Tom Shields grew up in what’s known as “Tito-Country” and has developed a love for mixed martial arts and the UFC.
The mixed martial arts community runs far and wide, featuring fans from all walks of life. Anyone can be a fan of watching two athletes step into the cage to compete against each other for bragging rights and fight purses. But there’s something extra special when high-level athletes take enjoyment in watching their peers in other sports compete. Olympic-gold medalist, Tom Shields is such an athlete as he enjoys watching competitors in the UFC compete for some of the highest honors in the game.
At 28-years old the Huntington Beach, CA native has followed the sport through much of the modern UFC era. Growing up as an athlete that excelled in individual sports, Shields took to sports such as MMA and surfing as they call for an athlete to go out and compete on their own.
“I’ve been watching it forever and being involved in an individual sport like swimming helped me get more attached for MMA,” Shields said. “I felt more akin to Tito Ortiz, Kelly Slater and athletes like that when I started watching PPVs back with friends.”
As with any other fan of a sport like MMA, there was a moment in which Shields was hooked on the sport. For him, that came back on Aug. 8, 2009, at UFC 101 when Anderson Silva violently stopped Forrest Griffin at light heavyweight.
“I remember there being a lot of hype going into that fight and it was so intriguing the way it all happened,” Shields said. “Silva was one of the more expressive fighters of that area and I remember being really shocked by what he was able to do.”
More than a decade later, Shields has reached his own level of professional success but continues to enjoy watching the action that goes down in the Octagon. UFC 245 is scheduled to be the biggest fight of 2019 and it’s one that Shields intends to keep a close eye on. With three title fights on the schedule and other important contests, it’s the most important card of the year with implications in nearly every matchup.
“Colby Covington is a guy that knows how to draw your attention,” Shields commented on the UFC 245 main event. “He’s a hot head and everyone wants to see him get beat, but I know I wouldn’t bet against him at all.”
The grudge match between Kamaru Usman and Covington is the main event of the evening, but just one of three title fights slated for Dec. 14. Max Holloway defends his featherweight title against Alexander Volkanovski and Amanda Nunes defends her bantamweight belt against Germaine de Randamie. Both Holloway and Nunes are on a quest to earn the title of being the GOAT of their divisions and Shields can see it happening for both.
“Max is one of my favorites and I think it comes down to either him or Aldo. The fight against Conor McGregor stands out as a knock against Aldo, and I’d like to see more from Holloway, but I think he can become the greatest of all time. As far as Nunes, I would have to say she’s the greatest of all time. Others may have become more famous but based on what she’s been able to do she’s the best.”
When Tom isn’t busy watching the latest fights, he’s still competing as a part of the International Swim League. It’s a new organization that’s making innovative changes to professional swimming and creating opportunities for careers outside of the Olympics and college competition.
“To compete in swimming can be rather difficult,” Shields said. “The US National Team is one of the most successful teams in history, but great swimmers are always left home and that can be frustrating. The ISL creates an opportunity to be involved in a team that’s not just a national team. It’s really creating more opportunities for simmers.”
The 2019 season is ending as teams prepare for the final showcase in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 20 and 21. While the season was short, Shields sees a lot of opportunities for the ISL to grow professional swimming into a major spectator sport.
“More people watched Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte’s last race than watched the World Series that year, so it remains to be seen how big the ISL can become,” Shields said. “I have high hopes, I’ve been on this soapbox for about eight years. We are focusing on the future of the sport, building the fanbase of what’s the second more participated sport in the world.”
Still, before Shields gets back into the pool to compete, he will have his eyes on the Octagon at UFC 245 and other events the promotion must put on. With so many favorites like Holloway, Covington and others like Daniel Cormier to watch – Shields continues to find time to enjoy a sport that got him hooked so many years ago.