Jake Shields has been in some big fights.
He’s won world titles in two weight classes for major promotions and has beaten name fighters, such as Dan Henderson, Yushin Okami and Carlos Condit.
He hasn’t lost in five years and is riding a 14-fight win streak.
With all that on his resume, it’s hard believe the Californian, who has a 25-4-1 record, is only now making his UFC debut.
Even Shields finds it hard to believe it took him this long.
“You know, when I first started, I figured I’d be there in a year,” says the Cesar Gracie-trained welterweight, whose fight against Martin Kampmann (17-3) will co-headline UFC 121 in Anaheim on Saturday.
But the 31-year-old has been gainfully employed for 11 years as a fighter, during which time he’s won the EliteXC welterweight belt and Strikeforce middleweight title.
Shields, a life-long vegetarian, said he noticed an immediate difference in his popularity the day it was announced he was joining the UFC.
“The differences are just way more media attention, way more hype, way more professionalism,” says Shields.
“(The UFC tells) you what you’re doing and when you’re doing that. They have staff. I don’t mean that as a knock on Strikeforce. They’re just not as organized. It was just nice to be in an organization that’s so together.”
Shields says he has a loyal following as it stands, but will be introduced to an entire new set of fans this weekend.
He admits that creates some additional pressure.
“I need to go out there to people who don’t know who I am and show who I am,” says Shields. “So I feel a lot of pressure to go out there and give a great performance.”
UFC 121 features a stacked card highlighted by a heavyweight title fight between champ Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez.
Light-heavyweight Tito “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” Ortiz will also make his return to the cage to take on Matt Hamill, while welterweights Diego Sanchez and Paulo Thiago will square off.
Check out blogs.canoe.ca/scrapyard for round-by-round coverage of UFC 121.
Canadians Sam Stout of London and Patrick Cote of Quebec City are also on the card. Middleweight Cote will take on Tom Lawlor, while lightweight Stout will face Paul Taylor.
Shields says arriving at the UFC is the realization of a dream and he hopes to bring his fabled Scrap Pack — Nick Diaz and Gilbert Melendez — over to the big show in the near future.
“I would love to see them moving over,” says Shields.
“But really, that’s up to them and for (UFC president Dana White) to work out some kind of deal.
“Hopefully in the next year or two, both of them will be coming over and joining me in the UFC.”