NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Jake Shields scored far and away the biggest victory of his career Saturday night as he overcame nearly being finished in the first round to outwrestle two-time Olympian Dan Henderson for the next four rounds and retain his Strikeforce middleweight title.
But what happened next turned out to be the highlight of the evening to the crowd at Bridgestone Arena, and the lowlight to everyone else involved with the show: a brawl in the cage in which Shields' teammates beat down Jason "Mayhem" Miller.
Miller, who won a preliminary fight earlier in the evening, showed up uninvited during Shields' post-fight interview. He demanded a rematch from Shields, who convincingly beat him to win the Strikeforce title in November.
At that point, Shields shoved Miller. Gilbert Melendez, Shields' former roommate and best friend, then jumped on Miller. Then the whole Cesar Gracie team jumped in, with Nate Diaz in particular throwing punches and Nick Diaz also getting involved. CBS announcer Gus Johnson cut the interview to go to a commercial as officials tried to get everyone out of the cage.
Moments later, Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker was apologetic about the brawl that ended the nearly three-hour live broadcast.
"There is no room for something like that in this sport and we are not going to reward that kind of behavior," said Coker, who, when talking about a potential next opponent for Shields, brought up Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, and avoided mentioning Miller.
Coker, who said he didn't see the brawl as he was backstage getting ready to set up the press conference, said he would have to review the tape before deciding what action to take, including possible fines or suspensions. But he blamed Miller for trying to steal the spotlight that Shields had earned in the biggest win of his career.
The question now becomes how Saturday's events affect MMA's future on CBS. The card featured three championship fights featuring men ranked near the top of their respective weight classes – Henderson, Shinya Aoki and Gegard Mousasi. All three lost their respective fights, but none of the three title fights – Melendez over Aoki for the lightweight title, "King Mo" Lawal beating Mousasi to win the light heavyweight title or Shields vs. Henderson – were particularly crowd-pleasing. Combine that with the show going 45 minutes long, pushing back the evening newscasts, and the brawl, and there's a question of how CBS will react to a sport not yet fully established on network television.
"I don't think [the brawl is] going to be an issue because I don't think it's going to happen again, or at least I hope it's not," said CBS programming vice president Kelly Kahl. "It's not what the sport needs. Things get out of control at times in every sport."
If Miller was trying to create his own scenario to get a title rematch, it may have backfired, at least for now.
"He came into the cage and got in my face," Shields said about Miller, the host of the MTV show "Bully Beatdown." "I felt disrespected. I wasn't surprised because that's how he is. He's a disrespectful guy."
Shields said he'd be willing to give Miller a rematch if he earned it.
"I'm over it [the brawl]," said Shields. "I think if Miller wants a rematch, he needs to beat a tough opponent, not the guy he beat tonight [Tim Stout, who came in with a 12-8 record]. I beat Dan Henderson and who did he beat? Let him beat Jacare Souza or Dan Henderson. I expect Miller to be disrespectful. Isn't he always disrespectful to everyone? It's his personality. We've been friends in the past and enemies in the past."
Shields (25-4-1) extended his winning streak to 14 straight fights in beating Henderson (25-8), who came into the fight as a 4-to-1 favorite and as one of Strikeforce's two biggest attractions on its roster with heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko.
The heavily pro-Henderson crowd of 8,196 booed the match frequently, and even booed the decision though there was no doubt that Shields completely dominated the final four rounds.
He survived a first round in which Henderson knocked him down on the first punch and had him so woozy that Shields said he remembers almost nothing that happened until late in the round. A few moments later, Henderson was on the verge of finishing Shields with punches on the ground, and the best you could say was that Shields survived the round.
But things turned in the second round. Henderson said he couldn't explain it other than he got tired, saying he had a tougher weight cut than he expected. Henderson was frustrated with his performance, because not only did Shields take him down six times over the next four rounds, but Henderson couldn't get off his back. Henderson's strategy was turning to his stomach and giving up his back to escape, because he respected Shields' ability to finish with a choke.
Shields' ability to constantly not just take Henderson down but keep him there and get mount positions begged questions about if Henderson's age (39) became the difference.
Shields won the last four rounds to take the match 49-46, 49-45 (based on a 10-8 second round) and 48-45 (with Henderson getting a 10-8 first and Shields a 10-8 second). Yahoo! Sports had the score 49-45 Shields.
The win puts Shields in a unique position. When Elite XC went down, with Shields as its welterweight champion, he had his contract renegotiated with Strikeforce, which didn't include a champion's clause that would bind him for the duration of his title reign. His contract is running out and he will soon be a free agent.
Despite criticism that Shields isn't an exciting fighter or that he has questionable stand-up, his winning streak that dates back more than five years includes names like Henderson, Miller, Robbie Lawler, Paul Daley, Yushin Okami and Carlos Condit. The win over Henderson would validate him to where if he were to sign with the UFC, he could viably be put into a fight right away with Georges St. Pierre.
When asked about his future, Shields said that all he wanted to do after three hard months of training for this fight was to get out of the country and go to the beach for a week. He said his manager (his father, Jack Shields) and Coker could discuss things and he'll worry about it when he gets back.
- Dan Henderson
- Jake Shields