When Anderson Silva knocked out Vitor Belfort in spectacular fashion at UFC 126, the first leg of superfight of the ages between him and Georges St. Pierre was all but set up. Silva has defeated nearly everyone of note in his division; all GSP has to do is win once more to set up a fight that could (potentially) fill the new Cowboys Stadium and would be MMA equivalent of Ali-Frazier. Only one thing lies between this; a fight in Toronto for the championship against Jake Shields. And for as much as it almost seems like a foregone conclusion that GSP-Silva will happen sometime this fall, people are glossing over one thing.
Jake Shields can beat GSP.
GSP certainly isn’t and Shields represents his strongest test to date. But it’s also GSP’s toughest opponent to date and people aren’t giving Shields enough credit going into this fight. There are plenty of reasons why Shields could certainly end the title reign of the current UFC Welterweight champion.
1. Championship Experience
Unlike the last couple of challengers he’s faced, Shields has gone the distance in championship fights within the past 12 months … and won. You can’t discount a guy who has gone the distance before and been successful. None of GSP’s last several opponents have done that. GSP has plenty of experience going the distance, which has been a key advantage in defeating guys like Thiago Alves, Jon Fitch, Dan Hardy and most recently, Josh Koscheck.
You can train all you want, but going five rounds for a title is something you can’t practice. Things like nerves, gas, etc, are all things you find about yourself as a fighter when you hear the air horn sound at the end of the third and realize there’s ten minutes to go still. Shields has been there and been successful; GSP won’t have the advantage of experience in this particular area. It may not have been against elite competition like the Canadian champion but it wasn’t far from it.
2. He will take GSP down at some point
GSP’s takedown defense has been tried and tried again by guys with as good of pedigrees as amateur wrestlers as Shields. Better in some aspects as Koscheck and Fitch wrestled at large programs whereas Shields was a junior college star, nothing more. But here’s the thing about it: everyone he faces he’s taken down. Including a two time Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling qualifier in Dan Henderson, which he did multiple times, and it’s not like he’s a good enough standup fighter to keep it on his feet. His standup game is average, at best. It’s not a liability but definitely not something he’s going to rely on to win a fight. And as such his entire game plan revolves around taking guys down and working his magic on the mat.
Everyone knows this and yet he keeps taking people down regularly, like clockwork.
Look at his training camp in particular. He’s brought in Chael Sonnen, the best wrestler in MMA, to help prepare him for the fight. Sonnen’s not there to teach him to talk smack or kickboxing techniques; he’s there to drill him on takedowns and takedown defense. If you’re going to prepare to take down a guy with great MMA wrestling like GSP then you have to train against someone like Sonnen, one of the more decorated wrestlers to cross over into MMA and be successful. If he can take Chael Sonnen down, or stop his takedowns, he’ll do better against GSP.
3. His submission skills have GSP worried about being submitted
GSP brings in a lot of different and great partners for his fights, but this time he’s brought in Roger Gracie. Gracie’s the best BJJ practitioner in the world and GSP has worked with him before. But you don’t bring in a guy like him, who eats black belts for breakfast, unless you need to worry about the ground game in some detail. Shields may not be as good as Gracie, nowhere near the same league, but you don’t train for submission defense with a guy like that if you aren’t worried about that aspect of the fight. Much like how Sonnen is a great training partner for takedown defense, Gracie’s the equivalent in submissions.
4. Shields has run through a who’s who of people to get here
Getting a title shot in the UFC is difficult because of how loaded every division is. But it’s not as if Shields hasn’t defeated anyone of note and is being gifted a title shot because GSP has beaten everyone. Yushin Okami, Paul Daley, Carlos Condit, Jason “Mayhem” Miller and Henderson have all been bested by Shields in recent years. He hasn’t faced a fighter as good as GSP, but he’s run over everyone in his path to get here. You can’t get to the top of the mountain without a steep climb, though.
5. GSP seems too eager to finish to quell the critics
The one thing that’s been mentioned by a lot of people “in the know” like ESPN MMA commentator Jon Anik is that GSP wants to finish the fight. GSP normally fights fairly cautiously, for lack of a better word, and isn’t prone to taking risks. He never leaves himself open for someone to take that big shot or grab a limb and torque it the other way. That’s the downside of trying to finish a fight; you leave yourself open to something that could bite you in the backside if you have an opponent skilled enough to take advantage of it. If GSP wants the KO or the submission he’s going to leave a window open just wide enough that Shields could potentially shock the world.
A good parallel would be Chael Sonnen vs. Anderson Silva from 2010. Sonnen controlled that fight for all but the last moments but made one small mistake on his top control that led to Silva’s improbable victory. He was trying to finish with strikes instead of grinding it out and left that small sliver open to get triangled. If GSP is desperate to finish he could leave a similar opening for Shields to take advantage of.
Will the Cesar Gracie team member be the man to unseat GSP from his perch as the UFC welterweight champion? We can’t know until the cage closes in Toronto and the two men square off. Can he? It’s definitely possible and GSP is against his most pedigreed opponent yet. His fans may be looking past Jake Shields but you can be certain that GSP won’t.
Tags: Carlos Condit, Cesar Gracie, Chael Sonnen, dan henderson, Georges St. Pierre, Jake Shields, Mixed Martial Arts, Paul Daley, Robbie Lawler, UFC 129, UFC Welterweight division, Yushin Okami