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Judgment day for Jackson, Jardine

Story & photos by Chris Cozzone

With a 205-pound title shot looming, both Keith Jardine (14-4-1), of Albuquerque, N.M., and Quinton Jackson (29-7), fighting now out of the U.K., are expecting a war on March 7, when the two clash in the headline bout of UFC 96 in Columbus, Ohio.

Given their recent past, it’s anything-can-happen fight, for in 2008, both, Jackson and Jardine had their ups and downs.

Jardine began the year on the canvas, when he was stopped by former Pride champion Wanderlai Silva at UFC 84. In October, though, Jardine got back in the win column by edging Brandon Vera for a split decision.

Jackson started the year as the UFC light-heavyweight champion—a title he took by knocking out Chuck Liddell—but in July, the throne was usurped by Forrest Griffin, whom Jardine had KO’d the year before.

That was 2008’s low point for Jackson, who finished the year by impressively destroying his longtime nemesis, Wanderlai Silva, in just three minutes and 21 seconds—the same Silva who’d KO’d Jardine in :36.

“I’m not the same fighter I was when I fought Griffin,” says Jackson, who revealed a poor defense for low leg kicks in that bout. “I’m sure there are people out there who think you can get to me from having no low leg defense—I’m happy if you think that.

“I’ve been working on everything.”

Jardine isn’t counting on the same lack of defense seen in Jackson.

“I don’t think I’ll fight with that game plan,” says Jardine. “That was long time ago. I like the leg kicks but I’m sure he’s changed his leg defense since Griffin.

Jardine says he’s watched the Griffin-Jackson fight three times—once live, twice on tape:

“When I was there live, I thought Quinton won. When I watched it the second time, I thought it was Griffin. The third time, I thought Quinton won.

“I’m sure Quinton is like I am. He’s strengthened his game. I’m definitely not thinking I’m going to get the same fighter next week.”

Jardine called his loss to Silva a “fluke,” getting caught with a tough shot to the back of the head, and he’s not worried about facing an even bigger puncher in Jackson.

“Quinton is one of the hardest hitters in the game,” Jardine admits. “I have to figure that out in the ring, and it’s something I look forward to.

Likewise, Jackson does not expect an easy fight on March 7.

“There are no more easy fights,” says Rampage. “I don’t get it in my head that all these guys are easy.

“I’m ashamed of myself, with my performance with Forrest. Every fight now, I’m motivated to go out there and win.“

At present, Jardine is nearly a 3-to-1 underdog, but that doesn’t bother him.

“I got the call to fight Quinton, and I couldn’t resist,” says Jardine. “I know, they think they’ll get a good fight out of me. They know I like to strike, and I’ve never been in a boring fight. They expect a good show—but, for me not to win.”

Jardine trains at Jackson’s in Albuquerque, where he works with the current 205-pound champ, Rashad “Sugar” Evans, as well as top contenders Nate Marquardt and Joey Villasenor.

“I feel very lucky to be at Jackson’s,” says Jardine. “I got the best guys in the world beating up on me all the time.”

For his last couple fights, Jackson has relocated his training camp to the Wolf’s Lair in the U.K.

“Why England? Why the Wolf’s Lair in the UK?” asks Jackson. “I chose to train there I see the way they train. They train hard. No nonsense. It’s not, like, the best looking gym, they don’t care about that. They care about putting in hard work. It’s a good training environment. Everybody there is a fighter.”

Should Jackson win, and given a shot at the title, or a rematch with Griffin, opts for Evans.

“I’ll guess I’ll go for the title shot,” he says.

Should Jardine win, however, he says he will decline his rightful shot at the title.

“It’s great getting fights like this,” says Jardine. “It just means I have to beat someone else to get the title shot . . . But after I win, I’ll, no way, take the fight with Rashad.”

Evans and Jardine struck up a friendship while teammates on The Ultimate Fighter, Season Two.

“We always talked about, that it might happen,” says Jardine. “But fight Evans? I don’t see that happening.

“I’m sure another fight will happen down the road. I’m in this game for a long time and I’m sure things will work out.

In the meantime, should the situation after March 7 find, both, Jackson and Jardine out of the title picture, both name Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida as the next in line.

“He’s a weird fighter, kinda boring,” says Jackson. “If I had to fight him, I couldn’t study his tapes—I’d fall asleep.

“He’s good, undefeated, but if I was a promoter of the show, I wouldn’t have fighters like that fighting for me.”

Jardine, on the other hand, says he’d like to see Evans and Machida.

“There are a lot of guys who could fight Evans, but I’d like to see Machida. I hope they make a fight out of that.”

In the meantime, their concerns are for one another.

“Keith is an excellent fighter,” admits Jackson. “He’s got big wins, big losses, just like us all. But I like his style. He’s stand up and likes to bang.

“It’ll be a good fight.”



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