Luke Rockhold will enter his first title defense on a seven-fight winning streak. | Photo: Sherdog.com
Strikeforce “Rockhold vs. Jardine” marks the first of at least six offerings from the promotion on Showtime in 2012.
Keith Jardine receiving a title shot in his middleweight debut might come as a surprise to some, but “The Dean of Mean” has name value and is guaranteed to be game no matter the opponent. This is the type of bout in which Luke Rockhold, who was originally scheduled to face Tim Kennedy, can solidify his status as champion. Jardine may have fallen on rough times in recent years, but he is the type of foe who can pull an upset if Rockhold is not properly motivated.
Going down from the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, the event features several of the organization’s top remaining prospects and title contenders. Fighters like Adlan Amagov, Tyron Woodley, Jordan Mein and Tarec Saffiedine can continue their ascent in a now wide-open talent pool, while Muhammed Lawal and Robbie Lawler have the opportunity to maintain a foothold as established stars.
At any rate, it is the kind of show that proves Strikeforce can still offer a night of quality violence and entertainment.
Here is a look at the main card, with analysis and picks:
Strikeforce Middleweight Championship
Luke Rockhold (8-1, 7-0 SF) vs. Keith Jardine (17-9-2, 0-0-1 SF)
The Matchup: Rockhold entered his 185-pound title tilt against Ronald “Jacare” Souza in September as a clear underdog, fighting for the first time in a year and a half against what was easily the most accomplished opponent he had faced.
Having never been past the first round in any of his previous seven victories, the American Kickboxing Academy product alleviated any doubts regarding his ability to go deep into a fight, capturing the Strikeforce middleweight gold with a five-round unanimous decision triumph over “Jacare.” Rockhold showed solid takedown defense throughout, and when the Brazilian did get the action to the canvas, Rockhold was able to get right back up. On the feet, he weathered an early storm from Souza and rebounded with a varied striking attack -- led by a solid lead left -- to become perhaps the promotion’s most unlikely champion.
His first defense comes against Jardine, a longtime UFC veteran who is making his middleweight debut. Jardine began his career as an undersized heavyweight on Season 2 of “The Ultimate Fighter” before dropping to light heavyweight and fashioning a solid career there until four consecutive losses resulted in a pink slip from the UFC. Jardine is expecting a rebirth at middleweight, but it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the initial cut after 27 fights at 205 pounds. No matter the weight, he figures to benefit from an extended training camp, a luxury he was not allowed in taking a fight with Gegard Mousasi on short notice in April. Jardine proved to be a tough out nonetheless, taking down Mousasi repeatedly in the opening frame while benefitting from a point deduction to come away with a surprising draw.
Jardine figures to be the underdog against Rockhold, but he is by no means a guarantee for the 27-year-old champion. The Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts representative has a knack for making fights ugly with his unorthodox style, and it would not be surprising to see him pull out a close decision if Rockhold cannot solve it. Jardine can confound opponents by using awkward timing and odd angles, while snapping leg kicks keep his adversaries at bay. While Rockhold would prefer to keep a standup exchange on the outside, Jardine would prefer to close the distance in this one. He will have to proceed with caution, because he has proven vulnerable to the left hook in the past.
Rockhold demonstrated that he can take a punch in the first round of his win over Souza, and that type of durability should allow him to put together effective combinations versus Jardine.
If he is getting outpointed on the feet, look for Jardine to utilize takedowns to try and turn the tide in his favor. However, getting Rockhold to the floor will not be an easy task considering the plethora of talented wrestlers that train at the American Kickboxing Academy. Rockhold is dangerous once on the ground, as well, as the Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt has earned six of his eight wins via submission.
The Pick: Jardine has enough left in the tank to make this interesting and test Rockhold, but the skill the champion displayed in dispatching Souza is hard to overlook. Jardine will get the best of a few exchanges, but, eventually, Rockhold will find his rhythm to take a hard-fought decision victory.
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