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Jake Shields and The Healing Power of a Fight

“I want to show that I can beat him on the feet, on the ground, anywhere. I want to go out there hungry and put him away." - Jake Shields

It’s never easy to lose a parent. Jake Shields is finding that out first hand right now as he deals with the sudden passing of his father and manager Jack at the age of 67 on August 29th.

The two were as close as you hope a father-son team would be, and having those positive memories can soften the blow. But as the welterweight contender is finding out, getting over the initial shock of the loss is just the beginning. The rest hits you when you least expect it, and it’s in those times you hope that something will take your mind off the pain, even if just for a few moments. So when most expected Shields to understandably withdraw from his Saturday main event fight with Jake Ellenberger, he instead looked to the sport he loved to help him when he needed it the most.

“It was a pretty easy decision,” said Shields of his choice to carry on with the fight. “Of course the first few minutes I was little in shock and I didn’t know if I could fight or not, but then I got my head clear and I figured it was a thing I needed to do for several reasons. One, him being my manager, my biggest supporter and fan, he would want me to do that. And I think I need to do it for myself too. I think if I would have pulled out of the fight it would have put me into a lot more of a depression. This way it gives me something to keep focusing my energy on and keep moving forward. Bad things happen in life, and we were really close, so of course it’s hard, but I can’t just stop my life and not do anything. It’s not what he would want, not what I want, and I’ve got to go on and continue doing positive things.”

So for the 32-year old, it was back to work, where he could focus not on the loss of his father, but on training partners trying to punch and kick him as he got ready for Ellenberger.

“I definitely think it helps a lot because, of course, I have those moments where it hits me,” he said. “There have been times when I went to go call him about something, and I realize that he’s not there to call, and it hurts. But there’s so much going on with the fight that I have to stay focused. And when you’re sparring, you have to have your head together. You can’t go drifting off. So I’m able to put my head in the right spot every day, and it keeps me feeling better.”

On Saturday, Ellenberger (who has sent his condolences for his opponent’s loss) won’t be holding back, and Shields wouldn’t expect him to, especially since the Nebraskan was the one calling for the fight until he got it. Shields admits that at first, he didn’t even know who the hard-hitting up and comer was.

“I never heard of the guy, and he kept calling me out,” said Shields. “Recently I’ve obviously watched his fights and he is pretty tough, but I kept hearing about this kid I never heard of talking trash and wanting to fight me, and he got what he’s asked for, but he better watch it because I’m ready to teach him a lesson.”

That’s the fire you want to hear from Shields, not just because of what he’s going through in his personal life, but because professionally, he’s coming off his first loss in over six years, a five round decision defeat at the hands of UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre in April.

“Losing a fight like that is never good and I want to go show that I’m not a loser, but that I’m a winner,” said Shields, who had a 15 fight win streak broken at UFC 129. “I want to get back on track and I want that title still. I want to go out there and not only win, I want to show that I’m on a different level.”

He always has been, but while he showed off an improved striking game against the champion in their title bout, his vaunted ground game was nowhere to be found. So what went wrong that night in Toronto?

“A few things,” he said. “First off, he (St-Pierre) is a great fighter. He fought great, he fought smart, and I have to give him the credit. I did do a few things wrong of course and you always do things wrong in a fight. I think I should have started a little more aggressive. I think he had a little trouble after I started putting on the pressure, but I didn’t start fighting harder until the later rounds. And I should have shot a lot more. I only shot once or twice in the fight, and I’m a groundfighter. It’s one of those things you look back on and say ‘what the hell was I thinking?’ but sometimes you get out there, and in the moment you just don’t fight how you’re supposed to fight.”

It wasn’t a blowout loss, as two of the three judges had Shields only trailing 48-47 (the third had the fight 50-45 in GSP’s favor), but the Californian isn’t claiming any moral victories.

“I started feeling a little too comfortable, but I was still losing,” he said. “In the later rounds, I think two of the judges had me winning the last two rounds, but it still wasn’t enough. I should have been shooting a little more, and to GSP’s credit, he’s a very hard guy to shoot on. He has some of the best spacing and timing in the sport. And unless you’re in there with the guy or you really watch the fights closely, you don’t realize where he’s placing his legs and his side to side movement.”

Not surprisingly, walking out of an arena without getting his hand raised was a feeling he had forgotten, and it took a little while to shake it off and get back into the gym.

“For a minute I was a little bummed out, and it takes a little time to get re-motivated after something like that, but once I took a month off or so, I got my head clear and started training for this fight, the fire came back and I trained harder than ever,” said Shields. “I actually feel like I had the best camp of my life and I feel like I’m the best fighter I’ve ever been right now. When I fought GSP, I wish it was the way it is right now. The way my sparring’s going, my training, my jiu-jitsu, my conditioning, everything feels better than it’s ever done. I’ve made some small changes in my camp, made some things simpler, and I think those small things have made a big jump in my game.”

“Coming so close and tasting it and failing, it’s just not what I want to do,” he continues. “So it’s motivating me harder than ever and I really want to go out there and beat him (Ellenberger). I know it’s not easy to earn another title shot, so I’m doing whatever I can right now to work harder and trying to put some people away and work my way back to that rematch.”

Not to get too melodramatic here, but those are words Jack Shields would have loved to hear from his son. And it’s clear by the grace and professionalism Jake Shields has shown in a time when he would have been forgiven for showing anything less, that Jack raised a helluva young man. But the way Shields the competitor sees it, Saturday night is all about the fight and all about letting the world know that not only is he back in the title hunt, but that he’s better than ever.

“I want to make a huge statement and I want to blow this kid out of the water,” he said. “I want to show that I can beat him on the feet, on the ground, anywhere. I want to go out there hungry and put him away. I don’t want the fight to go the distance.”