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by Tracy Lee, combatlifestyle.com
6:30 am... I grabbed my car from Valet and wiped the sleep from my eyes.. I got my typical 3 hours sleep and was getting on the road to San Francisco. Stopping at the Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino in Lemoore for the Palace Fighting Championship the night before was almost completely spontaneous (I decided one day prior) and I was glad that I had decided to do it. You can check out the blog for it here: My first time to Palace Fighting Championships...
I found myself driving west on 198 towards I5. As I drove, I watched the moon set and I was calculated that it was going to take about 3.5 hours to get to SF from Lemoore. I was driving with only my thoughts to keep me company. My best friend had killed the battery on my car the week before and somehow broke the stereo in the process. So sans music, I had more than enough time to plan out my next plan of attack.
I was meeting Jake Shields in SF. He had a back injury. I knew this going into my trip, but he was trying his hardest to pull off this fight, in spite of and had spent the entire week going to the chiropractor to rehab it. It's the reason I had to postpone the trip until friday instead of Tuesday like originally planned. I was aiming to meet him around 10. He had an appointment with a physical therapist and I met him there at the office. I wasn't too far off as I arrived into the city at 10:30 and I met him as he was in the middle of his appointment. While I was waiting on him, I started texting Gil Melendez to let him know that I had arrived. He and Jake were on different training schedules due to Jake's injury, so he told me he would meet me around 3pm at the gym. By this time, Jake was finished so he stood up to test out his back.
When I got there, Jake was laying on the table as the therapist working on the muscles in his lower back. Apparently it wasn't a spinal injury, it was all muscular. It was a painful process to watch, tell you the truth. After an hour session, it was "much better" and he could still barely walk. Apparently tuesday was MUCH worse. He was very optimistic though, and had every intention of trying to make the fight. we left the therapist's, and I was in my car following him over to Fairtex, the gym where he is the head Jujitsu and MMA Instructor. He wanted to try rolling to loosen his muscles.
We got to Fairtex which is located in downtown SF near the cross streets of Hawthorne and Harrison. I wish I had known how long I was going to be there that day. There was a parking lot that was $10.00 to park in all day, but I opted for the parking meter that was .25 every 5 minutes. For all of you who don't feel like doing the math, that works out to 3 bucks an hour. I think I was there over 4 hours before we moved my car. Thats a lot of damn quarters! Moral of this story? Get a handicapped placard; it'll save you a ton of money!
I digress... I followed Jake into Fairtex where the front area of the place is a merchandise area. We continue through to the back and it opened up into a large workout area. I notice two rows of bags off to the left when I walked in, a large boxing ring, a mat area to the right lined on 2 sides by a cage, as well as a free weight and excercise equipment area. As I took all this in, Jake took a moment to chat with some students before changing for a light rolling session.
Jake rolled lightly with partner, Denny. He practiced transitions and submissions; never holding one for long and quickly moving to the next. If he had any pain as he was rolling, he didn't show it. The time I spent shooting on the mat next to them went by quickly and soon Jake was standing on the scale, checking his weight. The scale registered him at 180. At this point he was exactly a week out from weight ins. He wanted to come in day of weigh ins and cut about 8lbs He looked up and grinned and me and said, "I'm light. Let's eat!"
Eating with Jake is sometimes somewhat tough because he is a lifelong vegetarian. But we were on his home turf where he could quickly find food that satisfied his dietary needs. We slowly walked a few blocks away to the Chipotle where he ordered a veggie bowl with black beans. I am a huge fan of chipotle chicken burritos and wasn't scared to tear into one that sunny afternoon. Denny followed Jake's lead and it was moments later that we were enjoying our meal on the outside patio. It wasn't enough for Denny though and soon he was dropping a plate of hummus, pitas, and dolmas on our table from the mediterranean place next door; I was only too happy to help him finish it, and Jake sure as hell wasn't shy.
