" reach
Akiyama: 36 years old | 5'10" | 75" reach
What have these two done recently?
How did these two get here?
Jake Shields is a member of the acclaimed Cesar Gracie team and a training partner to heavy hitters like Gilbert Melendez and Nate and Nick Diaz. He came into the UFC as the former EliteXC and Strikeforce champion - undefeated in 6 years and considered the best Welterweight not in the UFC. A close win over Kampmann earned him the shot at GSP, and while Shields did damage and claimed some rounds in that fight, he also looked very out of his element at times. Before his next fight, his father and manager passed away. Less than 3 weeks later, Shields faced Jake Ellenberger and was knocked out in under a minute - just the 2nd stoppage loss of his career, and his first since 2000. Shields needs a win here.
Yoshihiro Akiyama was a mega-star in Japan and Korea when he made the transition to the UFC, but so far, he has not shown his best in the Octagon. His UFC career highlight is his great battle with Chris Leben that ended in an improbable Leben submission victory. Akiyama delivers fun fights, but he has dropped his last 3 in the UFC. He's made the move from Middleweight down to Welterweight for this fight, which is a switch I felt he should have made after his UFC debut. The change in divisions could help revitalize his career, but if it doesn't, it's hard to see him sticking around the UFC much longer.
Why should you care?
As I said yesterday, Akiyama brings the drama. With his back against the wall and his career on the line? Expect quite a show from the always entertaining fighter.
For a more detailed look at Akiyama vs. Shields, check out the fight Dissection by Dallas Winston.
More UFC 144 preview coverage from Bloody Elbow after the jump.