by Cage Potato contributor Matt Kaplan
Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields is starting to see his April 17 title defense against Dan Henderson for what it is: a win-win. Shields is heading into the last fight of his Strikeforce deal, and if he wins, he not only will have beaten a personal MMA hero, but he also will have UFC president Dana White knocking on his door. And if he loses, well, the UFC will still be knocking. Win or lose, the free agent Shields is getting paid.
In an exclusive Cage Potato interview, Shields spoke about exploring free agency, what he has that Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira does not, “definitely” wanting to fight Georges St-Pierre, and a Strikeforce 170- and 185-pound talent pool that, as far as he is concerned, is all but drained. Oh yeah, and he does not like Frank Shamrock.
Dana White recently claimed that you are being fed to Dan Henderson for the last fight of your contract. He suggested that Strikeforce and/or Showtime might be doing this so that if you lose, they won’t have to pay up for both you and Henderson.
Yeah, I don’t know. I’m not really sure what the motives are. Obviously it’s a really tough fight for the last fight on my contract. It’s not something I really want to push, but it’s a good fight for me as well. It’s a good opportunity to prove myself against a top fighter, so their motives aren’t really that big a deal to me. I’m just trying to go out there and do my thing and win a fight.
Have you and your management begun talks with Strikeforce about a new contract?
We wanted a chance to be a free agent. I think a lot of people took that as meaning I wanted to be in the UFC for sure, but my intentions were never definitely “I’m going to the UFC.” I just wanted the option. I haven’t been a free agent in years and I just wanted to have that option. Strikeforce may have looked at it as if I’m 100% leaving, but to me, I’m just taking it one step at a time. And now I’ve got Dan Henderson being the biggest fight of my life in front of me, so I’m just trying to get through that, and then I’ll talk with my manager and look at our options. Obviously I think Strikeforce is a great show and I’ve been a UFC fan since 1993, so at that point I’ll sit back and make the decision.
I think I’m taking a risk with someone as tough as Henderson as my last fight [under contract], but I think it’s a worthwhile risk. I know I’m going in there as a big underdog, but I feel like I can surprise a lot of people, and then I’ll really be in a good negotiating situation. The worst case, I lose, and it’s really not the end of the world because Henderson is such a respected fighter.
Well, Dana White said that the UFC would “love” to have you, win or lose against Henderson.
That’s great feedback because, you know, I thought I was taking a big risk if I lose the fight; obviously I’ll be worth more money if I win, but it’s good to see that I’ll have a job somewhere, win or lose.
He seems to think of you primarily as a welterweight, which is part of the reason he believes you’re being fed to Henderson. Is your future in MMA at 170 or 185 lbs, and will that impact what move you make after this fight?
Most likely I’ll probably drop back down to 170, but I want to go out there and see how I feel against Henderson. Henderson is obviously one of the best ’85-pounders, so if I go out there and beat him, then, who knows, maybe I’ll do a few more fights at ’85. But at some point, I definitely want to fight at ’70 again. GSP is a fighter I’ve wanted to fight for years and whether I beat Henderson or lose to him, [GSP] is a fight I definitely want to seek out.
Has there been any discussion — formal or informal — between the UFC and you and your management?
No, we haven’t talked with the UFC. Like I said, I was out there doing "The Ultimate Fighter" and I briefly talked to Dana there, but no business whatsoever. I think…I’m not even sure if it’s legal. But my management hasn’t had any talks with the UFC since the fall of EliteXC. I’m a big fan of the UFC and am on good terms with them, but also, everyone keeps saying I’m going to the UFC, but I still am on good terms with Strikeforce.
Assuming you stay in Strikeforce, would you fight at 170 while Nick Diaz is champ?
Yeah, the biggest problem is Nick Diaz being down there. I was actually considering dropping down to 170 for my next fight, but Strikeforce wanted me to stay up at 185 and fight Henderson. So I figured, what the hell, I might as well go for the big fight.
Was there an opponent lined up or being considered for you at 170 in Strikeforce?
No, that was the problem. They really didn’t have anyone at 170. That’s part of the reason why I stayed up. With Nick Diaz being the champ, he’s been kind of running through everyone, so at 170 there aren’t a lot of options.
No matter where you land next, right now you have Dan Henderson on April 17. Were you surprised that he received a title shot as quickly as he did?
