Jake Shields (above) faces Georges St. Pierre at UFC 129. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com


When Anderson Silva’s foot collided with Vitor Belfort’s face on Saturday at UFC 126, the long-running online chatter regarding a super-fight between the dominant Brazilian middleweight and welterweight kingpin Georges St. Pierre flared up again almost instantly. In the immediate aftermath, even UFC President Dana White expressed interest in promoting what he dubbed would be a “fantasy fight” and “the pound-for-pound championship.”

Before any of that can take place, St. Pierre will have to get through one of his sternest tests as a champion at UFC 129. His challenger, Jake Shields, has been pegged as a 6-to-1 underdog by the oddsmakers, but the former Strikeforce middleweight champion has designs on squashing the GSP-Silva dream matchup in Toronto on April 30.

“I love this role. I love getting looked past,” Shields said during a Tuesday press conference at Toronto’s Rogers Centre. “It’s exactly the same as [when I fought Dan] Henderson. Strikeforce was trying to throw me out on a loss, but I definitely had different plans. I went out there planning on spoiling it... and that’s exactly what I’m planning on doing here.”

Shields, who defended his belt in a five-round decision against Henderson last April before jumping to the UFC, couldn’t have picked a bigger or tougher stage to try and play spoiler on. UFC 129 is expected to shatter existing North American MMA records for live gate and attendance, with Quebec native St. Pierre playing the part of the nigh-invincible national hero. White, for one, says he’s learned never to count Shields out.

“He just fought Dan Henderson at 185 pounds,” White said. “Anybody who’s ever covered mixed martial arts in this room -- probably even his training camp -- didn’t think he was gonna win that fight. Not only did he win that fight, he dominated Dan Henderson.”

Shields was less dominant in his October UFC debut, where he edged out a narrow split decision win against Martin Kampmann at UFC 121 to become the top contender to St. Pierre’s crown. White puts this down to first-time Octagon anxiety.

“People are probably looking at his last performance in the UFC. I don’t care how dominant you’ve been and how many fights you’ve won, or how big the stadium is you fought in, everybody gets this weird -- I call it the ‘UFC jitters,’ when they fight come into the UFC,” said White.

The prevailing notion is that Shields’ best chance to defeat St. Pierre lies on the ground. While St. Pierre has exhibited phenomenal wrestling during his title run, Shields is an equally strong wrestler with dangerous submission skills to boot. Well aware of Shields’ credentials, GSP has enlisted the help of some other Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts to shore up his ground game.

“I’ve been training with Roger Gracie and Braulio Estima a lot lately for improving jiu-jitsu,” said St. Pierre. “But fighting is different, also, than only a jiu-jitsu competition. I’m not afraid to go on the ground with Jake Shields. It’s in the fight only that we will know the real answer to this question.”

Both St. Pierre and Shields have gained reputations as smart and tactical fighters. However, Shields asserts that when he and the man he calls the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter meet in Toronto, it may not be possible to keep emotion out of the equation.

“I think this fight will mostly be based off skill, but there’s gonna be some emotion as well. When you’ve got 40- or 50,000 fans screaming and yelling, it’s impossible to hold emotion out. But we’re definitely fighters that try to use our heads and skills.”

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