Much of the lunch conversation revolved around Jake's back. He was concerned about backing out, but at the same time concerned about going into a fight with such a bad injury. He wanted to be 100% to fight an opponent such as Drew Fickett. Denny and I spent the entire time convincing him that it was time to fly to LA to see the Fight Doctor. I had visited Dr Goldman once, and I no longer had any pain from my shoulder separation. The only pain I had was from the muscles in my neck tensing up when I overworked them from shooting. Denny had a similar, more severe story to tell about injuries that Dr Pete had fixed. By the time lunch was over, Jake was on the phone with the doctor, making plans to fly down in the morning.
We walked back to the gym where we relaxed for a little while. Gil came and picked me up to go to the Dr with him to get his hand signed off; he had broken it at the Playboy Mansion last year fighting Tetsuji Kato. We parked the car and walked into a building with crazy architecture, hallways, and statuary. He introduced me to Happy, his doctor. She was super friendly as she examined his hand, and then signed off the paperwork for the California State Athletic Commission. When we got in the car, I watched disgusted as Gil threwback a handful of glutamine powder and washed it down with water. "I get tired of shakes all the time," he said.
It was close to 4pm and we moved my car to a 2 hour parking area. No more feeding the meter! We went back to Fairtex and Jake was already ready to work out. He wrapped his hands, and put on his boxing gloves and walked over to start hitting the bag. Gil quickly got changed and started shadow boxing in the ring. I walked over to the bag area to shoot Jake as he felt out his injury. He lasted about 10 minutes, before he called it quits. He said, "I guess I have nothing to lose by going to LA to see this doctor if he's as good as you guys say. There's no way I can fight with my back like it is right now." Jake took off to 24 hour fitness to try and work out on some of their fitness equipment and I turned my camera to Gil.
Gil was working on his Muay Thai with Jongsanan "The Wooden Man" Fairtex. He was sparring with another guy there at the gym. I apologize that I didn't get his name. They weren't holding back as they traded kicks and punches; although his sparring partner had a large reach and height advantage over him. The Gil hit pads with Jongsanan before working on strength and conditioning using medicine balls, doing pull ups, jumping rope, and doing crunches.
After working out, Gil took me to my car and then I followed him back to the house that he and Jake share along with another roommate in the Richmond District of SF. While we waited for Jake, I got on my laptop to work, and Gil made a chicken and rice bowl that he generously shared with me. It was some time right after Jake arrived that the ShoXC main card started and we watched the first fight between Caraiso and Oshiro. We stayed long enough to watch the knock out, and then walked out the door to go get some food.
We hit the Crepevine where one of Jake's friends came to meet us to eat. I ordered a soup and a salad, while Jake ordered french toast and a tofu scramble. He was so light for being a week prior to his fight, that he was able to eat what he wanted. He did have issues sitting in the chair due to his back as we waited waited for the food to arrive. I quickly pushed them to eat so that we could get back in time to see Conor Heun fight. We walked in the door as they were announcing the decision and raising Conor's hand.
Gil had already left to go to a friend's house to listen to their band play and then play cards. We arrived as they were putting away their instruments, and breaking out the poker chips. It was a nice laid back evening and was cool to see the guys hanging out relaxing before their fights. I was so exhausted that I was falling asleep and was thrilled when we finally got up to leave.
I passed out on the couch at their place and woke up in time to grab a shower, and get my ass on the road to San Jose. Gil took Jake to the airport with high hopes that seeing Dr Goldman would make him better.
I kept in touch with Jake multiple times over the last few days to see if there were any improvements in his condition. He said that he saw a 30% improvement after his first session, and was still trying to train to feel it out and see if he was in good enough shape to continue the fight. I tried to talk to him last night to get an interview for Combatlifestyle, but wasn't able to get a hold of him until today. By that time, I had already heard that he pulled from the fight. So I asked him for a short interview, and this is what he had to say:
INTERVIEW WITH JAKE SHIELDS
When did you hurt your back? Sometime last week.
Did you think at that time that you would have to pull out of the fight? Possibilty, but I thought that I could pull out of it. I had had minor back injuries before, but nothing this serious. It was locking as I was training, and it just wasn't getting any better. Because I was pushing it, it was causing it not to heal.
