“No Man Is An Island”
Meditation XVII–John Donne

“I grew up with lots of independence”
–Jake Shields

By Kenny Rice

It is an isolated profession, MMA. There are team mates around the gym training as well, there are coaches, but ultimately at the highest level of the sport it is about the individual.

It seems this is the sport UFC Welterweight contender Jake Shields was meant to do growing up in Jesus Maria Canyon in Northern California. Never lonely but always having to decide if today was worth the forty-five minute hike over to the other side of the canyon to hang out with friends. If the day off from the home schooling he had until he was a teenager was the day for rock climbing or biking or cave exploration.

“That’s what I like about fighting, it is an independent sport. You are in charge over diet, training, it’s up to me to get ready,” he says from Caesar Gracie’s gym in Pleasant Hills, California, a little over two hours from his hometown. “I grew up to lead this life. I was into lots of adrenaline sports, outdoor sports than got me in great shape.”

He doesn’t need a reminder from anyone that he needs to be in the best shape ever for the biggest fight of his career when he tries to do the unthinkable for most, take Georges St. Pierre’s UFC Welterweight belt, along with Anderson Silva’s Middleweight title, it’s the Holy Grail of the sport.

“I always wanted to fight Georges. I know him decently, but I want to fight him out of respect. He can be beaten, everyone can. It comes down to mistakes, who makes the least. He has holes in his game. He does a lot of things very well, it’s simple really but it works. I have a lot of holes too.”

When he bolted from Strikeforce after successfully defending his Middleweight Championship last April against Dan Henderson, Shields had his eyes set on GSP. That’s why he dropped from 185 to 170 pounds, “I had a little trouble with that,” when he was offered a shot at Martin Kampmann which was the challenger elimination bout for the big prize.

“I would like to fight Anderson as well (for the Middleweight belt) but the focus has been on GSP out of the respect I have for him and what he has been able to accomplish. That seemed like the obvious direction for my career at this stage,” the 32 year old Shields assesses, “I can’t have too strict a game plan going in. I have visualized what it will be like in Toronto with 55,000 fans and 54,000 of them booing me. I have to keep my head on straight and put it all on me and Georges in the cage.”

For the quiet rebel of the sport, a lifelong vegetarian, the willingness to walk away from the security of Strikeforce, this is a scenario that is viable for him. It will take not just physical strength for this test, it goes back to those days of hiking miles through the canyon just to see what the boys on the other side of it were up to that day. Shields’ mental attitude has been rigidly shaped over the years of being if not on his own island at least a peninsula on his home turf.

“Some guys get caught up in the mystique and get beat before the fight starts. It’s with Georges or Anderson and used to be with Fedor. I’m no going to do that. I grew up with lots of independence.”

A mind set so entrenched on the issue at hand, Shields won’t even think about the legion of disbelievers or those odds-makers who have etched it firmly that he is at least a 4-1 underdog even with a 15 fight win streak. It has been the caliber of wins during this stretch, Henderson, Kampmann, Robbie Lawler, Carlos Condit and Yushin Okami, that has boosted an already solid confidence.

“I don’t pay attention to it but it is motivation. It seems ridiculous to me. It was the same when I fought Henderson. Some people are making a big mistake. He has a really impressive streak, so do I.”

There is also a remarkable feel for family for the man who grew up doing things his “own way.” He is extremely close with camp mates Nick and Nate Diaz and Gilbert Melendez. He has given tips on being a vegetarian to several other fighters including Jon Fitch. His father remains his manager and 10 year old daughter Maddy will be watching at home. She has found out more and more what a star her dad has become in the MMA world. “She grew up with me fighting so it was no big deal. But now kids at her school know me and they tell her about me. She’s the first person I am going to call when I win.”

The founder of what he calls “American Jiu-Jitsu,” “it’s Cesar’s black belt jiu-jitsu fusion with wrestling,” has never been tied down to conventional. It is the perfect disposition for such a daunting challenge.

“You cannot go into a fight if you don’t think you will win. It’s always been that way with me, from the first fight ever through the winning streak, until now.”

The mental game is ready, the free thinking underdog again must prove himself. It’s a way of life for Jake Shields, one that has taken him on a journey for the title chance. Almost everyone will root against him, he will be on his island in the cage. It’s up to him and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

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