March 03, 2009

Whether Keith Jardine is first, second, or third in the light heavyweight hierarchy, the important thing is that he's there in the first place.

"I'm probably like the third person asked to the prom on this one, I think," he said of his UFC 96 fight with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson during a media teleconference. "But I got a call and couldn't turn it down."

The announcement that he'd face the former UFC light heavyweight champion was dropped on fans during the telecast for UFC 93, scrapping earlier reports he would face Brazilian prospect Luis Cane at UFC 97.

It's a familiar scenario for the Jackson MMA fighter -- an extremely tough matchup with implications in the division's hierarchy. Like his teammate and current 205-pound champion Rashad Evans, he's got a habit of throwing a wrench in everyone's plans -- whether they're for him, or his opponents.

Whatever happens at Saturday's fight, though, he's aware of his role in the sport's marquee division, and he's okay with it.

"They just think they're going to get a good fight from me," continued Jardine on the UFC's outlook. "I like to strike. I've never been in a boring fight. And they're just throwing me out there and they expect me to put on a good show, but they don't expect me to win."

And that's often where Jardine is at his best. When he's expected to lose, he wins. Recently, he lost to the heavily favored Wanderlei Silva at UFC 84, but rebounded with a win over Brandon Vera as a slight underdog at UFC 89. He's unpredictable.

"It's just the way things work out," he explained. "After I lost to Wanderlei, I took the (Alexander loss) as a fluke, and then I just got caught down on the head with a big punch. And the same thing happened with Wanderlei. So I had to really take a look at myself and look at how I was approaching fighting and the way I was doing things. I was able to take that with me to fight Vera, which is one of my favorite wins. I think he's a better striker than anybody I've fought, better than Forrest, better than Chuck.

"So I'm just climbing the ladder right now. Since that Wanderlei fight I feel like I started over and right now I'm 1-0 in the UFC -- that's the way I look at it."

It's not breaking news that a fight between Jackson and Evans would be better for business. Jardine maintains he won't fight Evans, and the UFC has already invested in Jackson. A Jardine win could create an awkward situation for those who think title shots should be given out in a straight line. But the soft-spoken fighter says, for him, it's not all about status or dollars and cents.

"I get to beat somebody else that used to have a title, so that's great for me," Jardine said. "That's why people love this sport, is because we're not businessmen. We're not like NFL players; they're trying to stay healthy and get a paycheck. We fight with all of our heart and our soul.

"How are you going to do out there and give the audience what they deserve when you're fighting one of your best friends? That is just not going to happen."

Jardine does promise that he'll continue to give his heart and soul, even if the top rung of the ladder may be off limits.

"I'm going to have a long career," he said. "All of that stuff will work itself out. I have no problems up in heavyweight. I have no problem knocking out contenders either. So we'll see. I'm in this game for a long time."

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