Two of the longest and most awkward middleweights in MMA will collide this Saturday night (July 14, 2012) as "The Dean of Mean" Keith Jardine takes on Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Roger Gracie on the main card of Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Kennedy in Portland, Oregon.
Jardine is coming off a failed attempt to claim the Strikeforce middleweight title from reigning champion Luke Rockhold earlier this year. The UFC veteran has not experienced much success as of late but he's hoping to turn it around against a relatively green fighter in Gracie.
Gracie is also coming off a loss, the first of his professional mixed martial arts career. The incredibly gifted Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner could not take Muhammed Lawal down and was eventually stopped via strikes in the first round. It will be interesting to see how he responds in a new weight class.
Will Jardine be able to thwart Gracie with his awkward style? Can Gracie be the first man to tap out "The Dean of Mean?" What's the key to victory for both men?
Let's find out:Keith Jardine
Record: 17-10-2 overall, 0-1-1 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.
Jardine stepped up on short notice to challenge Luke Rockhold for the Strikeforce middleweight title earlier this year but was stopped via strikes at the end of the first round. Now, he'll be battling a completely different type of fighter in the submission ace Gracie.
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 Gracie. 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 ADCC submission grappling world champ.
Jardine is nearly as long and lanky as Gracie and while his stand-up is very unorthodox, it could be the perfect style to frustrate the elite grappler as Gracie is not a great striker and will have a very difficult time replicating him in training.
As long as Jardine can keep his left hand up, he should be in no danger against Gracie on the feet. What really matters for him is defending the takedowns and staying on his feet.
Jardine has a good base, but Gracie has some different style body lock-centered takedowns and trips that could catch him by surprise. As long as he can stay on his feet, he's got a good chance of pulling out the "W."
Record: 4-1 overall, 2-1 in Strikeforce
Key Wins: Trevor Prangley (Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Cyborg), Kevin Randleman (Strikeforce: Heavy Artillery), Yuki Kondo (Sengoku 2)
Key Losses: Muhammed Lawal (Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov)
How he got here: The grandson of the great Carlos Gracie, Roger Gracie got his start like any Gracie, in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He was awarded his black belt in 2003 by Renzo Gracie and after a third place finish in the 2003 Abu Dhabi Combat Club, he began his devastation of the BJJ ranks. Gracie returned with a vengeance in 2005, winning both the 88-98 kilogram division as well as the Absolute division gold medals and submitting every opponent in his path including highly decorated BJJ practitioners like Shinya Aoki, Fabricio Werdum and Ronaldo Souza.
Gracie began his mixed martial arts career a year later, submitting Ron Waterman in Vancouver as well as Yuki Kondo two years later in Japan.
He would make one last terrific run in jiu-jitsu, winning the world championship multiple times at the Mundials in Brazil in both 2009 and 2010 at the Super Heavyweight division as well as the Absolute division before announcing that he was going to focus on MMA.
The world-renowned BJJ champ made his Strikeforce debut in 2010, surprising former UFC champion Kevin Randleman with his improvements in striking before taking the fight to the ground and ending it via rear naked choke. He would follow up that victory with an absolute destruction of South African Trevor Prangley in the first round this past January.
He battled "King Mo" Lawal last September and was caught with a big right hand and ground and pound shots to hand him his first loss of his career. After winning a superfight at the ADCCs, Gracie is back as a middleweight and will be taking on a long-time veteran in Jardine.
How he gets it done: There's absolutely no doubt that Roger Gracie wants this fight to go to the ground where he can work his magic on the canvas. What's going to make this difficult is that Jardine is very good at using his wrestling in reverse and even getting right back to his feet if he's ever put on his back..
Gracie holds a slight two inch height advantage and has a long, lanky frame. If he were a decorated striker, this would be a huge strength for him but he's still got a long ways to go before he's knocking opponents out standing. That being said, his head kicks are still dangerous and he could always catch Jardine napping if he doesn't throw it too much.
They key for Gracie will be to avoid standing in the pocket. From a distance he can work some of his kicks and stay outside of Jardine's range. If "The Dean of Mean" gets too close, Gracie will have to be clinching and either looking to utilize a trip takedown or instead work knees and elbows from up close.
Pulling guard would not be a horrible option either as Gracie has suffocating hip pressure and he can force Jardine to stay on the ground with him. If he can put Jardine on the ground, he has to work fast as the Greg Jackson fighter will be working like his life depends on it to get back to his feet.
Fight X-Factor: There are a wide range of issues for this fight. The first, obviously is Roger Gracie dropping down to middleweight for the first time while Jardine is comfortably settling into his second bout at 185 pounds. If Gracie has a bad cut, he could be drawn out or fatigued during the fight and it could affect his performance. You can't afford to gas against a fighter like Keith Jardine who prides himself on his endurance.
The other factor has to be how Gracie handles getting knocked out badly for the first time in his career. Will it affect his aggression? Will he be willing to stand even for a few seconds against "The Dean of Mean" to help set up his takedowns? If the last knockout to Lawal is still in his head, he could be a completely different fighter in the cage.
Bottom Line: This fight is intriguing but only to whoever is imposing their will. Gracie still has a way to go with his striking while Jardine is not a submission machine. The battle of Gracie's offensive grappling against Jardine's underrated ground game and his ability to get back to his feet quickly is going to be incredibly interesting. Hopefully this doesn't turn into a stalemate with Gracie leaning on Jardine against the the fence for 15 minutes but something tells me both fighters are skilled enough to not let this happen for extended periods of time.
Who will come out on top at Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Jardine? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!