The ground game is Jake Shields’ bread and butter -- everyone knows it. Shields had been piling up submission victory after submission victory for so long that he never felt a sense of urgency to work on his standup -- until he agreed to fight welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre on Saturday night at UFC 129 in Toronto.
In the months leading to the fight, Shields devoted a chunk of training working on his stand-up -- boxing in particular.
“I’ve been working on it a lot for a while,” Shields told ESPN.com. “The last couple of months I’ve been working with a lot of pro boxers. I wish I’d done it sooner.”
If only he had a few more months to fine-tune some things, especially his jab.
St. Pierre is years ahead of Shields in the striking department. The difference in their level of striking skills was evident immediately once they commenced to fighting.
Both fighters use left jabs regularly in the opening round, but the champ’s was more accurate, much quicker and more forceful. Shields’ jab was more of the pawing variety. This pattern would repeat itself throughout the five-rounder.
“What’s so good about the jab is that when you throw it, you take very little risk,” St. Pierre’s striking coach Firas Zahabi told ESPN.com before the fight. “You don’t shift your body weight very much, and you don’t expose yourself for very long.
“Also, it’s the punch that travels the fastest. It travels in a straight line. Therefore, it's the most important strike [in St. Pierre's arsenal]. It offers the perfect blend of attack and defense.”
St. Pierre dropped Shields with a stiff jab in the first round -- partly assisted by Shields’ poor footwork.
The fight rarely went to the ground, where Shields could have best worked his magic. When they did hit the ground, it was only because St. Pierre wanting to go there.
St. Pierre would retain his title by scores of 50-45, 48-47 and 48-47. Shields didn’t need to hear the official tally to know he wouldn’t be taking the 170-pound title with him back to California.
He also knows why: His boxing skills weren’t up to the task.
“Now that I’ve lost I’m going to work a lot more on my boxing,” Shields said. “My goal the next six months is to really learn how to box, because if someone [else] finally stops my takedowns they'll beat me.
“If I can catch my boxing up with my ground skills, hopefully before I retire I can get another shot at Georges and I’ll be able to do things a little differently.”