Roger Gracie (4-1, 2-1 SF) vs. Keith Jardine (17-10-2, 0-1-1 SF)
The Matchup: A 10-time world jiu-jitsu champion, Gracie makes his middleweight debut on the heels of a knockout loss to Muhammed Lawal at Strikeforce “Barnett vs. Kharitonov” in September. It was a significant step up in competition for Gracie, who had submitted his opposition rather easily in his first four professional fights. The Brazilian’s grappling credentials are unassailable, but the key to his success remains his progression in the other facets of MMA.
A 185-pound title shot seemingly fell into Jardine’s lap in January, which can be attributed to the dearth of talent on the Strikeforce roster, as well as the name value of a fighter who has engaged in high-profile bouts with the likes of Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin, Quinton Jackson and Wanderlei Silva over the years. “The Dean of Mean” fell victim to a superior athlete in Luke Rockhold, but he appears to have a more favorable matchup in the ground-based Gracie.
Jardine has the potential to make this an ugly, extended battle because Gracie is not the type of fighter who will blitz him and test his chin early. Gracie’s standup has been better than expected thus far, but while his jab is a solid setup for takedowns, he does not possess the fearsome knockout power that has doomed Jardine in the past. Jardine will have time to get settled, and he is at his best when he can control the tempo and find a rhythm for his awkward fighting style.
Gracie will need to move forward, because Jardine is comfortable fighting on the outside and wearing down his foes with punishing leg kicks. The Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts product uses odd angles and awkward timing when throwing his strikes, which will make it even more difficult for Gracie to find openings for takedowns. As sweat and fatigue set in during the second half of the bout, Gracie will find submissions even harder to come by, especially if his legs have been under assault. Gracie will have to be tactical on his feet by catching Jardine off guard with sudden level changes during striking exchanges. Even then, eliciting a tapout is no guarantee, as the New Mexico resident has never been submitted in 29 professional fights.
The Pick: Jardine is most vulnerable to opponents who can get in close and test his chin with hard counters. Gracie is not that guy. The Brazilian’s patience could prove to be a detriment, as Jardine builds up an early lead with leg kicks and various combinations to win a close decision.
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