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St. Pierre 'Scared' and Shields 'Sick of Him' as Matchup for No. 1 Nears

TORONTO -- For Jake Shields, the interest in fighting Georges St. Pierre came many years ago, before he ever signed his name to a UFC contract, before many people who now classify themselves as MMA fans knew who he was. Shields was already a veteran of the sport, and had quietly amassed a long win streak that resulted in an EliteXC welterweight championship. He won that fight in just 63 seconds, and moments afterward, voiced a hope of one day facing GSP, who was then already the UFC champ.

Wherever St. Pierre was that night, his sixth sense might have been tingling. The Canadian star had for a long time watched and admired Shields from afar, and considered the possibility that they might one day meet. By then they were both champs, but the day he truly realized Shields was elite was in the spring of 2006, when Shields beat both Yushin Okami and Carlos Condit on the same night.

Since even before that time, St. Pierre and Shields have been almost inarguably the best welterweights in the world. Dating back to the start of 2005, the champion has won 14 of 15 fights, and the lone loss, to Matt Serra, has been avenged. The challenger has one-upped him though, coming in with 15 consecutive wins. So as far as they are both concerned, UFC 129's main event is a fight that is a long time coming.

"He's been the guy that I've been looking at for years as the king," Shields said. "Fighting him, I haven't been able to put it out of my mind. It's pretty much been eating, sleeping, breathing Georges St. Pierre. I'm ready to get this over with. I'm sick of him."

Shields is half-joking, yet fully serious when he says this. St. Pierre will either make for the best or worst memory of his career depending on what happens on Saturday night. St. Pierre is a massive favorite, as much as 4-to-1 according to linesmakers and bettors, but that hasn't changed his feelings about the whole thing. Ask the champ about his emotions as UFC 129 nears, and he's honest.

"I'm very nervous," he said. "I'm very scared."

That's not so unusual for GSP, who says frankly that any fighter who is not nervous before a fight is either lying or simply doesn't care. But this fight is a little bit different given the stakes. Not only does St. Pierre have the hopes of a nation riding on him in the form of 55,000 strong expected to fill Rogers Centre on Saturday, but he also has to contend with a certified grappling beast, the highest-level jiu-jitsu black belt he's faced in MMA aside from the markedly smaller BJ Penn.

Given Shields' history as a winner of multiple championships, St. Pierre has approached this fight without the mindset of entitlement. The belt does not belong to him. It does not belong to Shields. It is a new prize to be won for the first time.

With the benefit of hindsight, most championship level fighters will admit that it was harder staying at the top than getting there. Their focus might have wavered ever so slightly. Their egos might have gotten just a wee bit inflated. They might have slacked off on a few conditioning drills. They might have been distracted by fame. Whatever it is, it all adds up, and in time, it will get you beaten. St. Pierre himself had that type of moment against Serra. Not that he needed any extra perspective to get motivated for Shields, but these days he says he knows how to surf the wave of momentum.

"I'm at my best when I feel I'm right on the edge," he said. "When I feel I'm right about to fall off the edge, that's when I perform my best, and that's the situation."

The two have faced enormous demands on their time this week. While Shields said that during his Strikeforce tenure, fight week work days were about four combined hours of media and workouts, for this one, he's logged 12-hour days with all the extra promotion he's had to do.

He seems to be holding up well under the strain, and besides, It's all worth it for Shields, who said it wouldn't matter if he was matched up with GSP on the undercard. This is simply a fight he's wanted for a long time, against an opponent he considered his contemporary, even if the rest of the world did not.

While predictably, neither fighter shared much of his game plan, Shields noted that he expects conditioning will play a major role and that he would "dig deeper" in the later rounds. To that end, he is coming into this fight much lighter than his UFC welterweight debut fight against Martin Kampmann, when a rough weight cut slowed him down. Shields said while he weighed 190 on fight night against Kampmann, he'll be about 183 on Saturday after weigh-ins and rehydrating.

From a matchup standpoint, most expect St. Pierre to have a big edge in standup and Shields to have a slight edge on the ground. Both fighters, though, say that type of summary is simplistic. After all, neither man became a champion without overcoming someone they weren't supposed to beat. Neither man became a champion without grit, skill and brains.

All those years ago, there was a reason they gravitated to a match with each other. Though their fight games are stylistically quite different, when they look at each other, they see the same thing: a champion. No. 1 vs. No. 1A is a long time coming, and to the two, it's not about the belt so much as it's about finding out. It's hard to believe that it was three years ago when Shields first asked to fight St. Pierre in a fight that could never be made at the time due to politics.

"Afterward, I thought it was kind of stupid, because obviously we were not going to cross promote," Shields said. "But I knew it would happen one day, and here it is."

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