The Strikeforce middleweight title will be on the line tonight (January 7, 2012) as champion Luke Rockhold takes on UFC veteran Keith Jardine in the main event of Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Jardine in Las Vegas.
Luke Rockhold shocked the world last year when he stepped up his competition level for the first time and took the Strikeforce middleweight title from Ronaldo Souza. He's healthy, young and is hoping to become a superstar by defeating an established veteran of the sport.
Keith Jardine experienced a rough five fight losing streak which induced his exodus from the UFC, but has since gone unbeaten in three straight fights, including a controversial majority draw against former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi last year. He's dropping down to middleweight for the first time and is hoping to make a big splash.
Will Rockhold's youthful exuberance be enough to overwhelm Jardine? Will "The Dean of Mean" be rejuvenated at middleweight? How does each man earn a victory tonight?
Let's find out:Luke Rockhold
Record: 8-1 overall, 7-0 in Strikeforce
Key Losses: none
How he got here: Luke Rockhold transitioned to MMA after competing in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. While most of his professional wins in the sport have come by way of submission, he's still a brown belt in BJJ.
Rockhold signed on with Strikeforce for his third professional fight, quickly becoming a local favorite due to his propensity of having exciting fights that ended early. Rockhold continued to fight progressively more difficult opponents under the Strikeforce banner and continued to finish them in the first round.
Veteran Cory Devela couldn't last 30 seconds against Rockhold, quickly being overwhelmed with punches before succumbing to submission. Former Ultimate Fighter castout, Jesse Taylor, was choked out in less than four minutes as well.
Rockhold defeated UFC veteran Paul Bradley, twice dropping the Minnesota fighter standing and finished him off with some gruesome knees to the body that completely sucked out Bradley's will. He was expected to fight several of the top fighters in the promotion but was repeatedly delayed due to injuries suffered in training. He finally got his shot at the big time when he challenged "Jacare" Souza for the Strikeforce middleweight title this past September and he walked away with a decision victory.
How he gets it done: Rockhold actually has an inch in both height and reach on Jardine, a fighter cutting from 205 pounds for the first time. At 6'3, he's long and lanky enough to be successful with some of his flashy kicking attacks that he utilized against "Jacare" when he won the title. In the stand-up department, expect to see lots of body kicks with the occasional head kick or spinning back kick thrown in if he feels the time is right. If Rockhold can catch Jardine with an unexpected kick, it could be all over for "The Dean of Mean."
Jardine made middleweight easy and has never been plagued with cardio issues before, but Rockhold should try and test the TUF veteran's cardio here. If he can push a high pace early in the fight, Jardine could very easily wilt or slow down.
Also, we've heard great things about Jardine's unheralded ground game and takedown defense, but honestly, who has he fought in the last five years with a great takedown and submission game? Ryan Bader was content to stand and trade with him. If Jardine gets overly ambitious with his striking, don't be surprised one bit to see Rockhold shoot in and take him down. He's got a very strong and aggressive jiu-jitsu style and he could not only pass Jardine's guard, but potentially submit him for the first time in his professional career.
Record: 17-9-2 overall, 0-0-1 in Strikeforce
How he got here: Keith Jardine was a cast member of the second season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) and competed as a heavyweight, although he fell short against future friend and teammate Rashad Evans in the semifinals. "The Dean of Mean" exploded into relevance in the UFC after a TKO victory over Forrest Griffin as well as decision wins against top light heavyweights Chuck Liddell and Brandon Vera.
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 for Rockhold. Jardine has some of the best leg kicks in the business, so expect to see them early and often. If he can find a home for repeated kicks at the end of his combinations, he could slow down the 27 year old champ.
Simply put, though, Jardine needs to come out of the gate aggressively. Rockhold could be caught off guard and if he blitzes across the cage and takes the fight to him. Does anyone remember the third round of Jardine's fight with Trevor Prangley? He had lost the first two and fought with a sense of urgency, knowing he either needed a finish or a 10-8 round to save face. If he can go balls to the wall, he has the striking skills and power to beat Rockhold, who might be looking past him right now.
Another important factor is his defense. Jardine has been susceptible to the right hook and if he gets clipped, his defense usually goes straight down the toilet. He has to keep his left hand up and defend that shot or he could be put in a situation he can't recover from.
Fight X-Factor: There are two key X-Factors for this fight. The first, obviously, is Keith Jardine's weight cut. This is his first time dropping down to 185 and while he apparently made weight pretty easily yesterday, could it have adverse effects on him? Jardine has a reputation as a cardio machine but cutting a significant amount of weight has been known to effect a fighter's conditioning as well as his ability to take a punch. If either of those attributes are weakened for Jardine, he could be in some trouble against the young gun.
Also, for Luke Rockhold, there's a very real possibility that he could be looking past Keith Jardine. Sure, "The Dean of Mean" is 2-5-1 in his past eight fights, but that doesn't mean he's not a threat. Rockhold also said he doesn't think Jardine has earned his shot. If he comes in overconfident, he could be in for a big surprise when Jardine proves to be a worthy challenger. People seem to forget how close Rockhold's last fight with "Jacare" Souza was for the title. Many felt "Jacare" had won, and the ones that picked Rockhold primarily scored it 48-47. It's not like he blew the champ out of the water. If Rockhold overlooks Jardine, this could be the recipe for an upset.
Bottom Line: This is a fight between two men who are proven to be exciting fighters. Sure, Keith Jardine hasn't had the most success as of late, but he's never in a boring fight. He's got that unorthodox style and is always pressing the action. Rockhold has been known to just blitz his opponents and overwhelm them. It's almost a guarantee he's going to try to do the same against Jardine, so it should be interesting to see how the veteran responds. This has all the makings of a thriller whether it last 25 minutes or 25 seconds.
Who will come out on top at Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Jardine? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!