Jake Shields Discusses The Skrap Pack, American Jiu-Jitsu, and UFC Middleweight Title Contention
While the transition to fighting came easy for Jake Shields, his road to the top of the sport was anything but. For over ten years, Jake fought around the world in various mixed martial arts promotions and competed in hundreds of grappling tournaments, before finally signing with the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
While he has dealt with an immense amount of adversity to get to this level of the sport - being broke, not having insurance, and raising a daughter as a single father - he has attributed his ability to succeed and overcome these obstacles to the strength and loyalty of his team around him.
It is commonplace in mixed martial arts for fighters to switch gyms and change affiliations between fight camps, but Shields and his teammates at Caesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu have remained devoutly loyal to one and other over the years. The "skrap pack" which consists of Shields, UFC fighters Nick and Nate Diaz, and Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez, is arguably the most successful fight team in MMA today.
Jake attributes the diverse styles and contrasting skill sets each of them brings to the table to the high level of success his teammates have each had individually in the sport.
"I think it helps a lot, because we do all have very different styles. We are able to push each other, and we prepare each other to fight guys with different styles. We train together all the time, and we have all managed to adapt our own styles, and I think it just shows that we are all are own people, and that is why we are such a great team."
The Power of American Jiu-Jitsu
Shields forearm is covered with a tattoo depicting an eagle clutching the Great Seal of the United States and a banner which reads "American jiu-jitsu." This tattoo is bearing homage to his particular brand of martial arts that was developed through his years of sparring with the team.
"American jiu-jitsu is my brand of grappling," said Shields. "Originally, I was an all-American wrestler, collegiate style, and then I got my black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Both are phenomenal styles of grappling, but I try to blend the two together. I never used a gi in jiu-jitsu, so American jiu-jitsu is kind of just blending the two together. It's aggressive and constantly attacking like wrestling, but a little more technical and relaxed like Brazilian jiu-jitsu."
Shields has proven the efficiency of his American jiu-jitsu by submitting opponents on the largest stages of mixed martial arts, and defeating numerous world-ranked grapplers in jiu-jitsu competition, but the martial arts community has not always been embracing of Jake's unique style.
Jake won the 2005 Pan American jiu-jitsu tournament in a gi with basically never having trained in one prior to the tournament. Many fans view this accomplishment as one of Jake's greatest, but when asked about his gold medal, Jake shrugs it off, recalling the criticism he endured in order to earn it.
"Caesar Gracie gave me my belt, and a lot of people were saying, 'Oh you can't possibly be belted without ever having trained in a gi.' So I wanted to prove all the haters wrong. I went into the tournament and tapped out and beat a lot of the best guys in the world just to prove a point."
His point has certainly been proven, as Shields now bolsters one of the most impressive resumes in submission grappling, including victories over Jon Fitch, Vinny Magalhaes, and Diego Sanchez.
Shields only sees more to come from Caesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in the future, and hopes that some of his less-publicized teammates will be given the spotlight as well.
"We have a lot of guys to look out for. Josh McDonald is a very tough guy. There is a lot of great up and comers, and hopefully some of these guys will break out. Me, Nate, Nick, and Gil, have really been the ones to make a name for our team, but hopefully in the next year or so, some of these other guys will be able to get out there and do the same as well.
Shining Moment of Career
While Shields has reached great heights in the sport, it is hard for him to nail-down an exact moment or achievement as his favorite.
"It's hard to say because I have had a lot of good moments. Winning the Shooto belt in Japan was quite an accomplishment, because that was before I was a big name. I won the Elite XC belt. I won the Rumble on the Rocks tournament, and that was a completely stacked tournament. Even guys like Anderson Silva were involved in that, so that really means a lot to me."
Along with the glory of victory, the Rumble on the Rocks tournament brings on a humorous memory for Shields. After defeating current UFC interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit, Shields advanced to the finals to take on the world-ranked Yushin Okami. This was all in the same night, mind you.
Earlier in the night, Shields had told the DJ he would like some "old punk or metal music" to be played during his entrance. As he was getting pumped up and poised to make his walk-out, he was thrown for a loop as "All the Small Things" by Blink 182 came out of the speakers. Shields became furious, and almost did not even want to walk out.
Good thing he did, as he would go on to defeat Okami and be crowed the tournament champion. Defeating two top-ten fighters in a single night, with both fights going the distance, is an amazing feat in this sport, and one certainly worth enduring a less than desirable entrance song for.
Shields now laughs looking back on the escapade, saying, "Nothing against Blink, they're okay and all, just not exactly what I would look at as old punk music. I had asked for old punk or metal, and they were definitely not what I was looking for, but, oh well, I guess I definitely learned I have to be a little bit more specific about punk music."
While on the subject of music, Shields mentions that he enjoys an eclectic variety of artists, and cites several from his native California as being some of his favorites. "I listen to a huge variety of music. Lars Frederickson and the Bastards and Rancid are some of my favorite bands. I listen to other stuff as well; I listen to some reggae, Sublime, you know I switch it up, really it just depends on my mood."
UFC Title Hopes
While Jake has accomplished many things and won many world championships, he is still in pursuit of his ultimate goal: a UFC world championship belt. "Capturing the UFC belt has always been my dream, so I am still after that." However, he knows that to accomplish that goal, it is imperative for him to be focused on the current task at hand.
"First getting through Ed Herman, and then I would like to get another fight this year for sure. After Ed Herman, I would like to fight one of the top contenders; I don't really care who, I just want to get back into title contention again."
As Jake Shields prepares for his next run for championship gold, the competitive fire inside him burns stronger than ever. At thirty-three years old, and after over thirteen years in the sport, Shields has amassed a record of 27-6-1 and defeated some of the sport's biggest names.
While many competitors would be content to call it a day, Shields will not be satisfied until he fulfills his goal of becoming a UFC world champion. Even then, it is unlikely that he will be itching for retirement, because as long as haters keep hating, Shields will continue to find the motivation to prove them wrong.
Photo courtesy Tracy Lee of Yahoo! Sports