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Jake Shields focused on Saturday fight, uncertain what future holds

Despite what any reports say, Shields says he doesn’t know who he’ll be fighting for after Dan Henderson

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Associated Press

Jake Shields battles Ido Pariente from Israel during early fight action at the Los Angeles Coliseum on June 2, 2007. Shields won his fight on a first round submission.

For the last time, Jake Shields doesn't know what his future holds.

And he's sick of talking about it.

The Strikeforce middleweight champion faces arguably the biggest fight of his career Saturday — a title defense against former Pride champion Dan Henderson in Nashville, Tenn. — and it seems the only thing people want to talk about is what his plans are afterward.

"It is a little annoying, because it feels like everyone's talking about that when I feel like I've got the biggest fight right in front of me," Shields said. "It's irritating when people are talking about what's going to happen next because this fight makes a big difference to what kind of situation I'm going to be in."

The cause for all the speculation is the 31-year-old star is on the last fight of his contract with Strikeforce and likely would receive a warm welcome from the UFC if he chose to leave.

Just last month, UFC President Dana White told media members his organization would "love to take him."

But Shields says he hasn't even come close to making the call to leave Strikeforce — despite what some reports or headlines would suggest.

"I can't think of an exact example, but you see the headlines that pretty much say I'm off to the UFC," Shields said. "Then you read the article and you can see I wasn't saying that. They basically just twist the words. There have definitely been cases of that happening."

Although Shields admits he's been irritated by the media's tendency to push him toward the UFC, he understands it's a move some are hoping for.

Shields has enjoyed fighting at 185 pounds because it allows him to basically skip the tedious process of cutting weight, but he knows his frame is more suited for the welterweight division.

He's openly said he would love the opportunity to fight UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre — a dream that's only been fueled by St. Pierre's recent dominance in the division, including four consecutive title defenses.

"It's a test I would love," Shields said. "He actually said he would like to fight me, and that's probably why the media is pushing me that way, because a lot of people want to see that fight.

"But right now, I'm just worried about getting through Henderson. If I get through that, I'll re-evaluate what I want to do from there."

Shields was in the rival company's backyard recently for a six-week stretch, when he joined head coach Chuck Liddell as an assistant on the eleventh season of "The Ultimate Fighter."

Although he's mostly been overlooked through two aired episodes of the show because of his status as a Strikeforce champion, Shields says he got along well with the UFC president during filming.

According to Shields, the two refrained from business talks.

"Me and Dana talked a little bit but not really about business," Shields said. "He would just come in and out. He was always real nice to me. We maybe joked around about it, but we didn't talk any business."

While the temptations of a move to the UFC are obvious, there are reasons Shields would want to stay put in the organization he's fought in since June of last year.

Not only does Strikeforce offer the opportunity to fight on network television — Saturday's title fight will be broadcast on CBS — Shields has a long relationship with the company's CEO, Scott Coker.

"I first met Scott a long time ago when I was starting with (Japan-based) Shooto," Shields said. "He was putting on small shows and wanted to get into MMA. He took me to lunch and told me he was striking into MMA.

"I didn't sign with him because I was with Shooto and then EliteXC. But I ended up staying in touch with him and we stayed on good terms. I went to all his shows and we just got along real well."

In reality, it appears that Shields is doing what any other smart fighter would do in his position — keeping his options open.

If nothing else, he could open a bidding war between Strikeforce and the UFC much like Henderson did last year when he turned down White's offer for a richer deal with his current organization.

None of that can happen until after Saturday's fight with Henderson, a fighter who Shields has just so happened to look up to through most of his career.

Until then, that's what Shields is thinking about. He'd like it if everyone else did, too.

"Coming from a wrestling background, I've always looked up to him," Shields said. "I watched him in the old UFCs and back in his Pride. He's been a guy I've been looking up to for awhile. I remember rooting for him when he fought Rampage (Jackson). He's a guy I respect."

Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected]. Also follow him on twitter: LVSunFighting.

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