Keith Jardine knows he wasn’t the first choice to fight Quinton Jackson at UFC 96. Even if he upsets the resurgent fighter known as Rampage, Jardine doesn’t want any part of the UFC’s probable choice for his next bout, either.
Yet don’t expect to see any reluctance or disenchantment reflected in Jardine’s fighting tonight in Columbus, Ohio, where two top light heavyweights will meet in front of a sellout crowd.
Thousands of high school wrestlers and professional bodybuilders in town for a convention will see a card brimming with competitive bouts, even if the main event has a wealth of fascinating subplots outside the ring.
Jardine (14-5-1) is the final obstacle before Jackson’s presumed path to another title shot, even if Jardine thinks he’s “probably the third person asked to the prom on this one.”
“I got a call, and I couldn’t turn it down,” said Jardine, the resilient 33-year-old who has beaten Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin but still has lost three of his last seven fights.
“I was excited, but they just think they’re going to get a good fight from me. I like to strike, I’ve never been in a boring fight, and they’re just throwing me out there and they expect me to put on a good show, but they don’t expect me to win.”
If Jackson (29-7) wins, UFC president Dana White said he will get a title shot against Rashad Evans, who won the light heavyweight crown last year by defeating Griffin, the man who took it from Jackson last summer.
Think that’s complicated? If Jardine pulls the upset, he probably would have a chance for his first title shot, only he doesn’t want it if it’s against Evans, his longtime friend and training partner.
“Me and Rashad, we’ve always talked about that, and there’s no way that we’re going to fight afterward,” Jardine said. “That’s why people love this sport, because we’re not businessmen. We’re not like NFL players. They’re trying to stay healthy and get a paycheck. We fight with all of our heart and our soul, and how are you going to go out there and give the audience what they deserve when you’re fighting one of your best friends? That is just not going to happen.”
Nonsense, White said. The UFC president has heard such protestations before from fighters who train in the same dojo or gym, and he doesn’t think a friendship can stand in the way of the money and pride that come with a UFC title.
“I promise you they will fight each other if they keep winning,” White said. “This isn’t basketball. This isn’t the NBA. There’s no teams in this sport. These are fighters. What if Rashad holds the belt for the next three years? Is Keith just never going to take a shot at the title for the rest of his life? I don’t think they’re that good of friends. It’s just a little game they’re playing with themselves.”
None of that will matter if Jardine can’t upset Jackson. Although Rampage is a solid favorite, Jardine’s unorthodox stand-up style and strong leg kicks present challenges that have troubled the former champion in the past.
“I’m really happy if people think I have a kick-defense problem,” Jackson said. “I’ve been working on everything.”
Jackson’s roller-coaster career seems headed to another peak after his demolition of Wanderlei Silva in December, less than six months after his loss to Griffin was followed by his arrest after leading police on a chase in Costa Mesa, Calif. Jackson changed his life after the incident, embarking on the most serious training of his career in England, and has stuck to the regimen since beating Silva.
The UFC probably would have loved to match Jackson with Evans in Columbus, but Evans needed more time off after beating Griffin. Jackson wants to keep his momentum going — and he freely admits he needs the money — so he signed up to take on Jardine in what he hopes will be a bridge to a summer title shot.
“After my performance with Forrest, I’ve been so ashamed of myself,” Jackson said. “Every fight, I’m motivated to go out there and look good and win, because I know what type of fighter I am. I was really disappointed in myself for letting it (get) to that point where I’m not motivated, and I get it in my head that all of these guys are easy.
“There’s no more easy fights. I’m motivated to train hard every time.”