After the recent release by the UFC of long-time middleweight contender Yushin Okami, you really have to be wondering what Jake Shields must be thinking. The former Strikeforce champion, who has failed to meet expectations in his UFC tenure, could conceivably be the next high-profile roster cut if he should falter against top-5 welterweight contender Demian Maia at UFC Fight Night 29 in Brazil.
The task for Shields will be a monumental one as Maia has reeled off three straight wins since moving down to the 170-pound weight class. His most impressive performance was a three-round domination of Jon Fitch at UFC 156. That bout ended Fitch’s time with the company after an 18-fight run.
The move down from middleweight has clearly rejuvenated the Brazilian’s career. Maia is one of the most decorated jiu-jitsu practitioners in the sport, yet Shields says he welcomes the challenge of beating him at his own game. The two competitors are both submission specialists and their skill sets are shown by their respective strong performances over the years at the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championships.
With neither man a real threat in the standup game, this fight has all the makings of a ground game chess match.
Since joining the UFC, Shields has compiled a very pedestrian 3-2-1 record. A victory over Ed Herman at UFC 150 was changed to a no content after Shields failed a post-fight drug test. His most high-profile fight was a decision loss to Georges St. Pierre in their welterweight title fight at UFC 129 in front of over 50,000 fans in Toronto.
Shields has been knocked out by Jake Ellenberger and most recently emerged with a decision win in what was a rather lackluster affair against Tyron Woodley at UFC 161.
Again, if a guy like Okami can be shown the door after seven years with the organization while still being in the UFC’s top-10 middleweight rankings, than it’s not a stretch to believe that Shields may be looking at a similar fate with another loss. Both Okami and Shields have grappling-dominant styles that traditionally don’t ratchet up the entertainment bar for most fans.
The October 9 fight in Brazil is already shaped up as a big one for Shields as a victory over the surging Maia would provide a substantial career boost. Now with the most recent development in the organization’s landscape, there may be even more of an added incentive for Shields to come up with his best UFC performance yet.
Rick LaFitte is an MMA Writer for Rant Sports