The reigning Strikeforce middleweight champion and undefeated since 2004, Jake Shields is on an impressive 13-fight winning streak in MMA. Now he has a beast of the highest order in Dan Henderson ahead of him.
Chuck Liddell’s training partner from way back, the Cesar Gracie black belt had a chat with GRACIEMAG.com correspondent Nalty Jr. and, in 23 questions, spoke about Strikeforce, his participation in TUF 11 and much more.
1) With all this pressure to fight Dan Henderson live on CBS, what is hardest on you right now?
I’m not thinking about anything. I’m just focused on my training now and I’ll only stop after winning this fight.
2) You’re a StrikeForce fighter, but your contract ends after the Henderson fight. Do you ever think of going to the UFC and fighting guys like Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre?
I’m a fighter who takes it one opponent at a time and my next fight is in StrikeForce against Henderson. When you talk about guys like Anderson Silva and St.-Pierre, the best in the world, obviously I fight want to fight them. I want to be the best in the world and to be the best you have to beat the best.
3) UFC President Dana White often says that StrikeForce is the minor league of MMA. How do you feel about such remarks?
In my opinion both the UFC and StrikeForce are high-level events. They are two first-rate MMA shows. They’re really great for fighters and fans. There’s no reason for there to only be one main MMA event worldwide. The UFC has been in the market longer and thus has more elite fighters, but StrikeForce has lots of talented fighters and some are top 10 in the world.
4) When did you start practicing Jiu-Jitsu?
I started Jiu-Jitsu and MMA in 2000, with Chuck Liddell, but the truth is that neither of us knew much about Jiu-Jitsu at that time. With Chuck it was more MMA training, so after a while I went to train Jiu-Jitsu with Cesar Gracie in San Francisco, and I still train with him today.
5) What’s your impression of the growth of MMA over these past 10 years?
It’s insane! The sport has changed so much in ten years that fighters would get into this career for sport, nobody had any money. These days no one could care less about sport, it’s all for the money. Today the sport is much more popular, with more money involved.
6) You’re a StrikeForce fighter but you participated in The Ultimate Fighter 11, the UFC reality show, as one of the coaches on Chuck Liddell’s team. What was that like?
The truth is that Chuck is a great friend of mine and he needed a Jiu-Jitsu coach for his team, so he called me and I accepted his invitation. How could I say no to a friend? I took the chance to do some training in Vegas. I get along well with everyone at the UFC, as I do with everyone at StrikeForce. It was really cool.
What happened was that Chuck got so famous, so popular that he ended up losing his motivation to train. He couldn’t even walk in the street” Jake Shields
7) What’s it like training with guys like the brothers Nick and Nate Diaz, and Gilberto Melendez?
I train a lot with them, mainly Jiu-Jitsu. Training is tough. We’re friends, and at the same time we’re all fighters, very competitive, which makes the training sessions even rougher. We always push each other to the limit and help each other out the whole time.
8) You train in California, but spent some time training in Las Vegas. What was that like?
Good, I spent six weeks training with Robert Drysdale in Vegas, and now I went back to camping in California. It was a good experience, Robert Drysdale is a phenomenal guy and his Jiu-Jitsu’s a whole other level. It was fun, and I also trained with Chuck Liddell and other tough guys.
9) Is Liddell still training hard?
He’s fine. It had been a while since I last saw him. I believe that now he got the motivation he used to have back. In my opinion, what happened was that Chuck got so famous, so popular that he ended up losing his motivation to train. He couldn’t even walk in the street. Now he’s motivated and it looks like things will go back to what they were; he’s hungry for knockouts. Chuck loves to fight, he lost some fights and how he wants to return to the Octagon and show everyone he’s still one of the best in the world.
10) Do you think the Tito Ortiz fight in the UFC will be good for Liddell?
Yes. Chuck loves to fight. He lost some fights and now wants to return to the Octagon and show everyone that he’s still one of the best in the world. He’s a very competitive guy and a fight with Tito gives him more motivation to get out there and win.
11) What would your MMA dream event be like?
I’d unite Strikeforce and the UFC, and I’d put on an event with their champions against ours, Melendez vs BJ Penn, Diaz vs GSP, Mousasi vs Machida, Fedor vs Lesnar, me vs Anderson. It would be a fantastic card!
12) If you could choose between fighting GSP or Anderson, who would you pick?
I’d pick St.-Pierre, because he weighs what I naturally weigh. Either way it’s a tough fight. GSP’s a complete fighter standing and on the ground. But that’s why I want to fight him, that’s the challenge. I want to test my skills and see what happens.
13) Does your family like watching your fights?
Early in my career no, but later they started liking it so much they never miss one, and my dad became my manager.
14) What was your childhood in Sierra Nevada like?
I was that kid who always got into trouble, fighting with other kids. I always had a lot of energy as a child, then played sports like snowboarding and mountain biking to try to stay away from fighting in the streets. But when I decided to dedicate myself to this career of being a fighter, I ended up getting stuck with that problem in my life (laughs).
15) What do you think about the fight between Gilbert Melendez and Shinya Aoki, to take place at Strikeforce?
Aoki’s a really good fighter, he’s talented and dangerous, but I believe Melendez will win this fight.
16) What is the most important martial art in MMA today?
Nowadays there’s no way to pick one type of martial art as being the most important in MMA. Some time ago, Jiu-Jitsu was the best, but nowadays, with the work being done on top of physical conditioning, training with takedowns and the whole study of the sport, it’s tough. Increasingly, the fighters’ technical level is becoming more well-rounded and is not focus on just one style of fighting.
17) Which fighter do you admire most in MMA and why?
There are a lot of guys that I admire in MMA, but most of all I admire Chuck Liddell, he was the first guy that I trained with when I was only 20 years old. At that time he already had a lot of prestige as a fighter and I wanted to follow in his steps to get there, though we have different styles.
18) What do you think of Fedor Emelianenko?
Fedor is a fighter who’s always calm, even when he’s losing. He nearly lost that last fight to Rogers, but the crazy part is that he always ends up finding a way to win. I really like Fedor as a fighter; I don’t know if on the commercial side he’s making the right decision. I love watching his fights, especially against top fighters. I hope he does stay at the top a long time. Strikeforce has great fighters in the heavy division, so let’s wait and see who his next opponent will be.
19) In your opinion, who is the best these days?
It’s really hard to say that one fighter occupies that post. I think St-Pierre, Fedor and Anderson Silva are the ones that really fit that position. But I’m a fan of several fighters. My favorite fighters of all time are Brazilian. I like Shogun, the Nogueira brothers, Machida and, of course, Anderson.
20) What do you expect in the fight between Anderson Silva and Demian Maia in April?
It will be an interesting fight. My money’s on Anderson’s standing game, but Demian Maia on the ground will be hard to handle.
21) What about Machida vs Shogun?
That’s a tough one. But I think Shogun will win. In my opinion, he won the first fight. It will be an even fight, but Shogun will find the way to victory.
22) What are your plans for the future?
I’m focused on winning a fight at a time. Now I’m focused on Dan Henderson for this fight and after that my contract with Strikeforce ends. I’ll talk with Strikeforce and the UFC to find out which one I will work for.
23) Is there something you’d like to say to your fans around the world?
If you really want to stand out as a professional fighter, train a lot, but train hard, every day. Lots of folks don’t realize the work it takes to become a professional fighter. You have to go to the gym day after day, year after year. Becoming a top fighter is something that requires years of training and dedication.