Shields looking to make a big statement in the Big Easy
For more than a year, the surging but still unknown Nebraska native has been calling out the former Strikeforce middleweight champion, trying to get under his skin. When the fight was announced, Shields readily admitted he knew very little about his opponent or where the trash talk came from, but he’d be happy to resolve things with Ellenberger in the cage.
Just over two weeks ago, Shields’ father and manager, Jack, passed away suddenly; he was 67.
While everyone would have understood if he chose to walk away from the bout, Shields is instead using it as further motivation, and insists the thought of backing out of the fight never crossed his mind.
“I took the fight pretty quick because it was one thing I felt like I had to do, you know? I thought my dad would have wanted with him being my manger and all. All I can really do is move forward in life; there’s no reason to sit back and dwell. I think pulling out would have been even harder on me. At least now I have something to focus on and put energy towards.
“It’s really tough because obviously I was real close with my father,” continued Shields, talking to Heavy MMA earlier in the month. “Him being my manager as well, I’m going into the fight with no manager. Also, my dad’s always been there at the fights, in my corner, it’s just even harder because I’m used to having him there; it’s not like he’s not there anyway, you know?
“It’s tough to deal with, but I think I’m a person that knows how to stay focused, knows how to put it behind me. Of course I still have moments where I’m hit by it all, but overall, I’m lucky to have a bunch, a real supportive team around me, and that makes it easier to get through.”
With that support structure around him, Shields has been able to compartmentalize the sudden tragedy that struck his family and remained focused on the task at hand. It’s a more difficult task than some fans may think.
Despite posting four consecutive victories and losing his UFC debut by the narrowest of margins to new welterweight title challenger Carlos Condit, Ellenberger continues to fly under the radar. In a division loaded with big names, big talkers, and some that are a combination of the two, the former collegiate wrestler hasn’t earned much acclaim.
This is his opportunity to change all that; to step out from the shadows and into the spotlight. Shields is acutely aware of the danger Ellenberger presents, both in the cage and in terms of being the lesser known fighter of the two, but he’s not willing to be anyone’s stepping stone.
“It’s always better to fight the bigger names. If your opponent has a bigger name than you, you have more to gain and less to lose in that situation. He’s the one with more to gain and less to lose. It’s a good opportunity for him to showcase his skills, but I don’t want him making a name off me.
“I have no idea where the trash talking comes from and I still don’t know much about him,” admitted the 32-year-old American jiu-jitsu founder, echoing the sentiments he expressed when the fight was first announced. “But I have watched some of his fights; I think the UFC sent me five or six of his fights, and those are the ones that I’ve watched.
“He’s a tough kid. He’s aggressive, he’s got a really big right hand, knockout power in both hands, and he’s got a lot of strength, but he’s also got some weaknesses in his game too. He’s definitely legit, but I don’t think he’s as legit as me.”
Surprisingly, there are still questions about his place near the top of the welterweight division. There is nothing flashy about Shields inside the cage, his tremendous grappling being more exhausting than explosive. You’re not going to see Shields rip through someone with a fierce double-leg takedown; methodical is the word that best describes his style.
As a result, people often lose sight of the successes that Shields has had. At first blush, he always looks beatable, but then you break out his resume and see what he has accomplished. Over the last six years, he’s lost just once, and even then he acquitted himself far better than anyone else who has stood across the cage from Georges St-Pierre in recent years.
“I showed I was able to hang with him, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do,” Shields said of his UFC 129 meeting with the welterweight champion. “There’s negatives and positives; losing is always negative, but at least I went out there and made it a close fight. I just wish I would have, I think I could have done a few things different. I think with a few changes, hopefully I’ll get a chance to get a rematch so I can change a few things up and win the fight.”
His first step towards a rematch is Saturday night, and he knows that it will take more than just a victory to move him back into the title picture. That’s why Shields doesn’t plan on simply going out an collecting another decision against Ellenberger; he wants to teach him a lesson and make a statement.
“I’d like to go out there and just smash him, show that he’s not in my league, and try to put him away in the first round. I want to go out there and shut him up for all his trash talking, and show him that you’ve got to watch what you ask for.”