This Saturday night (April 9) at Strikeforce: "Diaz vs Daley," current Dream Light Heavyweight Champion Gegard Mousasi will take on UFC veteran "The Dean of Mean" Keith Jardine, who was a late injury replacement for the injured Mike Kyle.
Mousasi lost the Strikeforce belt to "King Mo" Lawal last April in Nashville and this is his first fight back with the promotion since. If the "Dreamcatcher" can win convincingly, he's almost guaranteed a chance to reclaim his title against reigning champion Dan Henderson later this year.
Jardine is fresh off two straight victories and he jumped at the opportunity to get back in the cage against some of the best light heavyweights in the world. A victory Saturday night would certainly bring "The Dean of Mean" back to relevancy in his division.
Many pundits have speculated how UFC fighters would fare against some of the best Strikeforce has to offer. Jardine may no longer be in the UFC, but he's barely two years removed from losing a gritty decision in a number one contender match against Quinton Jackson. Despite his release from the Zuffa, he was always competitive with its light heavyweights.
Can Jardine possibly return to form? Will Mousasi do what it takes to secure an opportunity to fight for the title again? What do these two light heavyweights need to do to win?
Check out our preview after the jump.
Record: 30-3-1 overall, 2-1 in Strikeforce
Key Wins: Babalu Sobral (Strikeforce Carano vs Cyborg), Jacare Souza (Dream 6), Hector Lombard (Pride Bushido 13)
Key Losses: Muhammad Luwal (Strikeforce Nashville), Akhiro Gono (Pride Bushido 12)
How he got here: Mousasi was a top ten light heavyweight in the world and even on some analyst's pound-for-pound lists before he lost his Strikeforce belt to Lawal. Since dropping the title a year ago, the Dreamcatcher won the Dream Light Heavyweight Grand Prix and 205-pound title against subpar competition in Japan.
More impressively, the Armenian-Dutch fighter also competed in a K-1 rules match at Dynamite!! 2010 against renowned Japanese kickboxer Kyotaro. Mousasi surprised many by not only hanging with the world class striker, but dazing him in the second round en route to a decision victory. His victory sparked interest in competing for the 2012 Olympics in boxing but for now he'll settle for a number one contender match in MMA.
How he gets it done: Mousasi is a multi-faceted fighter and is capable of finishing the fight from any position. He is undefeated in kickboxing and not only held his own against some of the best strikers in the world but defeated them at their own game. On top of his fantastic submission skills, he also possesses a black belt in Judo. While Mousasi has a fantastic ground game, he'll likely want to keep this fight standing and test Jardine's chin with his powerful strikes. As Joe Rogan always reminded us, Jardine has an underrated ground game and turning this fight into a kickboxing match is Mousasi's easiest means of victory.
Record: 17-9-1 overall, 0-0 in Strikeforce
How he got here: Just over two years removed from headlining UFC 96 against Rampage Jackson, Jardine was in the midst of a five fight losing streak and found himself on the outs with the UFC. However, "The Dean of Mean" remained a fan favorite and continued to headline fight cards after his release from the promotion.
After initially stumbling out of the gate with a split decision loss to Trevor Prangley, the unconventional fighter finally got back on track with back-to-back victories for the first time in four and a half years including his first TKO win since Forrest Griffin at UFC 66. When Mike Kyle broke his hand in training, Jardine didn't hesitate to step in on late notice against the former champion.
How he gets it done: Training out of the famed Jackson's Submission Fighting gym, Jardine likely has a whole team of coaches preparing a gameplan to tackle Mousasi. Judging from the Dreamcatcher's last loss, he is prone to being put on his back. Jardine may not have the prettiest takedowns, but if timed correctly, they can be effective. Jardine has never been submitted in his entire career so Mousasi's dangerous jiu-jitsu shouldn't be too much of a problem.
One aspect of Keith's game that must be accounted for are his leg kicks. Jardine has picked opponents apart with his kicks and he mixes them well with his striking combinations. Don't be surprised to see "The Dean of Mean" confuse Mousasi early with his unconventional striking and open up opportunities to clinch and take him down.
Fight "X Factor:" By far, the most important factor of this fight is Jardine's chin and striking defense. Time and time again we've seen great fighters become average once their ability to take a punch deteriorates. Former champions like Chuck Liddell and Andrei Arlovski could no longer take one to give one. No matter how great a gameplan Greg Jackson comes up with, no matter how awkward Jardine moves around the cage, this fight is one clean shot to the temple away from being over. Jardine must keep his hands up for fifteen straight minutes and he'll have to fight perfectly if he wants to come out on top.
Bottom Line: While analysts may expect Mousasi's takedown defense to be his weakest link, he's had over a year to improve since the Lawal fight. He steamrolled the Dream Grand Prix and he's eager to show American MMA fans that he's more than the fighter who was controlled for five rounds back in Nashville. Jardine could be in for a short night if he chooses to stay in the pocket and trade strikes. Even if the fight is short, it should be an entertaining scrap and one that should not be missed.
Who will come out on top at Strikeforce: Diaz vs Daley? Let us know in the comments below!