(From the comfort of his living-room recliner, SI.com's MMA guru Josh Gross breaks down all the UFC 96 action from Columbus, Ohio -- including the two main events: Shane Carwin vs. Gabriel Gonzaga (heavyweights) and light heavyweights Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson vs. Keith Jardine.)
11:27 p.m. -- As we get ready for the final two bouts of UFC 96 -- Shane Carwin vs. Gabriel Gonzaga and Quinton Jackson vs. Keith Jardine -- let's recap what has been a bizarre and news-filled night.
Reports first surfaced Friday evening that Frank Mir would not fight Brock Lesnar on May 23 to unify the UFC heavyweight title because of a knee injury that required surgery last week. Mir made the news official Saturday, and the UFC -- as only it can do -- booked light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans to headline. Based on what happens in the Jackson-Jardine fight, Evans will either face Rampage or Lyoto Machida.
Another bit of news if you're watching on TV and wondering about the status of Mark Munoz after he was high-kick KO'd by Matt Hamill: He walked out of the cage under his own power, though he was forced to wear a neck brace while doing so.
11:28 -- Gray Maynard, another powerful Ohio wrestler, kept his forward momentum rolling with a shutout decision over Jim Miller.
And in a bout featuring some of the worst refereeing I've ever seen in any sport, Yves Lavigne nearly got Pete Sell killed. Sell took early shots from Matt Brown that dazed him, enough so that Lavigne thought it was appropriate to put his hands on Brown. Obviously, the welterweight fighter moved back, but then Lavigne decided Sell needed more. So he begged Brown forward and Sell was battered until he fell to the canvas. Lavigne demanded a couple more punches, which Brown reluctantly gave, until the referee finally called it.
Now, to the fights ...
Round 1 -- Two big men in the octagon at the moment. This will be a real test for the undefeated Carwin, who takes two stiff shots to the jaw before being taken down. This is about a good a start as Gonzaga could have hoped for. But he hasn't finished the fight and Carwin asserts himself by standing up.
And then it comes, a massive right straight folds Gonzaga in half. Two more shots connect as the Brazilian heavyweight and former UFC title contender gets smashed against the fence. One minute. Nine seconds. Shane Carwin is not to be trifled with. Eleven fights. Eleven wins. Not one bout past two minutes, 11 seconds.
11:35 -- There is a clear shift amongst heavyweights in MMA. Massive fighters like Lesnar and Carwin are clearly the future of the division. I wasn't sold on Carwin while he fought on the lower level -- I mistakingly saw him as a clone of his early training mentor Ron Waterman. But Carwin is much more than Waterman, who physically dominated opponents but never showed the kind of explosive striking that Carwin delivered tonight. The 34-year-old from Denver moves to 3-0 in the UFC, and deserves to be ranked amongst the top 10 heavyweights in MMA.
11:46 -- Who wins tonight's main event? I picked Jackson (29-7) in my preview on Friday, and I didn't see or hear anything in the last 24 hours to make me rethink that. As much as Jardine can make a war out of it, I can't get past Jackson's power and what we've seen happen to Jardine (14-4-1 ... though that should be 15-3-1 because the judges robbed him against Stephan Bonnar) against Wanderlei Silva and Houston Alexander. Those guys were aggressive, which isn't how Rampage generally approaches a fight. He likes to counter, and has done so effectively -- see his perfect KO of Wand. Either way, I think Jackson will find Jardine's chin.
11:49 -- A win for Jardine would really shake things up in the light heavyweight division. Both "The Dean of Mean" and his close friend and training partner, Rashad Evans -- the current UFC light heavyweight champion -- say they'll never fight in the UFC. If Jardine wins, that puts the organization in a tough spot. They'll be left with a guy capable of picking off any contender, but someone who can't be marketed for a championship fight. Money usually talks, and UFC president Dana White knows how to talk money. But to hear Jardine, Evans and the camp they've shared since 2005, it ain't gonna happen.
11:54 -- Jackson, of course, can make that point moot. Training in the UK after leaving another trainer -- Colin Oyama, then Juanito Ibarra -- Jackson, 30, showed improved footwork and speed last December against Silva. He'll need both to handle the awkward Jardine, whose kicks and odd angles flustered Chuck Liddell and led to a KO of Forrest Griffin.
