Apologies in advance for the non-Kickboxing content, but this is my site and I'm allowed to post whatever I please.
Are MMA fans heartless? This is a question I find myself asking on the morning after UFC put forth one of their weakest cards to date, headlined by Jake Shields vs. Jake Ellenberger. Ellenberger did something that only one other man has done and that was knock Shields out, which is impressive. It is impressive when you consider the strikes Shields had held strong against, from Martin Kampmann, Paul Daley, Dan Henderson, Robbie Lawler, Carlos Condit and so on. Jake Shields has been a guy who has always held strong against guys who can hit hard, and even held his own against guys with a more well-rounded ground game than him.
So the question is, what happened against Jake Ellenberger? Ellenberger is a former KOTC and IFL veteran who was added to UFC’s roster to little fanfare and has just accumulated his fifth win in a row in the UFC, which would be impressive until you look over the list of opponents. Jake Shields is far and away the biggest win of his career and no one can ever take away that accomplishment. Ellenberger proved the age old adage in MMA that styles make fights, and Ellenberger has a solid Div II wrestling background, a blue belt in brazilian jiu-jitsu and years of kickboxing training under his belt. Without a doubt Ellenberger is well rounded and at age 26 could have a career as a contender, with his win over Shields being a launching point. We’ve seen fighters in other divisions get title shots for less, especially in a division like Welterweight that has almost entirely been cleaned out by the champion, Georges St. Pierre.
Ellenberger was a tough fight for Jake Shields no matter how you looked at it, but there was a factor that played into the fight that not everyone can understand or empathize with. Jake Shields lost his father, Jack Shields on August 29th suddenly, without warning. Jack Shields was working on securing sponsorships for this fight when he sat down to rest and never got back up. By all accounts, Jack Shields was an important figure in Jake Shields’s life, described as always going out of his way to be around his son while training or fighting. A bond between a father and son like that serves as a lifelong best friend, mentor and many, many other things.
As I stated before, no one can take away what Ellenberger accomplished last night, as he did his job and racked up the biggest win of his career, but a lot of talk about Jake Shields right now is confusing at best, heartless considering the facts. Many have decided to dissect Jake Shields and his career, deciding that after a loss to GSP and now a loss to Ellenberger to claim that Jake Shields has been overrated by fans and that his career benefited from being outside of the UFC. I’ll argue that any fighter can get caught on a bad night by a strike that lays them out, that styles make fights and even the best fighters in the world have losses, but that isn’t the issue. The issue is Jake Shields is a human being and the loss of a close loved one is something that until you experience it, empathizing with it can be difficult.
Jake Shields is of course an athlete, that is his profession and it places him and every move he does in the public eye. That being said, Jake Shields is first and foremost a human being who just suffered an insurmountable loss. To lose a loved one quickly, without a chance to brace yourself and mentally prepare for it is traumatizing and in some cases crippling. I understand that for Jake fighting and continuing on felt like the right decision, as I can say I’ve done similar when in a similar position. Everyone thinks that they are tougher than they really are, and that doing something constructive can help keep them grounded, but the truth is everyone reacts differently to circumstances like this. Jake Shields has a rough road ahead coping with the loss of his father and in light of this loss should take some time to regroup and reflect.
On the other hand, Jake Shields doesn’t necessarily deserve a pass for a loss, but instead some human empathy and let him recover and give him a chance to fight again before declaring him overrated, washed up and a bum.
If you for some reason can claim that when fighting there are no excuses or any other tough guy mantra, realize that everyone has achilles heels, that no one is invincible. After the loss of his sister, Vitor Belfort pulled out a win over Randy Couture, sure, but in the year to follow he pulled together a four fight losing streak and many said something in him had fundamentally changed. Some artists, writers and musicians never recover from a loss and spend the rest of their careers and lives living inside of their heads ruminating their loss. Famous American author and poet Edgar Allen Poe was so crushed by the loss of his wife that friends had found him sleeping on her grave months after her death, with many of his works after her death being credited to being about her loss.
So I urge you, before deciding that Jake Shields “sucks” and was “never any good” try to remember that he is human and should be given at least one shot at redemption before we collectively judge the state of his career.