By Michael DiSanto
I’ll admit it. When I first heard that Quinton “Rampage” Jackson was going to face Keith Jardine in a 205-lb title eliminator at UFC 96, I didn’t understand the matchup.
Rampage is but two fights removed from losing his title in razor-thin fashion to fellow former champion Forrest Griffin. In his last outing, the former PRIDE superstar scored what is undoubtedly the most impressive win of his decade-long career by mercilessly slaying former conqueror Wanderlei Silva with a left hook that forever erased the lingering adverse effects of the two defeats Silva handed him in PRIDE. The win left no doubt that Rampage is truly back to form and ready for another title opportunity against newly crowned champion Rashad Evans.
So, why face and defeat perennial contender Keith Jardine?
That isn’t a knock on Jardine—quite the contrary, in fact. The ‘Dean of Mean’ is one of the most difficult opponents in the division. Granted, Silva incinerated him in a scant 36 seconds with a jaw-dropping display of aggression and power at UFC 84. And one year prior, Houston Alexander did precisely the same thing to the Dean, though it took him an additional 12 seconds, on the undercard of Rampage’s timeless win over Chuck Liddell.
Fans must remember, however, that Jardine bookended and separated those losses with wins over Griffin (by knockout), Liddell and Brandon Vera. Those three wins alone are enough to place Jardine among the division’s elite.
But the fact remains that Jardine is close friends with Evans. The pair informally agreed never to embark on a ballet of violence inside the Octagon. That once again raises the question of why did the UFC pit the Dean of Mean against Rampage? The answer to that question is quite simple: because it is one heck of a fight.
Suffice to say, fans looking for an intriguing standup war between two men with legitimate one-punch knockout power are in for an absolute treat. Both Jackson and Jardine are throwback fighters who prefer to stand and trade blows, rather than look for takedowns. But that is where the similarities end.
Jackson fights from a traditional boxing stance and principally attacks with his fists. He likes to come forward with pressure, fighting behind a somewhat pawing jab while looking to counter with a fight-ending right hand or left hook after rolling under an incoming strike. He used the former to abruptly end Liddell’s title reign and the latter to starch Silva. Each time, a single punch brought the fight to an end, and there is no reason to think that Jardine will be better able to survive one of Jackson’s concussive blows, assuming one finds its mark.
Nevertheless, Jardine is nobody’s fall guy. He is nobody’s stepping stone. And he is nobody’s easy win.
The Dean likes to come out with a mix of traditional kickboxing and drunken monkey. What I mean by the former is Jardine likes to throw a lot of kicks lace with malice aforethought, both to the legs and the body. What I mean by the latter is Jardine’s stance and herky-jerky motion with his hands more closely resembles a monkey high on fermenting fruit or an actor from the movie “Shaolin Temple” circa 1982 than a skilled kickboxer. But his awkward style is extremely effective—just ask Liddell or Griffin.
In sum, this fight will feature a guy with possibly the best hands in the division versus the most awkward, yet still ultra dangerous, kickboxer in the division.
Sounds a bit like Jackson versus Griffin, minus the drunken monkey part, doesn’t it?
It’s no secret that the game plan followed by Griffin in his 2008 win over Jackson is the blueprint for Jardine. He needs to come out and keep his distance early by throwing good, hard jabs and brutalizing Rampage’s lead left leg with kicks in the opening round. He needs to do that while circling the cage, which will trigger Jackson’s natural stalking instinct.
When Rampage is in stalker mode, he often forgets (or just doesn’t bother) to check leg kicks. Anyone who eats a half dozen baseball bat strikes to the outside of the knee from Jardine isn’t going to be able to plant and pivot effectively onto that leg. And if Rampage cannot plant and pivot onto his left leg, he will lose some of the C-4 that he typically carries in his right hand.
Once Jardine chops at Rampage’s base for a round or two, he can then look upstairs for a knockout. Rampage has a tremendous chin. He’s proven that time and time again. Yet, he’s been stopped twice by knee strikes from Silva. The second time he was left draped over the bottom rope of a PRIDE ring in a bloody, unconscious heap. Jardine’s right hand can accomplish the same result if it finds Rampage’s chin, particularly if Rampage has been worn down from kicks to the leg and body.
Jardine must be very careful, however, while working over the former champion in the first round. He must always be aware of getting clipped with either one of Rampage’s fists because a knockout is likely to follow if that happens. Silva knocked him out with a barrage of strikes. Alexander did the same thing. Silva definitely does not punch with the same explosive power as Rampage. Alexander might be close, but I’ll still give the edge to the man from Memphis.
Nevertheless, Jardine is safe to fire away when Rampage goes into “punching bag” mode, whether early or late in the bout.
One of Rampage’s biggest weaknesses is that he attempts to defend incoming blows in the traditional Thai style of rolling his elbows in front of his face while covering up. That is a good defensive move in a theory because a fist landing on a ‘bow, which just happens to be one of the strongest bones in the body, is likely to shatter. But the fact remains that it just doesn’t work.
Instead, it turns Jackson into a human punching bag until he returns his hands to a striking position. So, there is absolutely no reason for him to cover up like that. Jackson should forego that move in favor of using upper body and head movements to slip punches and counter. Few fighters in the sport duck under punches and come up throwing accurate, powerful counters with either hand more effectively than Rampage. He should stick with that mode of defense.
For Jackson to win, he needs to relax and be himself. He should not let Jardine goad him into chasing him around the ring. Jackson must work on cutting off the cage, not following his foe. And he needs to remain very cognizant of checking leg kicks and blocking kicks to the body. If he does that, he will win the pugilistic exchanges and the fight.
Why? Jackson naturally fights behind the jab. He instinctually throws punches in bunches. He is very good at slipping shots. And he has a pretty good set of whiskers for those times when he doesn’t slip effectively.
Who is going to win this one? I like Rampage to win by knockout. I also like Rampage to go on to defeat Evans later this year and regain his title. But I wouldn’t be shocked to see Jardine walk out of the cage with his hand raised. That is why this is a must-see bout.
Big Bout Breakdown: Jackson-Jardine
Michael DiSanto, UFC - Suffice to say, fans looking for an intriguing standup war between two men with legitimate one-punch knockout power are in for an absolute treat. Both Jackson and Jardine are throwback fighters who prefer to stand and trade blows, rather than look for takedowns. But that is where the similarities end.