For Jake Shields, UFC 150 represents an important crossroads in his career. The former Welterweight #1 contender takes on Ed Herman in what will be Shields's UFC Middleweight debut. It's a chance for Shields to get a fresh start in a new division and begin another run for UFC gold. But perhaps even more importantly, it's also a chance for him to help define his UFC career, and to answer an important question:
Is the UFC career of Jake Shields a success, or a failure?
It seems like an easy question to answer, yet there are strong arguments from both sides. Supporters of Shields can point to his wins over Martin Kampmann and Yoshihiro Akiyama, plus the fact that he managed to take some rounds against Georges St. Pierre - something few title challengers have accomplished. And his UFC loss to Jake Ellenberger can be excused, as Shields was fighting not long after losing his father.
But the argument for the other side is clear as well. Whatever the reason, Shields did lose big to Ellenberger, and in the eyes of many, should have lost to Kampmann. He didn't look great against GSP, and only took those rounds thanks to an eye poke. His only true UFC win comes against Akiyama, who has not won a fight since 2009.
So which side is it? Part of the difficulty come from the hype surrounding Shields's UFC debut. For any normal fighter, a 2-2 record against this level of competition in the UFC would be a great success - but Shields was not presented as just any fighter. With a huge undefeated streak that included wins over the like of Dan Henderson, Carlos Condit, and Yushin Okami, Shields was presented as the best fighter in the world outside of the Octagon. And so far, he has failed to live up to those expectations. We're yet to see the incredible submission game he employed against Robbie Lawler in Strikeforce - honestly, we're yet to see him convincingly win against a top opponent.
The question then becomes this - in the UFC, have we seen the best Jake Shields has to offer? So far, I don't think we have. And if we have seen his best, then that best is not at the level I though it was before his UFC debut. Either way, when you balance what he is capable of with what he has delivered, you have to look at the UFC run of Jake Shields as a failure so far.
Can he turn that around? Undeniably. He is better at Middlweight than at Welterweight, and has the tools to throw his name in with Weidman, Bisping, Boetsch, and the others jockeying for a shot at Anderson Silva. In order to do that, he needs to start realizing his potential in the UFC, and he has to begin at UFC 150.
A conservative decision win over Ed Herman is not enough. We need to see Jake Shields the submission expert, Jake Shields the master grappler, Jake Shields the champion. That Jake Shields exists, but he has not yet shown up inside the Octagon. If he continues that pattern this weekend, his UFC career will continue to be a let down. But if we do see this dominant version of Shields return on Saturday, then be excited for the future of UFC Middleweight contender Jake Shields.