Last month, within the bowels of Gilly's Club in downtown Dallas, Jake Shields couldn't help but show his frustration. He was standing in front of a vast backdrop for UFC 171, and plastered across the image were the names and likenesses of the four welterweights headlining the card: Johny Hendricks, Robbie Lawler, Tyron Woodley, and Carlos Condit.
The funny thing is, Shields had personal experience with three of those men. In fact, he'd beaten the entire trio -- Woodley, less than a year ago. And yet here they were, all three being propped up by the marketing machine, while Shields, the perpetual grinder who wins ugly, took a backseat.
Though perhaps it was an omen of things to come, as less than three weeks later, Shields found himself jobless -- released by the UFC after Hector Lombard derailed his four-fight unbeaten streak in Dallas, in what was Shields' first actual loss in nearly three years.
"I was definitely a little surprised, especially coming off some big wins, guys in the top-10, main events," Shields admitted to MMAFighting.com.
"I definitely didn't think they'd drop me after one loss. But, you know, I had a terrible performance. I certainly didn't feel like I fought like myself that night. But, given that it was one performance, you should get a second chance to go out there and try to win again. And I wasn't given that. But, ultimately it is what it is."
The decision to cut Shields arrived abruptly, and afterward UFC President Dana White explained to Yahoo! Sports that MMA is a young man's game, and the 35-year-old former Strikeforce champ was "on the downswing, and he's never going to be the guy."
White finished by expressing that, "Right now, at this point, [Shields] is just another guy." Although Shields, who was ranked within the UFC's own top-15 at the time of his release, scoffs at that characterization.
"I didn't read what Dana said, but ‘another guy?' So are [a lot of other fighters] I guess, considering I beat at least half the guys in the top-10. That's a little bit ridiculous. But I guess you have to justify it somehow."
The pattern of cutting world-ranked veterans who prefer methodical matwork over slobberknocker brawls is at this point too obvious to ignore, and the UFC's message appears to be clear: either be exciting, or win however you can. Although if you choose the latter option, if and when you do eventually lose, job security isn't always guaranteed.
"My last two fights have been really close and I haven't finished, so I figure maybe they're just doing that," Shields said. "But that doesn't really... I feel like the sport, they're trying to pull it away from being the best in the sport, and just putting it into, oh, you gotta go and slug it out and fight the way they want you to, which is kind of ridiculous. You wouldn't have guys like Floyd Mayweather being the best in the world if [boxing executives] pressured him like that.
"But it's where [the sport] is right now. You just have to deal with it.
"It's a rough industry," Shields added. "You never know what the next day is going to bring. One loss and all of a sudden you're out of the whole show. From being lined up to get a title shot, to being out of the show, you never know where you're going to end up.
"It's definitely a little frustrating, but I just have to not let it get to me and just keep going out there and winning fights and doing what I do."
Like Fitch and Okami before him, Shields ultimately picked up the pieces to join World Series of Fighting's growing welterweight division, which also includes former UFC fighters Josh Burkman and WSOF champ Rousimar Palhares.
Shields is now eyeing a July debut, likely on the same show headlined by Palhares and Fitch, and if all goes well, he hopes to challenge for the WSOF title within his first few fights.
"A lot of [the reason I signed with WSOF] was competition. There were a lot of good offers on the table. I just had to look at all the different factors, fighting the best and where are these companies going," Shields said.
"You always want more, of course, but ultimately I don't think it turned out too bad. Still making good money, still fighting for an organization that I respect, still have a great welterweight division in front of me, so overall it didn't turn out bad."