As much as I feel that Rick Story is one of the most underrated fighters in the UFC, he might only be the second most underrated fighter scheduled to compete at UFC 171. The most underrated fighter on the card, and arguably the most underrated fighter in the promotion, is Jake Shields.
I don’t have any hard data or evidence to back this up, but I believe the easiest way for a fighter to be overrated is to score a highlight-reel victory, or at the very least, for a fighter to win with flashy techniques. Shields is the opposite – he’s underrated because (in my humble opinion) he never wins in spectacular fashion. Shields usually wins one of two ways – with a large number of low-power strikes, or smothering top control on the ground.
Shields never should have been a 3-1 underdog against Demian Maia… but he was. He never should have been a 2-1 underdog against Tyron Woodley… but he was. Now he’s nearly a 2-1 underdog against Hector Lombard, and once again, I don’t think he should be.
That’s not to say Lombard won’t be a difficult opponent for Shields. If anything, I think Lombard matches up pretty well against the former Strikeforce champion. Lombard is a tank of a welterweight whose Judo background has allowed him to develop strong takedown defense. In six UFC and PRIDE fights Lombard has defended 75 percent of his opponents’ takedowns. Meanwhile, Shields often struggles to get fights to the ground as he only completes takedowns 31 percent of the time. On paper, Lombard should be well equipped to prevent Shields from applying his controlling brand of grappling.
That means this fight should largely take place at standing distance, and if the narrative is to be believed, that means Lombard should easily win the fight. I’ve seen a number of people in various corners of the internet claim that Shields has among the worst striking in the UFC. With all due respect to those people… that’s not even close to being true. Shields is actually very good at landing strikes on his opponents. His high-volume approach is what allowed him to beat Tyron Woodley and Yoshihiro Akiyama, and got him within a round of defeating Georges St-Pierre.
Shields’ problem is that he doesn’t pack any power at all behind his strikes. In 19 fights documented by Fight Metric, Shields has landed 594 significant strikes and exactly zero knockdowns. He has three career wins by TKO in 36 fights, and none since 2007. It could be argued that when Shields lands a strike, it should only count as half a strike. Especially compared to the power of Lombard.
Indeed, it’s Lombard’s pure power that makes this such a treacherous fight for Shields. Lombard has won 19 career fights by TKO, including both of his UFC wins. On the flip side, Shields is now 35 years old and a 15-year veteran of the MMA game. He’s starting to reach the point where his ability to endure punishment should start to diminish.
It’s a tough fight to call, but I have to side with Shields for one key reason: Lombard is strangely hesitant to throw strikes a lot of the time. Lombard is far from a volume striker; instead, he often appears to be searching for an opening before throwing a strike, sometimes looking confused in the process. For a fighter with such raw power, it drives me crazy that Lombard doesn’t attack more… but he doesn’t.
I believe it’s more likely that Shields will win on points than Lombard will win by knockout, but either result wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
Pick: Jake Shields by decision
DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER
Lombard is the favorite at -220 with Shields at +180. I’m risking $2.00 to win $3.60 on Shields as I believe this is close to a 50-50 match. There’s a chance that Lombard wins in 22 seconds and makes me look stupid, but that’s the risk I’m taking.