For the past 10 years, Jake Shields has earned respect among the hardcore MMA community by dominating opponents at smaller fi ght promotions around the globe. Recently, thanks to Elite XC’s television deal through CBS, he’s used his mainstream exposure to capture the hearts of casual fans. But still, to this day, he doesn’t get any love from frat boys.
Though Shields had his fair share of scuffl es with frat boys during his college days, he has matured since that time and tries to let their snide remarks roll off his shoulders. Sometimes, however, the beer-drinking and Pong-playing assholes go a little too far. “It was like a year ago,” he vividly recalls. “I go back down to San Luis Obispo with a girl, and as I’m walking down the street, some guy is like, ‘Hey, baby,’ like right in front of me.”
He takes a deep breath. “I couldn’t believe it,” the 29-year-old continues. “I’m a freaking professional fi ghter, and these kids are still so rude. I’ve barely had a street fi ght, and now some frat boy started hitting on my girl. So, I just grabbed her and walked off. I didn’t wanna have to knock out some frat boy. I never look for fi ghts, and some kid in a polo shirt punks me.”
Really, that’s the least of his problems. Although he is the Elite XC Welterweight Champion, there are few worthy 170-pound contenders in the organization who can give him a true test. With the company losing money, some question whether it can sign any other top-10 fi ghters in his weight class –- not to mention the fact that all, with the exception of Shields, are locked into lengthy contracts with rival MMA conglomerate Zuffa.
Shields just wants to prove he is the best fi ghter in his weight class. But as it looks, that opportunity might not happen for quite a while.
Like other top-ranked welterweights, Jake Shields’ bread and butter lies within his grappling skills. When he was 10 years old, he got involved at a local kids’ wrestling program a few miles from Mountain Ranch, California, and further developed his talent in middle school and high school. After graduating from Calaveras High School in 1999, he received a partial scholarship to Cuesta College and competed on the wrestling squad.
Though college wrestlers tend to have little downtime, Shields and his teammates found the time to party harder than a rock star (or Chuck Liddell, for that matter) and, occasionally, got into brawls with the polo shirt mafi a. “We didn’t get along with the frat boys too good, and once you get into four or fi ve fi ghts with the frat, you basically have every frat boy in a town that doesn’t like you,” Shields explains. “So we had about 500 frat boys who wanted to fi ght about 10 of us, but we pretty much won about 95% of the time regardless. It started out just a few times we would be way too outnumbered, but we were wrestlers. We fought side by side and would keep on fi ghting until they were sick of getting beaten up.”
But at that time, he wasn’t just tossing frat boys to the ground. His college wrestling coach, Jeremiah Miller, trained with Chuck Liddell at the SLO Kickboxing Academy at San Luis Obispo, and Shields tagged along. “I went over there a couple of times, started working out with Chuck, and just got caught up into it from there,” he says.
Shields made a successful pro debut in 1999, and while he continued to train at SLO Kickboxing Academy, he also took classes, wrestled, and partied. The 170-pounder had a stacked plate, and in 2001 it became full when his daughter was born.
That’s when he decided to make some changes. “I realized I needed to do something different and get out of that town, because while I had great friends and they were good people, they were the same people who were getting me into trouble. It wasn’t necessarily their fault. It was my fault just as bad,” he acknowledges. “But sometimes when you’re hanging out and doing the same thing with the same crowd, it’s hard to change things around. I realized I didn’t want to put my daughter in a bad situation, so I moved to San Francisco and just started over.”
He also transferred to San Francisco State University and joined the wrestling team. But after practice, the welterweight would train with Caesar Gracie to develop a black belt Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game. Also, he continued to take classes, worked odd jobs, and fought when he could. Eventually, he won the Shooto Middleweight Title.
After time, Shields burned out. And when he lost his strap to Akira Kikuchi in 2004, he made more changes. “I felt like I had too much going on,” he admits. “I was going to college, had a daughter I was trying to support so I was trying to fi nd part-time work to support her, and training to fi ght. I was just doing too much to be the high-level person I wanted, so at that point I managed to set things up. I started making money teaching and quit college to pursue fi ghting.”
It was the best career choice he ever made. In 2006, he entered the Rumble On the Rock welterweight tournament to crown a new champion, and notables such as Frank Trigg and Anderson Silva participated in the event. Shields wouldn’t face either of them, however. Instead, he steamrolled Dave Menne in the opening round, won a split decision over Yushin Okami in the semifi nals, and then defeated Carlos Condit to claim the gold.
Those wins immediately caught the attention of several promoters, and on July 26, 2008, Shields reached the pinnacle of his young career: he defeated Nick Thompson with a modifi ed guillotine choke in 63 seconds to claim the vacant Elite XC Welterweight Title. The lifestyle changes paid off.