By Dave Meltzer, Yahoo! Sports
Apr 16, 3:05 pm EDT
Jake Shields is holding a lottery ticket, waiting to cash in on 4-to-1 odds. While he may not be cashing in right away, he’ll know by Saturday night if he hit the jackpot. Shields (24-4-1), in the biggest fight of his life, defends the Strikeforce middleweight title against Dan Henderson (25-7) in the main event of a show airing live on CBS from the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. While champion, he’s the heavy underdog against his better-known opponent, who has been a major star in the sport for more than a decade.
But should he win, his timing couldn’t be better. Shields’ contract with Strikeforce is near its end. Technically, he still has one fight left after Saturday, but Shields says he has no championship clause like those in UFC deals, where the contract extends as long as you hold a championship. But he noted that the contract is running low on time, and that it’s doubtful he’ll get that last fight in before it runs out. At that point, he’ll be a free agent. With UFC aggressively attempting to counter Strikeforce, and with a win over Henderson in a CBS main event on his resume, Shields couldn’t be in a better place at a more perfect time. Signing up a champion coming off a win over an established star on CBS would be lure enough, but with Shields, a win over Henderson would make him the most attractive potential opponent for UFC’s most popular fighter, Georges St. Pierre. Should Shields win, Strikeforce won’t want to lose him. UFC won’t want Strikeforce to keep him. And even though he’s middleweight champion, he still considers himself more of a welterweight, where he has spent the bulk of his career. St. Pierre is running low on fresh opponents. And it’s a match Shields has wanted for years. St. Pierre, for his part, stirred the pot by stating last year that he thinks Shields is a better submission grappler than he is, and that’s saying something because St. Pierre and Shields both have similar styles, where both usually try to take fights to the ground. “I’m really happy with Strikeforce,” Shields said when talking about his unique situation. “People say I’m going to UFC. I’m not saying that. It’s not necessarily the case. I haven’t said for sure where I’m going. I’m fighting in the main event on CBS, so I’m not in any hurry to jump and run away.” He’s actually right now trying to avoid thinking about that question, but is well aware with a win, and for that matter, even with an impressive showing in a loss, at 31, it could be the biggest decision of his career. “I’m trying to get through this fight and then we’ll start talking from there,” he said. “Even if I did leave, I’m a big Strikeforce fan and would like them to be successful.” But there are options on the other side as well. “I’ve been wanting to fight Georges for a couple of years.” It’s Shields third time on CBS, but first as a main eventer. He’s had good luck so far. He’s had two matches and two title wins. On July 26, 2008, he became the Elite XC welterweight champion by using a guillotine to finish Nick Thompson in just 1:03. In his last outing, on November 7, 2009, he became the Strikeforce middleweight champion, after Cung Le vacated the title, winning a five-round decision over Jason “Mayhem” Miller. While the Miller win was far from the most spectacular fight of his career, it taught him what it was like to go five rounds in competition. “It may have given me a small benefit because it’s the first time I went five rounds, so I know I can do it,” Shields said. “Dan’s already done it.” Shields knows the value of the exposure of being on CBS from his previous fights. But this time there is more spotlight on him because his fight is going to carry the show. There’s also more pressure, as he and Henderson have to draw a rating, and it’s important they have an entertaining fight. At first, he said he was bothered at so much of the emphasis being on Henderson, since he’s the one with the belt. “At first they pushed Henderson a lot more, which was irritating being the champion, but he is more famous,” said Shields. “I have no problem with him getting more promos.” Henderson himself talked of wanting to make sure Shields doesn’t spend the fight “humping” on the ground and said it was important to grow the sport to have an exciting fight. But Henderson also noted, once the cage door shuts, he is only thinking of winning, not trying to entertain the fans. Shields says his camp gives him a mental edge, because of their training philosophy. The camp includes three Strikeforce champions, Gilbert Melendez, the lightweight champion, who defends against Shinya Aoki, and Nick Diaz, the welterweight champion, who fights in Japan at the end of May. “We all train really hard together,” he said. “We are very serious. I’ve been at other camps and I don’t see other camps training as hard as we do.” Even though Shields is riding a 13-fight winning streak, his last loss coming in 2004, he’s a heavy underdog for a couple of reasons. He’s never faced someone with Henderson’s reputation. His quality of opposition can’t match the type of people Henderson has been in with, so he hasn’t had the kind of tests under fire. And because, in a rarity, Henderson, usually the smaller man in most of his fights, is the physically bigger guy against someone who still thinks of himself as a welterweight. Shields would still be fighting welterweight, except he was put in a catch-weight fight with Robbie Lawler in a Showtime main event last summer. The idea behind the fight was matching champions of the defunct Elite XC in two different weight classes as something different to headline a Showtime card. Lawler was the favorite, and in some ways, the style match-up on that one was similar to this. The odds favored Lawler, figuring he was too big and had enough takedown defense to keep it standing, and Shields couldn’t match his Lawler’s firepower. The same reasons are why the odds for this fight so strongly favor Henderson. But Shields finished Lawler in only 2:02 with a guillotine, a move he got while standing. The win put him in Lawler’s former spot as the company’s star middleweight, leading to the title match on CBS. “I feel comfortable at this weight,” he said. “Weight has nothing to do with it. He may be a few pounds bigger. At most, there will be a five-pound weight difference (accounting for rehydration after Friday’s weigh-in) and that won’t be a factor in the fight.”