Shields out to spoil UFC superfight
It's almost a foregone conclusion.
There are some unknowns, and there are some details to be squared away, but by all indications, middleweight champion Anderson Silva's next fight will be against Georges St-Pierre.
Rarely one to entertain hypotheticals in matchmaking, once-skeptical UFC president Dana White now says the superfight will happen toward the end of the year if welterweight champ St-Pierre (21-2) gets through Jake Shields (26-4) and emerges from the April fight healthy.
"I just think stylistically, it's an interesting fight," White said after Saturday's UFC 126 in Las Vegas, where Silva (28-4) knocked out Vitor Belfort (19-9) for a record eighth consecutive title defense. "Who's the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world? It's a big legacy fight."
It's likely to be a boon for business, too. Many call it the biggest MMA fight that can be made right now, with two of the sport's most dominant fighters at or near their peak. And it's patently clear that there aren't many challenges left for Silva and St-Pierre in their respective weight classes.
Well, there is one for St-Pierre.
"I plan on going out there and spoiling that fight," Shields told SI.com after watching UFC 126 in Las Vegas. "I plan on setting it up to make it Shields vs. Silva instead."
Shields is scheduled to meet St-Pierre at UFC 129 at Rogers Centre in Toronto on April 30. He is a huge underdog after a lackluster octagon debut against Martin Kampmann at UFC 121 in October.
UFC 129 is the Las Vegas-based promotion's biggest show yet in scale and could break records in attendance and revenue for a North American MMA event. But no single fight on the UFC's horizon holds as much promise as Silva vs. St-Pierre in crowning the man considered to be the world's best.
"It's going to be a fun fight," Silva said. "I'm going to fly over here, he's going to fly over there. There's going to be punches, kicks thrown. It's going to be another fun fight."
Shields, a jiu-jitsu black belt under Cesar Gracie, is fighting just to stay in the conversation, though he understands why some give him short shrift.
"Both of those guys have been dominant champions for so long, and it's a fight people have been thinking about for a while," he said. "So it can't help coming to people's mind."
He certainly wasn't on the tip of anybody's tongue at Saturday's post-fight news conference, though White took care not to write off Shields.
"I think Shields loves that [expletive]," White said. "Shields has been a low-key guy his entire career, and a lot of people don't realize what a record this kid has. I know how I felt, and I know how everybody in this room here -- and if you say otherwise, you're a liar -- thought that Dan Henderson was going to kill him, and so did Strikeforce. And he didn't, so you can't count Shields out."
When he signed with the UFC last July, Shields, who defeated Henderson to become the first Strikeforce middleweight champion, was keen to stay at 185 pounds and targeted a fight with Silva. It would be understandable if he reconsidered that goal after the champ's spectacular performance Saturday. But Shields believes he also holds Silva's kryptonite.
"I think he's a phenomenal fighter," Shields said of "The Spider." "He has the best standup in all of MMA. But I still think his biggest weakness is a really good wrestler with good submissions. Certainly, it wouldn't be an easy fight, but I think stylistically, it's a good matchup for me."
Would he call out the middleweight champ if he beats St-Pierre? Not necessarily.
"That's a fight that I would love, but it's ultimately what Dana and the UFC want," he said. "I'm up for what people want to see. ... I'm up for big fights. Right now, my focus is getting through G.S.P. because that's no easy task. Then, I'll re-evaluate and see what I want to do."
Shields said he is already in training for his date with St-Pierre and is hovering around 187 pounds, a far cry from the last-minute approach to his debut in which he cut 20 pounds in one day to make the welterweight limit. He barely escaped with a split decision. The danger this time, he said, is peaking too early for the title fight and coming in overtrained.
Silva vs. St-Pierre could take place in Toronto or somewhere in Brazil, according to White. It's way too early to make flight arrangements.
Silva vs. Shields is just a dream in Shields' head, but he plans to make it a reality.