It's the goal of almost every MMA fighter to either get to the UFC or get back there. The UFC is still the pinnacle of the sport. Just not for Jake Shields.
The former Strikeforce champion and UFC top contender is very content where is in World Series of Fighting following his release from the UFC in 2014. Shields called his ouster from the promotion something like a weight off his shoulders.
"I wasn't really happy with the UFC at the time anyways," Shields told MMAFighting.com "I'm actually happier not in the UFC. I was kind of burned out with them. I didn't really feel like being there. It was kind of a relief. I kind of wanted to try something else. Right now, I'm happy with World Series of Fighting. I'm motivated again. I feel like I'm fighting better. When you enjoy what you're doing, obviously you're going to do better."
Shields (31-7-1, 1 NC) has a chance to add another gold belt to his substantial collection when he challenges Rousimar Palhares for the WSOF welterweight title in the main event of WSOF 22 on Saturday night in Las Vegas. Shields has been in plenty of big fights, including in front of the largest UFC live crowd ever at UFC 129 in Toronto, but this is a chance for him to remind fans that he's still among the very best in the world at welterweight, regardless of what the logo on the canvas says.
"If we were in the UFC, I think we'd be two of the best as well," Shields said. "I've beaten the champ and several of the top-five guys."
Indeed, Shields owns wins over Robbie Lawler, Carlos Condit and Tyron Woodley. He's also beaten the likes of Dan Henderson, Demian Maia, Yushin Okami and Paul Daley. Shields, 36, has been a champion in Strikeforce, EliteXC and Shooto. He also won the star-studded Rumble on the Rock tournament in 2006, beating Condit in the finals.
If there were an MMA Hall of Fame, Shields would make it in there. He would like to be remembered as one of the best 170-pounders ever.
"I think I've accomplished what I've needed to," Shields said. "Obviously I want to keep winning and keep winning titles. I still have the drive and competitiveness in me and I still feel like I'm in my prime."
What he never captured was the UFC title and he more than likely never will. And Shields is very comfortable with that. The California resident was cut by the UFC after falling to Hector Lombard in March 2014. Before that, he was undefeated in four straight fights.
For those reasons, Shields doesn't think he's ventured from the elite, even if not being in the UFC keeps him out of the public eye.
"I think I never really fell off," Shields said. "I had that one loss to Lombard and other than that I've beaten top guys. I'm not really too concerned about that. But I think he is a top guy, he's coming off a big win streak over good opponents. So I do think beating him shows that, yeah, I am still a top-five guy."
And he doesn't feel like he needs to be in the UFC to prove it. Shields said he'll make more money in WSOF on Friday than he would in the UFC due to the promotion's new apparel deal with Reebok. UFC fighters are no longer allowed to wear the logos of their sponsors in the Octagon or during fight week, which has cost some of them a sizeable chunk of money.
"The sponsorship money is terrible in the UFC," Shields said. "That definitely hurt a lot of fighters. UFC can spin it any way they want, but it pretty much hurts 95 percent of fighters. It makes their pay go down and, in a lot of guys' cases, go way, way down."
Just another thing he doesn't have to worry about. Shields is still excelling at a high level with a top-notch opponent ahead of him Friday night.
"I think this is one of the biggest fights World Series of Fighting has had in a while," he said. "It's a title fight. It's huge. It's a chance to put them up, to put me up. I'm excited about it."