Ben Fowlkes
Thursday March 5th, 2009

Of all the fighters competing at UFC 96 this weekend in Columbus, Ohio, (PPV, 10 p.m. ET), no one has less to gain than Keith Jardine. "The Dean of Mean" takes on Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in a main-event bout that will determine who gets the first crack at current 205-pound champ Rashad Evans. Only, no matter who wins, it won't be Jardine who gets that shot.

It's not because Jardine doesn't deserve it, but rather Evans is his teammate and friend, and the two have ruled out the possibility of squaring off for the belt. Which means the best-case scenario for Jardine on Saturday night is that he beats Jackson and stays exactly where he already is: near the top, though not at it. A loss might drop him further down the ranks, but a win merely keeps him in a holding pattern.

It sounds depressing, not to mention a little odd from a matchmaking perspective, but Jardine doesn't seem to mind. Talking to him after the bout was first announced he acknowledged that the UFC was probably planning on him losing to Jackson, as are oddsmakers. But Jardine has a history of winning the fights he's supposed to lose (against Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell, for example) while losing the fights he's supposed to win (Houston Alexander, anyone?).

Even though Jardine won't get, and doesn't want, a title shot after Saturday night, he can determine who gets to take on his Greg Jackson-camp teammate. A victory over Rampage would mean the perpetually overlooked Lyoto Machida gets his chance. A loss would mean Rampage gets a shot at Evans' belt, which would probably be the UFC's preference in terms of marketability.

Such are the stakes for Jardine. He may not control his own fate, but he does control plenty of others'. Given his belief that the UFC is putting him in this fight just to lose, a victory that denies the organization the more profitable of the two possible title fights might just be the perfect revenge.

If you think there isn't much to get excited about outside of the main event at UFC 96, you obviously haven't seen heavyweight Shane Carwin in action. The former national champion wrestler and All-American football player is undefeated in his MMA career, and he has yet to take a fight past the first round, thanks, primarily, to his size, strength and freakish athletic abilities.

The first real test of his career will come when he steps in the Octagon against Gabriel Gonzaga, who's been mounting a comeback since suffering back-to-back losses, against Randy Couture and Fabricio Werdum.

Gonzaga is a very credible heavyweight with knockout power and a solid ground game. If Carwin is more hype than substance, Gonzaga will find out. If, on the other hand, the big man proves he's as good as we've been lead to believe, a title fight might not be too far away. The difference in this one could be sheer size and strength -- two areas that won't work in Gonzaga's favor.

The MMA community has done a lot a of complaining about the lack of star-power on this card, but an intriguing matchup that's being overlooked right now is the lightweight showdown between unbeaten Gray Maynard and former IFL standout Jim Miller.

Maynard's M.O. is simple: he uses his superior wrestling ability to get opponents down, hold them there until the ref forces a stand-up, and then rinse and repeat for three rounds until he pulls out the unanimous decision. It's not flashy or terribly entertaining, but it is effective.

However, Miller has the kind of skill-set could be the perfect antidote.

While his striking game has come along recently, Miller's real strength is with submissions. He can work off his back and is always dangerous in a scramble, of which there are likely to be plenty against a guy like Maynard, who thinks takedown first and everything else second.

Miller has the best chance of anyone to do something besides get held down when the fight hits the mat, and that ought to force "The Bully" to show some other skills if he wants to keep his impressive record intact.

MORE UFC 96

GROSS: Jardine: bad for business, good for friends

GROSS: Predictions for UFC 96, Dream 7

CONTENDERS: Evans' next foe narrowed to two

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