What were you doing to rehab it? Going to the Acupuncturist, massage therapist, chiropractor. I tried everything, and it made improvements, but it wasnt enough so I took a plane to LA to see Dr Goldman. He made a 30% improvement after one session. I had 4 sessions with him. and then would go to work out every day afterwards and make it worse again. It was like 2 steps forward and one step back.
What made you decide to pull the from the fight?
I couldn't really bend, so there was no way that I could shoot. I also couldn't get up from the bottom. I could only throw straight punches and no kicks. I felt ok on top in guard, but if you can't get a guy with a take down, what good is that going to do? And I was also concerned about further injuring myself by fighting with such a serious back problem. Now I can rehab it and come back much stronger in the future.
Anything you want to say to Drew?
Yes, I want to apologize to Drew Ficket. I knows how hard he's been training. I also know what it's like to have an opponent pull out last minute. It sucks, and I'm sorry. I have a lot of respect for drew and was looking forward to an all out war. I hope to have the opportunity to step into the cage with him in the future.
Anything to say to the fans?
I have never pulled out of a fight before. I want to apologize to all the fans who were planning on watching me fight. I feel that it's the best for my future to pull out now and come back stronger later on. I appreciate all the support that you have shown me over the years.
I also had a chance to interview Gil yesterday. Here it is:
INTERVIEW WITH GIL MELENDEZ
How much do you weight right now going into your 155lb fight against Gabe Lemley?
I Woke up 165.. I would like to be at 8lbs over on friday morning and then start my cut.
Who's on your fight team helping you prepare and what does each one bring to your fight?
Jake Shields,Nick and Nate Diaz. They all have fights right around the same time so the competitiveness has been high in the gym. Everyone's on the same page right now; everyone's working real hard. On top of those guys, I have also been working with my Muay thai coach, Jongsanan "The Wooden Man" Fairtex, as well as Denny, Luke Stewart (who is also on the card Saturday night), and Paul (we call him the encyclopedia of jujitsu)
How do you feel about the fact that your team is all training at the same time?
It's hard, but it's better for me. When I'm training by myself, the seriousness and intensity isn't there. Who know's if they've partied the night before, or if they're serious. Now, everyone is in the same spot in their heads; we ALL have fights the same week. The only thing that sucks is the fact that Jake, Nick, and Nate won't be able to corner or warm up with me.
Who will be cornering you?
My Dad, Larry, Jongsanan. Still figuring out some one else; I can have 4 people. Possibly one of the other guys that has been training with me. Another set of eyes, to tell me to put my hands and just be there for support.
You're going into this fight off your first loss. How does that make you feel, and how do you think this is going to help you for saturday night?
It makes me hungry. After I lost, I got really refocused. I trained hard for that fight, but I'm training even harder. I'm just hungry, I just want to get back on a rampage and just hurt people. I am definitely a different fighter, a smarter one.
Talk about your opponent, Gabe Lemley. How do you see the fight going with this former Karate black belt who is also known to be a submission specialist as well?
Thats the thing, You know more about him than I do. He filled in for someone who backed out. I respect him a lot, because a lot of people won't take a fight with me. I don't know much about him, saw a video or two. He seems like a pretty tough guy, and I respect him, and I've been training really hard. It doesn't matter who I'm fighting right now. I just want to get in there and fight.
Who do you want to fight next?
I'm really just focusing on this fight right now... But there's a guy named Jorge Masvidal who pulled out of the fight. He's been talking a lot of smack. I respect the guy and I feel he respects me, but he called me out. I think a fight between us will be a battle. He injured his shin fighting Ryan Healy in the last strikeforce event in Tacoma, WA.
You were recently listed as one of the 50 most exciting fighters to watch by MMA worldwide. What is it about your fighting that you feel made you qualify for this title?
I love to fight, I don't like to try to hug it out, or squeeze out a decision. I got balls, I'm in there to fight, in there to kill. I'm not in there to keep from getting hurt. Its definitely an honor to be called one of the most exciting fighters. And if I'm an exciting fighter, I'm always going to have a job in the cage.
Thank some sponsors.
Combative Apparel, Fairtex, Stagr, Xtreme Couture, ISS Supplements.