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After his sudden release from UFC, Jake Shields finally set to make his WSOF debut

Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

There was a modest outcry when Jake Shields was released by the UFC this spring, especially among the sporting types who believe in records. Shields had effectively won four fights in a row before he fought Hector Lombard at UFC 171 in Dallas. He lost that one via decision in what was considered a pretty dull affair.

But losing to Lombard, as plenty of people have realized, is nothing to be ashamed of. Nor was staying conscious through the whole thing.

Shields’ release seemed to revolve around some broader trends…such as winning nondescript decisions over otherwise dynamic fighters; such as the threat of knocking off would-be contenders; such as frustrating the harmony of the pecking order; such as boring the spectator with his superb grappling and his even more superb ability to nullify.

Those were the hunches, but there were other factors, too. Shields’ win over Ed Herman at UFC 150 was overturned into a "no contest" for failing a drug test. And most of his UFC decision victories weren’t overly decisive. He won three by split decision. In fact, he hasn’t finished anybody since 2009.

He’s heard all that before.

Less talked about is the fact that Shields has been finished only twice in a career spanning 38 professional fights, and the one against Marty Armendarez back in 2000 barely feels admissible. His sense of survival in the merciless game of MMA is uncanny. Look at the night he had in 2006’s Rumble on the Rock, or the Dan Henderson turnaround in Strikeforce to defend the middleweight title. For all his critics, there is something to be said about Shields’ perseverance that is borderline sublime.

The bottom line, though: Shields was easier to cut than to deal with, and now he’s getting set to make his debut in the World Series of Fighting this Saturday in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He’ll fight welterweight Ryan Ford, who is the hometown guy. At 35 years old, Shields is looking to add another belt to his collection, to stack alongside his EliteXC and Strikeforce ones. Should he win, he'll likely fight the winner of the fight between Rousimar Palhares and Jon Fitch.

Shields is once again a big fish in a smaller pond, and he’s still in the process of adjusting to his new environs.

"So far I’m still getting to know everyone, but [WSOF] has treated me good so far, they’ve treated me well," Shields says. "But it’s hard to say for sure until you’ve fought for them. Everyone keeps asking me how it’s been for them, and it’s been good so far, but I’m just having my first fight. Let’s get through this and then we can talk."

It’s difficult to sense any lingering animosity between Shields and the UFC. If you’ve watched this season of The Ultimate Fighter, you can see Shields in every training sequence with his best friend Gilbert Melendez, who’s coaching opposite Anthony Pettis. You can see him comforting Bec Rawlings with flowers after the news that her stepfather passed had away, something he had experience in having lost his own father and manager, Jack Shields, in 2011. You can see him teaching his brand of grappling, which has long since been deemed "American jiu-jitsu," a hybrid to suit wrestling aggression.

He’s everywhere. Which is a lot different than the other time when he worked as an assistant coach on the reality program, when he was nowhere.

"I haven’t watched any of the show, but I guess I’m on there," he says. "I’m surprised. I thought I figured I’d be edited out. I did it in the past with Chuck Liddell and I was pretty much nonexistent."

Still, nearly seven months after the fact, Shields says his abrupt release from Zuffa doesn’t make total sense to him, not after the solid run that preceded his loss to Lombard.

"Especially since two of the last guys are both in the top ten," he says, referring to his victories over Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia. "So winning against two top tens and then losing to Hector…yeah, you know, I had a bad fight and he beat me, but he’s a very tough guy. He’s having trouble getting fights at 170 right now. So cutting me after that was little unfair."

Also veering towards the "unfair" is the fact that Shields has become a sort of door-to-door fighter, who commonly visits the homes of his opposition. It was Shields who stood as the interloper in front of over 55,000 people at the Rogers Centre back at UFC 129 to fight Georges St-Pierre. That event remains the biggest gate in UFC history. Then Shields fought Japanese fighter Yoshihiro Akiyama in Japan, and Colorado-based Herman in Denver, and the Brazilian Maia in Brazil.

Now in his new promotion, he’ll face Ford in front of a partisan crowd who’d love nothing more than to see him lose.

"Obviously I’d rather fight in my hometown, but I never get to," he says. "I fought once in San Francisco in my whole career [against Steve Berger in 2006 for FCP: Malice at Cow Palace], so I’m kind of used to going to the other guy’s hometown. It sucks, but it is what it is.

"But I’ve been dealing in fights like the one with GSP, where I’m going into a hostile crowd when I’ve had 60,000 Canadians booing me. I’m sure it’s going to be a much smaller crowd [in Edmonton], but it’s something I’m used to. I’ve had to go down to Brazil, and Brazil is known for the most hostile crowd towards foreigners, so if I can handle all that, I can handle this."

Given Shields’ resume against MMA’s elite, the draw of Saturday night’s feels more about how the 31-year old Ford handles himself in the steep upgrade in competition. Though he’s won six fights in a row, including his last one at WSOF Canada 1 in which he scored a knockout of Joel Powell to win the belt, Ford’s biggest victories have come against the likes of Karo Parisyan and Pete Spratt, both of whom were past their prime.

Despite this discrepancy in big fight experience, Shields says he’s not taking anything for granted. Especially in Ford’s own backyard.

"He’s a tough, dangerous guy," he says. "He’s aggressive, he’s got like 20 finishes, so you can see he’s dangerous. I’ve certainly fought guys like him before, but he’s not someone you want to take lightly. He’s got a lot of knockout power and he has submissions. He’s someone you’ve got to watch out for everything."

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