During a Stretch of Ridiculous Controversy, A Flash of Class and Grace

Jake ShieldsMaybe you have heard of Rad Martinez, or maybe you skip past the headlines of fighters you don't know. Surely, though, you are aware of Jake Shields, the recent UFC No. 1 contender.

Both of them are fighting this weekend, Martinez at Bellator 50, and Shields in the main event of UFC Fight Night 25. This is worth noting because in different ways, both men are examples of courage and grace under immense stress. They are men who matter, with stories worth telling.

In a stretch of time that's seen two ridiculous controversies: Nick Diaz self-sabotaging a title shot and blaming everyone else, and BJ Penn and the UFC bickering over allegedly forcing him to (gasp) say he would beat Diaz in their upcoming match, Martinez and Shields thankfully help bring the needle back in the other direction.

Shields lost his father just over two weeks ago, during the final preparations for his training camp. Sixty-seven-year-old Jack Shields had not only been the guiding force of Jake's personal life, but his professional life as well, serving as his manager.

So it would have been understandable if Jake had opted out of the September 17 fight. Instead, he said in a statement that he made up his mind "within a few minutes" that he would continue on and face Jake Ellenberger. Why? As a tribute to his dad, of course.

"It took me a moment to figure out what I wanted to do, but I figured the right thing to do would be to continue to fight with him being my manager and my biggest supporter," he said.

There are people all over the world who lose loved ones and are back at work a short time later. In this way, Shields is no different than anyone else. But then again, his job requires him to have full concentration at the risk of injury or unconsciousness.

There is a real danger in not having full commitment to the job at hand, so his presence at work is not quite the same as that of an ordinary Joe.

Ironically, Shields is a teammate and good friend of Diaz, who just threw away what might be the greatest opportunity of his life. Diaz doesn't owe fighting to anyone, but his continuing refusal to accept any blame for his role in the UFC 137 main event switch is head-scratching.

Diaz wants the opportunities and wants the money, but doesn't want most of the associated responsibilities that come with it. As Shields knows, it's a package deal, which is why he continues to conduct his career with grace even under such personal stress.

They may be from the same camp, but Shields showed the ultimate in professionalism while Diaz was the exact antithesis.

Martinez lacks the name recognition of anyone else named here, but maybe that will one day change. On Saturday, the 9-2 featherweight will be fighting for the first time in a major promotion, signed after a recent heart-tugging ESPN profile that illustrated Martinez's unwavering loyalty to his father.

Martinez's dad Richard was involved in a car accident long ago that left him in a near-vegetative state, and for the last several years, Rad has been his primary caregiver, sacrificing time away from reaching his own MMA dreams in the process.

Now he gets a chance to take that first step towards reaching the heights of fighters like Shields and Diaz. It may be the beginning of one of MMA's all-time feel-good tales, yet for now, it is overshadowed by stuff like the BJ Penn-UFC hype video controversy that should be a non-story.

At the end of the day, Penn's complaint is that he was asked to directly state that he is going to beat Diaz. This is not a story, it's not even interesting.

At the least, I can understand Penn's sensitivity to the issue because in the past he's trained with Diaz and holds him in some regard, but Fighter A saying he's going to beat Fighter B is not disrespectful; it's normal and expected. Diaz may see the world differently than I do, but I can't imagine he will be shocked or offended to hear Penn say he plans to win. Penn said he would have been more comfortable saying, "My hand will be raised," which is the same sentiment. This "controversy" is over semantics.

In Penn's defense, maybe he didn't intend to make a big deal out of it, mentioning it to an interviewer, but the story has spiraled since, with a video response from UFC, followed by another video release from BJPenn.com. It's all pretty exhausting and frankly, boring.

So let's turn attention back to the fights. Diaz vs. Penn will be one heck of a scrap, and it doesn't need this bickering to promote it. Those two will have their turns soon enough. On Saturday there will be deserving fighters more worthy of the immediate spotlight. There is a place in the sport for everyone. We need our trash-talkers, our silent assassins and our hybrids. Rad Martinez and Jake Shields fall within the quiet scope of the spectrum, but that doesn't mean they should be forgotten. In times like these, their professionalism and grace is a welcome change.

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