Wanderlei Silva and Takanori Gomi both lost their debuts. Dan Henderson lost his first two bouts. Mirko Cro Cop has never truly found his footing. Even current light-heavyweight champ Mauricio "Shogun" Rua was upset in his first octagon outing. If Shields stumbles though, he'll lose out on a chance to add another belt -- the UFC welterweight championship -- to his collection.
So what kind of chance does Martin Kampmann have to beat him at UFC 121?
Like essentially all of Shields' fights, his opponent will have to stop his relentless takedowns and try to keep the fight standing. Shields has won 14 straight fights, including victories over Yushin Okami, Carlos Condit, Robbie Lawler, Jason "Mayhem" Miller and Dan Henderson. Seven of his last nine wins have come via stoppage and all of his opponents have ended up on their backs.
In some ways, it's one of the most amazing streaks in MMA history. In this day and age where we rail about how fighters must have strong all-around games to survive, Shields has hammered through a "Who's Who" list with fairly rudimentary striking. He's not always known to set up his takedowns with distracting combinations or level changes. Often he just moves in and takes his opponent down by force of will.
Kampmann has been an underrated fighter for a while now. A soft-spoken athlete, he does not draw huge media attention and rarely says anything that makes it into the headlines. But he's as solid a fighter as they come with few holes in his game.
His takedown defense will be key. Is it good enough? According to Compustrike, he's been taken down on 5 of 6 tries by opponents over his last eight fights.
That number is somewhat misleading; many of his opponents don't try to take him down as he is generally regarded to have good takedown defense. He also has a very good clinch that makes opponents wary. Still, that percentage is what it is, and if the number holds up, clearly it will be a long night for Kampmann. Shields' positional game and top control are murder, and there's usually no getting up until either you tap out or the round is over. Remember too that Shields is coming from a promotion that didn't allow elbow strikes, giving him a new weapon to use if and when the fight goes to the ground.
But if Kampmann can stuff the takedown and create space, he's a vastly superior striker with much more power. Also remember that while Shields is getting a lot of credit for going up and down between 170 and 185, Kampmann spent the majority of his career as a middleweight before moving to the smaller weight class. So he's not going to be overwhelmed or even impressed at the thought of facing a guy who's had a successful run in a higher division.
Kampmann's found himself in the most trouble at the hands of strikers. Nate Marquardt and Paul Daley both earned knockout wins over Kampmann, but he's done well with guys who've wanted to bring the fight to the ground, including Thales Leites, Jacob Volkmann and Paulo Thiago. He's an extremely competent grappler, and though he's known as "the Hitman," his wins are well divided between knockouts (seven) and submission (six).
Interestingly, Kampmann's own takedown skills make it a possibility he'll go after Shields and put him on the ground. He lands takedowns at a 64 percent clip, and he had no fear in taking down Thiago, who like Shields is a jiu-jitsu black belt.
Shields is a heavy favorite in this match, more than a 2-to-1 according to some linesmakers, but Kampmann has the all-around game to cause headaches for Shields. He also trains with a camp -- Xtreme Couture -- that is not short on wrestlers to assist preparation. Despite Shields' recent run of success, this is no gimme. In fact, expect a somewhat ugly match with lots of clinch work and struggles for position. In some ways, Kampmann matches up better against Shields than any of his recent opponents. He has the striking advantage to score points, the defensive wrestling to neutralize the takedown, and the jiu-jitsu to stay out of trouble. For those reasons, this is one for the upset watch.