UFC 161: Coach Mike's Factgrinder - Jake Shields and Tyron Woodley


Saturday night at UFC 161, two highly experienced amateur wrestlers, Tyron Woodley and Jake Shields, will face off against one another in the Octagon. Coach Mike's Factgrinder is here to put their amateur wrestling accomplishments into proper perspective.

If you are new to this feature, I strongly advise reading earlier entries in the Factgrinder story stream, in order to see my explanation on the significance of accomplishments at wrestling's various levels.

Tyron Woodley's Wrestling Credentials

Tyron Woodley's wrestling resume is fairly straightforward. As a scholastic wrestler, he earned NCAA Division 1 All American honors twice, placing eighth in 2003, and seventh in 2005 (a flukey series of events prevented him from qualifying for the 2004 NCAA tournament). He can claim the honor of being the University of Missouri's first ever Big 12 champion in wrestling, and he was a big part of spearheading that program's rise from irrelevance to national prominence in the mid 2000's under coach Brian Smith. The fruits of Mizzou's wrestling renaissance can be seen prominently in the MMA world, particularly in Bellator champions Ben Askren and Michael Chandler.

Tyron's seventh place finish in 2005, his senior year, was a bit of a disappointment. He was seeded fifth, and I think that a fifth place finish would have been more reflective of his skill level. By that point in his wrestling career, Woodley had developed into a tough out for even the best wrestlers in the national field, and his two losses at the NCAA tourney were by close margins. Tyron was, and still is, big and strong for his weight, and when wrestlers have brute strength and know how to use it, they're invariably tough to score on.

Woodley was active in freestyle as well. During his days as a college wrestler he placed at several University Freestyle National Championships. His most impressive performance came in 2006 where he was the University Freestyle Nationals runner up among a loaded field. In this tournament he placed in front of many NCAA All Americans, a couple of future NCAA champions, a future USA world team member, and Matt Gentry, who placed fifth in the 2012 London Olympics for Canada.

Forays into the elite senior freestyle level didn't yield a great deal of success for Woodley, though there were only a couple. He was fairly close to qualifying for the 2004 Olympic Trials, earning third place at an Olympic Trials regional qualification tournament. In 2006, Woodley tried his hand at his first and only senior World Team Trials, where he earned one victory and two losses, and failed to place. To his credit, his one win at those trials came against 2004 US Olympian Joe Williams who was only one year removed from a bronze medal in the world championships. Joe would place fifth in the world in 2007, and had a long and decorated career representing the United States on national teams, preceded by three NCAA championships. Woodley managed beat him in a freestyle match, a shocking result indeed.

Factgrinder Final Analysis Tyron Woodley

Woodley was an elite wrestler on the Division One level, just a little below the level where he would be considered more than an outside contender for an NCAA title. Similarly, had he made a serious bid at a post-collegiate freestyle career, I predict that he would have risen to a level just below seriously threatening for a berth on a world team. Of course, he has beaten or placed in front of two wrestlers with top five finishes at the Olympics, so perhaps his ceiling would have been a little higher.

Jake Shields's Wrestling Credentials

I can foresee some blow back over my treatment of Jake Shield's wrestling credentials. I can already envision people calling me a wrestling snob, and pointing out how successfully he has used his wrestling in MMA, particularly on people with elite credentials like Dan Henderson. To that, my answer is twofold. First, as always, my Factgrinders are simply an exercise in placing competitive wrestling achievements into proper perspective; the UFC and other promotions use these achievements to sell their fighters, so long as they do that, we ought to gain a richer understanding of what they really mean. Second, I would respond in the affirmative - Jake has indeed leveraged his sub-elite wrestling pedigree into great success in mixed martial arts, and for this he deserves praise.

I'm going to come down a bit hard on Jake's listed wrestling accomplishments, because he or his management/PR are guilty of a bit of wrestling resume stuffing. This is the commonplace, but disingenuous, act of listing a large number of wrestling accomplishments with the intent to mislead the wrestling uninitiated into believing that the guilty fighter was a better wrestler than he actually was. It's not lying exactly, or even directly exaggerating, but it's less than honest and it's one of the very reasons for which the Factgrinder exists. Let's take a list of Shield's listed wrestling accomplishments on his UFC profile.

  1. Four year varsity wrestler and state qualifier in HS
  2. Two time All American collegiate wrestler.
  3. 2ndplace AAU National Freestyle Championship
  4. Qualified for USA/Fila Nationals & World Team trials in both the junior & university men’s divisions.

Now let's explain these accomplishments item by item.

  1. Non-national level high school wrestling achievements really aren't a relevant resume item for the UFC. This is the world's premier fighting league, with combatants regularly claiming world class levels of wrestling. Next to these sorts of achievements, high school records are almost always insignificant.
  2. This is the entry which bothers me. Shields wrestled for Cuesta College, a California junior college. California Junior colleges all get together every year, and hold a championship with only California junior colleges, a tournament which is sometimes misleadingly referred to as a "national championship". It is not a true national championship by any measure, rather, it is a junior college state championship. Jake isn't really a two time collegiate All American, he is a two time California junior college state place winner.
  3. Once upon a time, AAU national wrestling championships were a big deal. That was a long time ago, by the time Jake competed in this tournament it had long since outlived its relevance as a national level tournament. Jake's runner-up finish was in 1997 in the "Elite" (older high schooler) age group. If I were a college coach looking at Jake's credentials, I would have been more impressed by the fact that he qualified for the California high school state championships, than this.
  4. This one is weird for two reasons. First it mentions nothing of him competing in these tournaments. Second, these tournaments are open, anyone who meets eligibility requirements can enter, and the eligibility requirements are not competitively based. I once "qualified" for University Nationals, so did you if you were below the age of 28 once and were ever enrolled in some sort of college.
This list of accomplishments constitutes misdirection to say the least, but despite all this misdirection, Jake Shields was a reasonably good college wrestler. After his days at Cuesta, Jake spent a year wrestling for San Francisco State University, a very good Division 2 team. At SFSU, Jake encountered a good bit of Division 1 competition, and while he was dominated by the elites of Division 1, he yielded some competitive success against some lower-level Division 1 wrestlers.

It appears that near the end of his first and only season at SFSU, Jake was beaten out for the starting spot at 174. At that point, SFSU had All Americans at both of the next highest weights. Shields, believe it or not, was forced to bump up to the 285 pound weight class. I can't establish a causal relationship, but a late season clash with a very good Dvision 1 level heavyweight closely preceded his exit from college wrestling.

Factgrinder Final Analysis: Jake Shields

While Jake's listed wrestling accolades are somewhat empty of significance, he was actually a decent NCAA Division 2 level wrestler. Had he wrestled out his college eligibility, he might have been able to eventually qualify for Division 2 nationals and compete for All American honors.

Factgrinder Final Verdict: Woodley's Wrestling Resume vs. Jake Shield's Wrestling Resume

Woodley was an elite Division 1 wrestler, precisely the class of wrestler that would have soundly beaten Shields back in his competitive days.
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