11:55 -- Referee Yves Lavigne gets the main event assignment. That doesn't inspire confidence.
11:57 -- The pair shared an intense staredown Friday. And did the same in the center of the cage. The bell for Round 1 sounds, and we're underway.
Round 1 -- Both move forward and tie up in the clinch. Jardine's back is the cage during the early stalemate. Lavigne separates the light heavyweights and Jardine presses forward with a 1-2.
The first leg kick from Jardine comes 65 seconds into the fight. No defense from Jackson. Leg kicks plagued him against Griffin, and they could easily cost him tonight. So far Jardine is moving in to attack and out to defend. That's what he did against Liddell, who remained fairly stationary in that fight. Jackson won't be as easy to corral.
Midway through Round 1 and it's even. They stand in the center of the cage, feinting and moving. Best punches of the fight from Jackson moves Jardine backwards. But he held up well.
Rampage is stalking and they scrap to close out the opening period. Jardine is tough to fight because 1) by all accounts he's unflappable, 2) his style is unique in its effectiveness. There are few people that can do what he does. And Jardine's style hasn't changed much over the years. Jackson wins 10-9
Round 2 -- Jardine starts with leg kicks. And Jackson scores one of his own.
The second is thus far playing out like the first. In and out from Jardine -- little side to side, though -- that's making it tough for Jackson to find the right distance.
Wild series of three winging power punches from Jackson miss. But Jackson connects shortly after with a compact punch that put Jardine down. Rampage throws a mean salvo, but Jardine guts through it and gets back to his feet. They're in the center of the cage and Jackson shoots a double-leg that puts the fight down.
A low blow from Jardine forces a pause but Jackson wants right back in. This has the makings of war. Jardine is pressing. They're trading now, a great sequence. Both were caught.
Thirty seconds remain and the fight has been a good one thus far. Rampage fires as Jardine stands along the cage. They're clinched to close out there third. Jackson wins Round 2, 10-9. Jardine will need to stop him to win.
Round 3 -- The action kicks off with an exchange in the center. Neither connects, but they're both intent on attacking.
It must be terrible fighting someone like Jardine, who does nothing by the book. Solid jab counter off a Jardine right hand. If Jackson stays calm and doesn't press, he'll be fine. Instead, he shoots a double and puts "The Dean of Mean" on his back. Again though -- incredibly easy, really -- Jardine stands.
Three minutes remain as Jardine moves forward with a low kick. Another leg kick. And a third.
These aren't digging kicks with the shin, but they don't feel good. Jackson seems like he's trying to time the kick and takes a right hand to the mouth.
Overhand right just misses from Jardine as Jackson fires a left hook. Two minutes left.
Nice left hook from Jackson, but Jardine won't go away.
They're in the clinch, the crowd booing, and Lavigne moves in. Power shots. All power shots. They're exchanging and Jardine is on wobbly legs. Jackson landed several solid punches. But to his credit, Jardine won't go away. Jackson puts the exclamation point on the evening by dropping Jardine with a right straight-left hook combination to close out the round.
This isn't a clear-cut decision, but from where I'm sitting Jackson took it 30-27. I wouldn't be shocked if a judge sees it 29-28 Jardine.
Judges --Doc Hamilton, 29-28; Doug Crosby 29-28; Cecil Peoples 30-27 all for Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
12:19 a.m. -- "There was a lot of pressure to come in here and fight Keith Jardine," Jackson said after the fight. "I didn't think the pressure would get to me because I'm so experienced at fighting -- I've had so many fights. There was a lot of pressure. Keith was tough. I didn't expect him to be that tough."
12:21 -- Jackson said he wanted to attack Jardine, but it's not surprising he failed to move forward. Rampage isn't really that kind of fighter. It will be a tall order for him to counter someone as fast as Evans.
12:22 -- Jackson and Evans jaw at one another in the center of the cage. "All I gotta say is there's gonna be some black-on-black crime," Jackson screams into a microphone. Terrific.
More UFC 96
GROSS: Jackson's future troubles, more notes from UFC, Dream
FOWLKES: Jackson takes control at UFC 96
NEXT?: Rampage to take on champ Evans
JUDGES' CHOICE: Jackson earns unanimous-decision win
SALARIES:Rampage leads with $325K paycheck