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EliteXC middleweight picture could include Shields

After fighting twice on primetime network television over the span of seven weeks, EliteXC middleweight champion Robbie Lawler expressed during the post-fight press conference for “Unfinished Business” this past Saturday that he was planning on taking some time off.

Despite promoting shows on Aug. 15, Sept. 20, Sept. 26, and Oct. 4, it appears that EliteXC is in complete agreement that Lawler needs a break. EliteXC Vice President Jared Shaw confirmed to that Lawler will be on hiatus in order to allow his body time to recover from competing in back-to-back fights in such close proximity, as well as to allow the nasty gash sustained to the top of his scalp to heal.

Who he’ll face upon his return is anyone’s guess at this point. Former UFC light heavyweight champion and former Strikeforce middleweight title holder Frank Shamrock has expressed a keen interest in fighting Lawler in the coming months. While Shamrock has stated in the past that he’s only looking to fight big names, it appears as if Lawler could fit the profile of his ideal opponent after being featured in two bouts on primetime network TV.

Whether or not a Lawler vs. Shamrock encounter will occur before year’s end remains to be seen, as Shamrock not only owes two fights to EliteXC, but one more to Strikeforce as well. With Cung Le not expected to fight again until 2009, Shamrock may be called into action before Lawler is ready to return.

Lawler could also be looking at a rematch at one of two opponents. Both Joey Villasenor and Murilo “Ninja” Rua have won high-profile fights as of late. With several big shows coming up and a lack of star power in the middleweight division, it wouldn’t be surprising to see EliteXC try to match the two up again. Villasenor and Rua fought for the then-vacant EliteXC middleweight title during the Frank Shamrock vs. Phil Baroni show last June with Rua becoming the first-ever title holder at 185 lbs. following a second round TKO.

Both Villasenor and Rua have fought and lost to Lawler previously. Villasenor was knocked out by Lawler at 0:22 of round 1 during PRIDE 32 in 2006 while Rua dropped the middleweight title to Lawler when the two fought this past September.

One name to consider at 185 lbs. is the promotion’s welterweight champion, Jake Shields, who could be forced to move out a weight class out of necessity. Quite simply, after winning the vacant title following his first round submission over Nick Thompson this past Saturday, there is no obvious number one contender for Shields’ title.

IFL welterweight champion Jay Hieron would normally be an obvious candidate, but he could become property of the UFC if Zuffa is able to finalize an acquisition of some of the IFL’s select assets.

Paul Daley is a tremendous prospect but Shields is so advanced that EliteXC could find itself in a position where they are feeding a future star to a lion if they make the match so early in Daley’s career.

As we were the first to report, John Alessio recently signed a three-fight contract with EliteXC but the promotion might want to allow him to get a win or two under his belt before giving him a title shot.

A match between Shields and Phil Baroni would have strong box office potential, but after having just moved to welterweight following a career at middleweight, Baroni likely needs to get a win or two more under his belt as well.

Long-term, the best option for Shields might be to move up to 185 and push for a second title. It’s a possibility he not only refused to rule out during the post-fight press conference this past Saturday, but one that he indicated he would certainly welcome.