Jake Shields was on the verge of reaching the summit of the Ultimate Fighting Championship world at this time last year. Now, he’s in Japan fighting to save his career.
A win over Japanese fighter Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 144 in Tokyo on Saturday could be the first rung in the ladder back up to a welterweight championship fight. But if Shields, 33, loses, it’s possible that the UFC could give him the pink slip.
“I definitely do have a lot on the line,” said Shields, who fights out of San Francisco.
Shields’ career was soaring in April. He was riding a 15-fight winning streak that spanned more than six years, landing him a shot at the welterweight championship in only his second UFC fight.
But the former Shooto, Elite XC and Strikeforce champion fell to Georges St.-Pierre in a unanimous decision. At the time, it seemed like it wouldn’t be too long before Shields would get another crack at the title, but four months later he took the biggest blow of his life: His 67-year-old father, trainer and manager passed away unexpectedly.
“It definitely hit me out of nowhere,” Shields said.
Still, he pushed forward and decided to go ahead with his September bout against Jake Ellenberger at UFC Fight Night 25 in New Orleans. It took Ellenberger only 53 seconds to knock Shields out of the match with a TKO.
“It was hard losing the fight and my father,” Shields said. “I was going [to the gym], but I didn’t have the motivation.”
But after a couple of months, things started clicking again. Now Shields says he’s in the best shape of his life and that could be the difference in Saturday’s fight.
Akiyama, a judo specialist, likes to knock his opponents out early. He has an average career fight time of only 5:16, but he’s also known to tire in the late rounds. If Shields can survive the early onslaught, he’ll have a better chance of forcing a worn-out Akiyama into submission with his unique blend of Brazilian jiu jitsu and American wrestling tactics.
If that happens, Shields could be riding the wave back to the top.
“I’m looking at this as a rebirth,” he said.