Keith Jardine file photo: Dave Mandel | Sherdog.com
Amarillo, Texas, represents a fresh start for Keith Jardine, but it is also a chance for him to begin his road back to the UFC.
Jardine faces UFC and Strikeforce veteran Trevor Prangley in a non-title light heavyweight bout in the main event of the Shark Fights 13 card on Sept. 11 at the Amarillo Civic Center Coliseum. It will be Jardine's first bout since being released after a 13-fight run with the UFC.
His unanimous decision loss to Matt Hamill at "The Ultimate Fighter 11" Finale in June earned “Fight of the Night” honors, but it also represented the Montana native's fourth straight loss within the promotion. The decision to cut Jardine came shortly thereafter.
"There's no bad feelings; we left on good terms," Jardine said. "I expected it. I've been in a bit of a slump lately and, the thing is, they really want me to go out and beat up a couple guys, and then come back and get in the title picture -- and that's what I'm going to do. "
So “The Ultimate Fighter” season two alum took a short vacation, issued a statement on his Web site and then got back to work at Jackson's Mixed Martial Arts in Albuquerque, N.M. "The Dean of Mean" said he received no shortage of offers upon his arrival into MMA free agency.
The Shark Fights deal was the most impressive.
"They were one of the first ones to come up with a real good offer. They actually wanted me to fight Houston Alexander. I pretty much said yes right away. For some reason the Houston fight didn't work out, but I'm fighting a tougher guy in Prangley," he said.
Alexander ended up on the card's co-main event against Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. Joey Villasenor, one of Jardine's teammates at Jackson's MMA, is also fighting that night.
Jardine said he's received a lot of support since his loss to Hamill, and he's hoping that loyalty has some carryover into a new chapter of his career.
"That's what's cool about the Shark Fights: It's top-notch competition, and every fight is going to be a great fight. It's on pay-per-view -- a lot cheaper than the UFC so maybe a lot of people will tune in," he said.
Prangley, the Texas-based promotion's 205-pound title-holder, was defeated by Tim Kennedy at Strikeforce “Los Angeles” in his most recent bout in June. The South African wrestler, who fought four times in the UFC, owns notable wins over Chael Sonnen and Travis Lutter.
"He's a tough, gritty veteran. He's been around. I've been watching him since before I was in the UFC," Jardine said. "The thing is it's not like I'm taking a step down. He can beat a lot of the light heavyweights in the UFC right now."
The 34-year-old Jardine's deal with Shark Fights is for one bout only, and it's clear that the man who owns signature victories over Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin has his sights set on getting back to the UFC.
There is no prerequisite for a return to the company other than to win and win impressively, something Jardine is confident he can do.
"It could be anywhere from one fight to two fights," he said, "but it's definitely a matter of time."
Until then, Jardine plans to focus on becoming a more complete fighter.
"I haven't performed nearly to the top of my ability, and that's what this fight is about. That's what this journey outside the UFC is about -- finding myself and getting near the top of my potential," he said. "That's what I'm looking for right now. If I do that the sky's the limit."