He hasn't lost since the end of 2004 and he's reeled off victories over some of the top mixed martial artists in the world, but Jake Shields somehow remains one of the game's most anonymous stars.
And even when things seem to be going good for him, something happens to put a damper on it.
But Shields takes the view that sooner or later, it's going to dawn on the masses that he's one of the world's elite welterweights.
Shields, 28, hasn't lost since he dropped a decision to Akira Kikuchi on Dec. 14, 2004. Since, he's reeled off eight in a row, including wins over WEC champion Carlos Condit and top-ranked UFC middleweight Yushin Okami.
Shields, who is 19-4-1, thought he was going to be fighting Mike Pyle on Showtime on Saturday in Corpus Christi, Texas, for the Elite XC welterweight title.
He'll still be fighting Pyle and he'll still be on Showtime, but the title shot has vanished. Pyle was unhappy with the way he was being promoted by Elite XC and declined the title shot.
Shields wasn't sure what to make of the situation, but said he'll bring the same intensity he would have had the bout been for a belt.
"Obviously, every fighter wants to win a championship," Shields said. "It's one of my goals. He didn't want it for whatever his reasons are, but that doesn't change the fact that I need to perform at a certain level."
Pyle told MMAWeekly.com that one of his issues was a lack of promotion and being offered the bout too late to prepare adequately.
He said he plans to leave the company when his contract expires after Saturday's bout with Shields.
"I'm not trying to have the big head or anything, but I'm a seasoned vet," Pyle told MMAWeekly.com. "I come from a very strong camp. I've got a lot of wins. I have a strong record and just simply asked them for a little promotion. I didn't want to come in on the undercard every time.
"And to have them call me up five weeks before a date on a fight and ask for me to fight a title shot, a five-round fight, that's not enough time to prepare. Five weeks out is not enough time to prepare for a guy like Jake Shields, plus those championship rounds." Pyle's decision will leave Shields without either a belt or a clear-cut top opponent should he win on Saturday.
Welterweight is one of MMA's strongest divisions, but it is where the UFC has the bulk of the top names under contract. In addition to champion Matt Serra, highly ranked welterweights Matt Hughes, Georges St. Pierre, Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck, Karo Parisyan and Diego Sanchez, among others, compete at 170 pounds for the UFC.
Shields' contract expires after Saturday's show and he said he had considered briefly pursuing a UFC contract so he could land one of those fights.
But he said he's happy with Elite XC and Elite XC president Gary Shaw said he expects "a multi-year, multi-fight" contract extension for Shields to be completed shortly.
A wrestler by trade, Shields has improved dramatically at all aspects of his game in the last two years, but most significantly in his striking.
And though he realizes he's far from a finished product, the itch to fight the St. Pierre's of the world is growing.
Elite XC doesn't have the kind of fighters under contract that will challenge Shields, but Shaw said he'll scour the earth to find them.
"We are an open company as I've said a million times and we will work with anyone," Shaw said. "One of the things we have to do, and that I think we will do, is develop our own guys who can then become legitimate challengers at that weight class.
"But we'll take our top guys, whether it's Jake or Mike or whoever, and bring them to another show to face their guys, if that's what it takes to make the best fights. At the end of the day, Gary Shaw and Elite XC are going to make the best possible fights for our guys no matter what we have to do and where we have to go to do it."
One of the fights that may have seemed inevitable – a pairing of Shields and his close buddy, Nick Diaz – is unlikely because neither guy wants the fight. Diaz is fighting in the Elite XC lightweight division, which has a cap of 160 pounds, though he spent much of his UFC career at 170.
Shields is happy that right now he won't have to make that decision. Diaz is fighting K.J. Noons for the vacant lightweight title on Saturday's card and plans to defend it. But sooner or later, it could be an issue and Shields said he'll deal with that when it presents itself.
"I just don't see how we'd fight each other unless there were a ton of money in it for each of us," Shields said. "I know this, we won't fight each other just for the sake of the fight. If it's not a really significant fight that each of us will make a lot of money from, it won't happen."
- Jake Shields
- Elite XC