Written by: Karim Zidan

Rarely do we see fighters take the decision to switch weight classes without suffering defeats in their last fight, let alone do it twice within the span of two years, both times with a winning record. Jake Shields is one of those rare fighters. The former UFC welterweight title contender recently entertained the idea of returning to middleweight after a lackluster 2-2 stint in the UFC welterweight division. Having previously ruled the Strikeforce middleweight division, Shields will be looking to regain his former glory by returning to that division.

What are Shield’s chances of finding success in the quickly deepening middleweight division, though?

After making his professional debut in the middleweight division back in 1999, Shields later moved down to welterweight, where he picked up wins over the likes of now top contender Carlos Condit as well as Yushin Okami and Paul Daley whilst racking up several titles and tournament championships along the way.

Shields would not officially return to middleweight until he faced Jason “Mayhem” Miller for the vacant Strikeforce middleweight title. A close yet unanimous decision victory crowned Shields the middleweight champion of a shallow division, and he would not defend his title until Dan Henderson signed with Strikeforce. Overcoming the ferocious barrage of attacks from Henderson in the first round led to Shields arguably displaying one of the defining performances of his career.

Unfortunately, he has not had another one of those performances since.

Shield’s decision to make his UFC debut at welterweight was more about timing than preference. Before the seemingly sudden shifts in the top 10 welterweights over the last year, the UFC was hard-pressed to find a marketable opponent to face welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre at the historic UFC 129 in Toronto. It explains his rushed title shot that was earned with a razor-thin split decision victory over Martin Kampmann, a decision that many fans thought he did not deserve.

However, following consecutive losses to wrestling-based fighters Georges St Pierre and Jake Ellenberger, what chance does Shields have against the likes of Munoz, Wiedman and Sonnen if he returns to middleweight? Although Jake is coming off a victory over Yoshihiro Akiyama, a former middleweight himself who previously gone 1-3 at middleweight, there aren’t many truly intriguing match-ups for Shields at middleweight.

Here is a quick rundown of some of his potential opponents at MW (in no particular order):

Brian Stann: Stann is coming off a quick TKO finish over Alessio Sakara and is not currently signed to a bout. A recent loss to Chael Sonnen highlighted Stann’s wrestling weakness and could potentially be exploited by Shields. Although this may be the case, Shields will have to watch for Stann’s proven knock-out power and nullify it with his ground-game. This fight is a likely option given that many other top middleweights are currently in scheduled fights.

Mark Munoz: The NCAA champ posses the exact style that has proven to be a complete mismatch for Shields. Munoz has a strong wrestling base and knock-out power and could be devastating for Jake Shields. (see Shields vs. Ellenberger)

Munoz is currently rumoured to be facing Chris Weidman, meaning that this fight would not be happening anytime soon.

Michael Bisping: “The Count” recently silenced many critics with a strong performance against Chael Sonnen. Although he came out on the losing end of a unanimous decision, he displayed improved takedown defense and a well rounded game making him another tough opponent for Shields. A considerably small middleweight, Jake will be giving up a size advantage and if he is unable to take Bisping down and keep him there, he may be in for a rough night.

Bisping is currently scheduled to face Tim Boetsh at UFC 148. This is another bout that would unlikely take place in 2012.

Chris Weidman: Another NCAA champion, riding a 4-0 winning streak in the UFC, racking up a win against Jui-Jitsu specialist Demian Maia in his last outing in the octagon. The undefeated fighter is rumoured to be facing Mark Munoz with the winner potentially in line for a title-shot.

Rousimar Palhares: Palhares is carrying a 3 fight winning streak heading into his UFC on FOX 3 bout with Alan Belcher. Should he get past Belcher, a potential match-up with Shields is not out of the question. It would be interesting to see if “Toqinho” would be capable of heel hooking the grappling specialist as he has so easily done to many of his opponents.

Chael Sonnen: Sonnen would be another interesting choice for Shields if he decides to move up. Of course, this decision depends on the outcome of Sonnen’s upcoming title-bout this summer but if Sonnen suffers another defeat to Silva, a potential match-up against Jake Shields is not impossible. Although they are friends and occasional training partners, Sonnen is an advocator of the “friends should fight” school of thought and wouldn’t hesitate to sign a bout agreement with Shields if the paths collided.

It is all too clear that Jake Shields does not match up well with hard-hitting wrestlers. Although his grappling resume boasts wins over the likes of Jon Fitch, his MMA tactics have been best-suited against strikers with fairly rudimentary ground skills and ground practitioners with non-wrestling styles such as jiu-jitsu specialists. Dan Henderson may be one of the rare exceptions, where Shields dominated him on the ground en route to a unanimous decision victory. Shields would also stand out as one of the smaller middleweights in the division and that disadvantage will play into his ability to control his opponents on the ground.

The upper echelon of the division is heavily populated with daunting challenges for the former Strikeforce champ, so his goal of overcoming the best the division has to offer will be no easy task. Shields should think wisely before taking a bout at middleweight; another devastating loss may be too much for him to come back from.

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