In Wake Of Okami Cut, Shields Needs A Win To Guarantee UFC Roster Spot

By Adam Martin

Back on April 21, 2006, a young Japanese fighter named Yushin Okami met a young American named Jake Shields in the semifinals of the Rumble on the Rock welterweight tournament (actually contested at 175 pounds).

Okami had advanced to the second round after defeating Anderson Silva via DQ (illegal upkick), while Shields had made it there with his victory over former UFC middleweight champion Dave Menne. At the time, Okami was 14-2, while Shields was 14-4-1, and both were considered two of the best welterweight/middleweight prospects in the game.

After 15 minutes of closely-contested action, Shields got his hand raised by majority decision, and went on to defeat Carlos Condit en route to being declared the winner of the tournament. He would go on to have great success in EliteXC and Strikeforce, becoming a champion in both promotions, before eventually making it to the UFC and fighting Georges St-Pierre for the UFC welterweight title at UFC 129, a fight he would go on to lose by decision.

As for Okami, even though he lost to Shields in the ROTR tourney, the UFC saw his potential and soon after signed him. He would debut with a win over Alan Belcher at UFC 62. Then Okami went on a terrific run that would culminate with a middleweight title shot against Anderson Silva at UFC 134. And although he would lose to both the G.O.A.T. and Tim Boetsch in back-to-back fights, he bounced back with wins over Hector Lombard and Belcher again to move back into the top 10 of the division, and reaffirm his place as one of the best middleweight fighters of all time.

However, he was knocked out by Jacare Souza at UFC Fight Night 28. And last week, the UFC saw fit to release him from the roster, despite his 13-5 career record as a UFC middleweight – the most all-time wins as a 185-pounder in the Octagon, by the way – because the promotion saw him as an aging gatekeeper who would never fight for the title again, and who was blocking up-and-coming prospects from emerging.

Reading between the lines, Okami’s cut was also the result of him having a boring, clinch-heavy style, a small fanbase, a pricey contract, and little personality. I mean, honestly, does anyone remember anything Okami has said over the last seven years? I don’t. And although I appreciated the fact he got his hand raised, it’s not like I was dying to see a Yushin Okami fight. So while I disagree with the cut because of the fact he was ranked in the top 10, I can see why the UFC got rid of him. It’s a business decision, just like the Jon Fitch cut was, and that’s all it was at the end of the day.

The Okami cut is also why I think Shields needs to realize he’s in a must-win situation at UFC Fight Night 29.

Let’s face it, Shields’ fights are boring. Of his six fights in the Octagon, the only fight that was exciting at all was his fight against Jake Ellenberger, where was knocked out in the first minute of the first round. Otherwise, his fights against Martin Kampmann, St-Pierre, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Ed Herman, and Tyron Woodley were all boring as heck, even though he managed to win four of them (the fight against Herman later changed to a no contest). And he also tested positive for a PED after that fight with Herman.

So a boring fighting style, a large contract, a positive drug test, and the fact he doesn’t have a huge fanbase, and Shields needs to know he’s not just fighting Demian Maia for a win next week, he’s fighting for his future in the Octagon. Because I know a ton of fans that want to see him cut, and the UFC surely knows that too, which is why they’ve given him a very difficult fight against Maia in Brazil.

It’s been nearly seven years since Okami and Shields first met in a tournament that determined who, at the time, was the best 175-pound fighter in the world. Now, seven years later, and their careers converge again, as they might become back-to-back high-profile fighters to get cut by the UFC. Crazy how MMA works sometimes –it’s almost like they’ve lived the same career.

UFC Fight Night 29

Demian Maia vs. Jake Shields

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UFC Fight Night 29: Maia vs. Shields is due to take place on October 9, 2013 at the Ginasio Poliesportivo Jose Correa in Barueri, Brazil.

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