Before every major card, FIGHT! will pick one bout we feel represents the greatest potential risk and reward for the participants. Whether a win means a title shot or loss means a one-way ticket home, we’ve deemed this match the FIGHT! of the Night.
Jake Shields is a submission specialist and proud of it. That can still get you far in MMA (see: Demian Maia) but only so far before someone pulls your card (see: Demian Maia). On Nov. 7, I think Jason “Mayhem” Miller is the one who’ll be doing the pulling.
A lack of willing and able opponents at 170 pounds forced Shields to move up to middleweight for Strikeforce’s June 6 show. He looked small compared to his opponent, former IconSport and EliteXC middleweight champion Robbie Lawler but managed to pull off a standing guillotine and submit Lawler on the ground. But for the four minutes that preceded the submission Shields was unable to get anything working on his feet and had each of his takedown attempts stuffed by the more powerful Lawler. His striking was stiff and awkward, his kicks slapping Lawler without any rotational power behind them.
In Miller he’ll face “Lawler Plus”: a brawler who is wild at times but possesses greater skill than Lawler both on feet and on the ground. “Mayhem” put time in with Dutch kickboxing master Rob Kaman and you can bet that if Shields throws a half-hearted kick Miller’s way, that bad Larry is getting caught and countered.
As for his ground game, Miller hasn’t submitted in a fight since 2002. He’s not an ADCC or Mundials champ but “Mayhem” gets the job done on the ground and like Lawler, is probably too powerful for Shields to take down, especially if Shields isn’t setting up his takedowns with good combinations.
My prediction is that Shields will get beat up on the feet and stifled when tries to transition to the ground. If the fight goes to the mat I don’t see him finishing Miller there but anything is possible.
If Shields’ kickboxing shows signs of life and he is able to defeat Miller, the title is almost secondary. The most important takeaway would be that Shields is a legit middleweight. If he loses it might be in Shields’ best interests to move back to welterweight – after all, no one knows when Shields’ friend Nick Diaz is going to fight again so it’s unlikely there would be an immediate conflict of interest. A Miller victory would be a signature win for a guy who is better known to American fans as a wacky TV personality than as a fighter. It would give Strikeforce a charismatic champ to trot out for nationally televised cards, a bona fide high-Q-score guy to build cards around.
There’s a lot more to this scrap than a win, a loss, and a title belt and that’s why I’m calling it the FIGHT! of the Night.