Keith Jardine’s first outing at 185 pounds comes in a five-round title bout. | Photo: Daniel S. Archuleta
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Keith Jardine has worn a lot of different hats in his life: college football player, bounty hunter, firefighter, actor and, of course, professional mixed martial artist.
To find a time when the Montana native weighed less than 200 pounds, however, one has to go back well before he pursued any of the aforementioned endeavors. When the “The Dean of Mean” makes his middleweight debut in a five-round title bout against Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on Saturday, he will be turning back the clock to a period when adolescent insecurities ruled the day.
“The last time I weighed 185 [pounds] would be freshman year of high school,” says Jardine, now 36 years old.
Jardine made the cast of the second season of “The Ultimate Fighter” as an undersized heavyweight in 2005. Fighting out of his customary weight class back then proved to be a worthwhile sacrifice, and the longtime Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts representative dropped back down to light heavyweight shortly after the reality show’s conclusion, fashioning a solid career that included memorable wins over popular former champions Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin.
He came closest to a title shot at UFC 96, where a knockdown against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in the final 10 seconds of the third round might have cost him a decision, as well as potential No. 1 contender’s status. Jardine would never quite reach those lofty heights again in the Octagon, and he was released from the UFC in 2010 after losses in five of his last six fights.
Jardine remained busy, fighting everywhere from the Dominican Republic to his hometown of Albuquerque. He took a bout in Strikeforce against talented Dutchman Gegard Mousasi at light heavyweight in April on just eight days’ notice, even as the idea of dropping down a weight class was already entrenched in his head.
That has always been Jardine’s style: a promotion calls with a fight, and he is probably going to say yes, no matter the circumstances. Sometimes that might have affected his preparation and record, but his blue-collar attitude has always commanded respect from those around him.
“They fed him to the wolves in the UFC, and he would beat some of their guys that they didn’t think it would be possible,” says striking coach Mike Winkeljohn. “They loved to fight him and take advantage of him. Now, he’s got this great opportunity to win a title.”
Sometimes karma works in mysterious ways, even in the unforgiving world of MMA. Forget his 3-6-1 record since 2008, as well as his zero fights experience at middleweight; Jardine believes he has put in the necessary work to earn his shot.
“I feel like I’ve earned everything I’ve gotten,” he says. “I didn’t go through the ranks beating up middleweights to get to the title shot, but I think my career as a whole ... I feel like I’ve earned everything I’ve gotten, and I’ve earned this place right here.
“I fought so many guys that either had the title or went on to get the title, and I beat so many guys that are affiliated with a title, but I never had a title shot myself,” Jardine adds. “That’s what this fight means to me. I said so many times, my career won’t be over until I fight for that title, and now I’m given that opportunity. This means a whole lot for me.”
To get there, Jardine enlisted Mike Dolce, who has aided numerous fighters with their diets, to help him drop to a weight he had not seen in more than 20 years. Jardine claims The “Dolce Diet” has paid dividends.
“This is the first time I ever really had a regimented meal plan. It’s really easy, because it’s no supplements. It’s all whole foods, all fruits and vegetables,” he says. “I’m healthier than ever before.”
If all goes as planned, the weight cut should make for a more physically dominant Jardine on fight night.
“He’s strong, stronger by comparison to the fighters than he was at 205,” Winkeljohn says. “At 205, don’t get me wrong, Keith’s a strong guy. He went with the best in the world, [but] now that he’s at 185, I think people are gonna see his power in relation to the other fighters increase dramatically. I think it’s just a better weight division for him.”
Rockhold is not nearly as well-known as Jardine, but the American Kickboxing Academy product turned heads by upsetting Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza to capture the Strikeforce middleweight strap in September. If he gets his way, Jardine will turn their encounter into one of the gritty battles for which he has become known over the years.
“[Souza] is one of the best in the world, and Luke Rockhold handled him. It just shows that he’s a real good up-and-comer and a real good athlete, but he’s kind of a pretty fighter,” Jardine says. “He likes his space and he’s a little fancy, but I don’t know if he’s ever been in a real fight, and that’s what I bring to the table in all my fights. They’re pretty bloody, and they’re all real fights. I don’t think he’s ever gotten dirty before, so that’s why I’m real excited about this one.”
When he was first released from the UFC, Jardine was adamant about one day returning to the sport’s most prominent organization. With the future of Strikeforce solidified, at least for the next year, his stance has softened. Holding a belt and headlining shows for the San Jose, Calif.-based promotion could be a pretty good gig, especially with the backing of Zuffa.
“It’s just gonna be interesting to see what happens with the organization and what [UFC President] Dana White brings to it,” Jardine says. “It’s going to be fun to go forward in that and be the new middleweight champion while this happens.”