Jardine Begins His Search for Consistency
By Thomas Gerbasi
When you’re winning in the UFC, there’s nothing like it in the world of mixed martial arts. Keith Jardine knows this fact better than most of his peers, especially after scoring victories over current light heavyweight champ Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell in high-profile bouts. But when you’re not on the winning side of the equation – a place where Jardine sits after being stopped by Wanderlei Silva in May - that’s an entirely different story.
“There’s nothing worse than sitting in a locker room after a fight knowing that you didn’t get a chance to fight,” said Jardine, reflecting on his one round loss to ‘The Axe Murderer’ at UFC 84. “I wanted to run it back out there and fight again as soon as possible, but things happen.”
Unfortunately for guys like Jardine, fighting isn’t like baseball or football. You lose a match and you don’t get to do it again five days or a week later. Redemption may take months - almost five months in Jardine’s case. And from the time your opponent’s hand is raised until you get the chance to step back into the Octagon, you’re likely to face almost daily questions from the media, your friends, your training partners, your family, and sometimes even yourself.
“Are you okay?”
“Are you going to fight again?”
“Do you think you’re cut out for this?”
You can take these subtle verbal jabs any number of ways. You can get testy and fire back, you can take a long vacation, or you can lock yourself away from the world. Jardine responded to his second loss in three fights by going back to Greg Jackson’s gym in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There were no judgments there, only friends, one of which – Rashad Evans – had his own fight to get ready for against Chuck Liddell in September. Jardine, with a win over ‘The Iceman’ already, played a key role in helping Evans put together a gameplan, but in typical self-effacing fashion, Jardine says that “I was just a punching bag for about six, seven weeks, that’s all.”
Jardine was more than that though, and Evans is quick to back that sentiment up, telling UFC.com after his second round knockout of Liddell that “Jardine is a great help. I feel like a cheater because I feel like I have an unfair advantage over these guys. (Laughs) He definitely helps me out, he’s my brother through and through, and he’s a good coach as well. Jardine was in my corner that night, and he was coaching me the whole time.”
Ask Jardine about a life coaching mixed martial arts though, and the former Division II college football co-defensive coordinator scoffs at such a notion.
“I love helping out people that are already at a high level because there are only little tweaks to be made, but I’m not sure if I’m that good at teaching somebody from scratch,” he said. “And I’m not nearly done being a fighter, so I don’t like to think of that right now.”
On Saturday, the behind-the-scenes tactician returns to active duty, almost five months removed from his devastating loss to Silva. It’s not as soon as he would have liked to have been back, but he says, “I’m not complaining. I’m fighting in the co-main event on a huge card, so I’m in a really good place right now.”
His opponent at UFC 89 at the NIA in Birmingham, England is one familiar to fight fans and to Jardine. There are no tune-ups or confidence builders. Each fight is designed to separate the men from the boys, and that’s why Jardine decided to take the fight against Brandon Vera, another up and comer in need of an impressive victory. He could have asked for someone who wasn’t going to get in his face and throw punches at him like Silva or another old foe, Houston Alexander, did, just so he could get his feet wet again and ease back into combat. But that’s not Jardine’s way. If he’s lost any of his thirst for battle or is the tiniest bit gun-shy, he’ll find out immediately.
“Stylistically, I always want a guy who’s gonna stand up and bang with me, and this is just an all-around fun fight, the kinda fight that I like,” said Jardine of facing Vera. “There’s no way I could turn that down. Also, with my last fight, things didn’t work out so well, and now I’m fighting another top-ranked guy, so this will get rid of most of that bad taste out of my mouth.”
If he wins. And Jardine’s past history has shown that after each of his previous post-Ultimate Fighter losses in the UFC (to Alexander and Stephan Bonnar), he’s come back even stronger, which is bad news for Vera, who will be fighting at 205 pounds for only the second time in his career. But after a fairly lackluster decision win over Reese Andy in July, Vera should now be on solid footing at light heavyweight, at least according to Jardine.
“The first time I did it (cut from heavyweight to light heavyweight), I wasn’t fighting in the UFC, and you don’t know how your body is gonna react because you haven’t done it before,” said Jardine (13-5-1), who fought at heavyweight on season two of The Ultimate Fighter. “Then you start to get techniques and learn the little things that will help you out. The first time is gonna be hard for anybody, but I’m sure it’s gonna be a non-issue for this fight. I’m pretty confident about that.”
As for ‘The Dean of Mean’ himself, he’s not making bold predictions or talking about title shots and main events right now. He’ll save that for another day.
“That’s the UFC’s decision,” he said. “Ask me after a couple of fights.”
But what Jardine will admit is that the key to success at this level of the game isn’t about being great on one night – it’s about being great every night, and he knows that once he gets that consistency, then he’ll be ready to wear UFC gold around his waist.
“In my mind, I’m here because of the guys that I’ve beaten,” he said. “I’m an A plus fighter and I can beat anybody in this sport in my weight class on any given night. I’m just trying to get a little bit more dependable and to get rid of the holes in my game.”
He starts on Saturday night.