I think it’s a well deserved title shot. To say he doesn’t deserve a title shot is stupid. Just because you haven’t fought in this show doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a title shot. I think for any show, you have to look at what you’ve done in your career. I think his first fight in the UFC he got a title shot. No one can really question Dan Henderson’s credentials. You know, if I do end up switching to the UFC, I would hope to get a title shot fairly fast if I beat Henderson.
Considering his overall game, what does Henderson bring to the cage that perhaps you haven’t seen in an opponent before?
Me being a top-level jiu-jitsu guy, I like to put people on the ground and submit them, and he’s a charge to take down, so he gives me a threat that way, not to mention that he’s one of the biggest fighters I’ve ever faced. And he’s also a big power puncher. I’ve faced a lot of good strikers, but he’s got a lot of power. He’s got a lot of weapons, but I don’t think he’s fought someone with the mix of jiu-jitsu and wrestling that I have either. He’s fought jiu-jitsu guys, like [Rodrigo] Nogueira, but not guys with my level of wrestling.
Henderson will be fighting next month after a nine-month layoff, his longest period of inactivity in some five years. Do you think that this will impact the 39-year-old Henderson?
No, I don’t think nine months is really that long. I mean, it’s nice to have a little break. I’ve never really noticed any ring rust after a little time off. I know he’s a little older too, but he still seems to be performing at a peak level. He looked great against [Michael] Bisping and – who’d he fight before that – Rich Franklin, so I’m expecting the best Dan Henderson. And if for some reason he doesn’t show up as the best Dan Henderson, then that’s good for me.
Obviously a win over Dan Henderson is a big accomplishment in anyone’s career. What will it mean to you personally, as someone who’s followed Henderson’s career for as long as you have?
It would be huge to beat Dan because, you know, when I first got into this sport coming from a wrestling background, Henderson and [Randy] Couture and [Mark] Coleman were the guys I looked up to, the good wrestlers. Those were the guys I’d look at and say, “I wish I could do this.” To go in there and beat one of my heroes, it’s a great feeling. I first had that feeling when I beat Hayato Sakurai. I used to watch his fights and think, “He’s awesome; I wish I could fight like that,” and to beat him was a great feeling. It would be a repeat of that if I can beat Henderson, except this time in the U.S. and on a national level, so I’d get more recognition for it than going to fight Sakurai in Japan.
If you beat Henderson and stay with Strikeforce, whom do you see as a potential opponent for the middleweight belt?
That’s the problem: there’s not a lot of depth in talent. [Ronaldo] “Jacare” [Souza] is obviously very talented, but unfortunately not very well known. It’s a great fight, but it’s a lot better of a fight if the fans know who the people are. Scott Smith is talented, but he’s not there. There’s Frank Shamrock, but he’s kind of a washed-up joke; I don’t think he wants to fight any top fighters anymore, so I don’t know. But there’s definitely some guys they can build up, guys like Tim Kennedy, guys who need a few more fights still.
Which upcoming Strikeforce fight, aside from your own, do you find most exciting?
Strikeforce has a lot of good fights that I’m excited about. Gilbert [Melendez] vs. [Shinya]Aoki is a fight that was supposed to happen three or four years ago that I’m extremely excited about, so that’s probably the fight I’m most excited for. I also want to see “King” Mo [Lawal] and [Gegard] Mousasi. I think “King” Mo is extremely talented, and a lot of people are looking past him, but I think that’s a pretty evenly matched fight.
Before we go, we have to do a quick word association exercise; I’ll mention something, and you respond with whatever comes right to mind. There’s no wrong answer.
Cesar Gracie Fight Team: Tough as nails, loyal, and a lot of big things coming in the future.
Marijuana and MMA: Nick Diaz. That might be the wrong answer.
American Jiu-Jitsu: Relentless pressure.
Tito Ortiz, the reality TV coach: Little punk
Fedor’s next opponent should be: Brock Lesnar. That’s just what I want to watch; I’m not trying to knock Strikeforce there.
Of course not. Your biggest vice: I’m not answering that (laughs)…women. Put that down.
Your favorite movie fight scene: "True Romance," where the guy and the girl fight.
Jose Canseco: I’m not a big fan.
And finally, Frank Shamrock: (sigh) Washed-up nobody trying to stay in the spotlight.
Jake, thanks for your time. Good luck.
Thanks, everyone, for all the support, and tune in on April 17 to watch a great night of fights.