This is a 'director's cut' edition of my Jake Shields vs. Robbie Lawler feature which currently can be found in a more edited format on FIGHTMagazine.com - featuring all kinds of Strikeforce previews and news.
Just a few months ago, fans got a dream fight in Georges St. Pierre vs. B.J. Penn. The clash featured two champions from two weight classes; men who can inflict damage in a variety of ways and are damn good at doing so.
In the end, the larger man—GSP—was victorious in a near-dominant performance.
This Saturday, the MMA landscape will get another dose of weight class vs. weight class crime involving two former EliteXC champions when Jake Shields and Robbie Lawler square off in a highly-anticipated contest to headline the revamped Strikeforce’s second major show on Showtime.
“Lawler’s a guy I’ve liked watching fight for a while. I wanted to fight him in EliteXC because they didn’t have anyone for me at the 170s. He held the belt and I held a belt, so I wanted to capture both of them,” Shields said. “Unfortunately, it’s not going to be a title fight for either one of us, but it’s still going to be a main event, a superfight and one that I’m really excited for.”
While the core of their fighting disciplines may be extremely different, their paths to get to this point have been very similar. Announced in mid-March, it will be the first fight for both men since the EliteXC collapse of late-2008. Shields last competed in October, while it’s been even longer for Lawler: Late-July.
“I think he’s a really good opponent. He fights at a high level, especially at 170,” Lawler said. “He’s got good takedowns and really good positioning on top. His submissions are really good. It’s going to be a tough fight.”
The 27-year-old Lawler (16-4-0-1) was EliteXC's last Middleweight Champion, winning the title from Murilo "Ninja" Rua via third round TKO in September 2007. Lawler has fought twice since then, both times against Scott Smith—the last ending in a TKO victory for the “Ruthless” one.
He comes into this fight unbeaten in his last six—a streak dating well over two years.
Despite being four years younger than Shields, Lawler (seen left) is a veteran and has competed on big stages for quite some time, even compiling a 4-3 record during a stint in the UFC from 2002-2004.
He also brings an incredible percentage of knockout victories to the cage as in his 16 pro wins, the 5’11” Lawler has dropped someone in 13 of them—a (T)KO percentage of just over 80%.
“What goes through my mind (when he KO’s an opponent) is that it’s over and I won. The feeling is really good, especially when you know you won and put on a good show. People like watching knockouts,” Lawler explained.
It will be a near-hometown crowd for Lawler, who recently opened up the H.I.T. Squad Gym with Matt Hughes in Granite City, Illinois—less than 10 miles away from where he will face Shields.
More on Shields after the jump...
He will be facing a polar opposite in the 30-year-old Shields (22-4-1), EliteXC's last Welterweight Champion and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert that has won five out of his last six fights by submission. Originally slated to face Joe Riggs for Strikeforce in April, Shields was ready but desired something more.
“It’s a good fight, but I wasn’t super-excited for that fight. I think that it may make sense down the road, but I called and asked if they could possibly come up with a bigger matchup,” Shields said. “They called me back a couple days later and asked what I thought about Robbie Lawler and I said yes. It came together pretty fast.”
The 10-year pro brings an 11-fight win streak into the event, having not tasted defeat since December 2004. To give some perspective as to how long it has been since Shields (seen right) last lost, two different men have sat in the Oval Office, almost nine seasons of The Ultimate Fighter have come and gone and U.S. troops are still in Iraq. If Lawler’s streak is red hot, Shields’ run is crimson.
“It’s pretty obvious it’ll be the submission guy vs. the stand-up guy. I’ll want to try to put him on his back and submit him, but I’ve been working a lot on my stand up. He’s a hard guy to take down, so I have to be comfortable banging with him on my feet as well,” Shields said, adding that a big difference between Lawler and other strikers he has fought is size and his left-handed stance.
Lawler has been submitted twice in his career, while Shields has lost via TKO once, coming in just his third professional fight.
Similar to Penn, Shields will be coming up in weight as both agreed to fight at a 182-pound catchweight. The 5’11” Shields isn’t concerned about the differential, even though he traditionally fights in a division that is 12 pounds lighter.
“I’m not really stressing, because if I try to put on too much weight, I’ll get fat,” Shields explained. “I do have a good strength coach that I’m working with to put on weight but realistically, putting on 15 pounds in two months isn’t going to happen.”
Despite being title holders in an organization that now only exists in legal documents, both men are not looking past each other to future opponents within their respective divisions. Instead, Shields and Lawler will focus squarely on each other and compete as if a title is on the line, seeing whether the striker or the submission artist can win out and who can end the other’s long win streak.
If Shields has his way, his fate will be unlike what the smaller Penn experienced against St. Pierre.
“It’s going to go a lot different. The small guy is going to go in there and tap out the bigger guy,” Shields said.
Josh Nason - josh [at] ropesringandcage [dot com] - has published MMA, wrestling and boxing blog Ropes, Ring and Cage.com since 2007. He has been a contributor to FIGHT! Magazine since January 2009 and Bleacher Report since 2008.