"I didn't expect him to be that tough," Jackson said after taking the clear-cut victory 30-27, 29-28, and 29-28 on the judges' scorecards. "I won't call him 'Sardine' no more."
Jackson used a mixture of effective punch combinations with takedowns and ground control to wear Jardine down over the course of three rounds. After the fight Jackson was critical of his own performance, saying he felt "overtrained" at the start of the fight -- a problem Jackson admitted he'd rarely experienced before.
He'll likely get little time to recover, as UFC president Dana White announced his intention to put Jackson into a title fight with light heavyweight champ Rashad Evans at UFC 98 on May 23 to replace the original main event between heavyweights Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir that was scratched this week -- due to a knee injury that forced Mir into a recent surgery.
The Evans-Jackson bout isn't officially booked yet, however, and if Jackson can't make the quick turnaround it will be Lyoto Machida who challenges for the belt, White said.
"I want my belt back, but I got to talk to manager and talk some things though," Jackson said. "Then I'll tell Dana what's up."
In the night's penultimate bout heavyweight Shane Carwin cemented his status as a top contender in the division with a knockout victory over Gabriel Gonzaga. Carwin was stunned by a hard right hand early on, but recovered quickly to land a right of his own that left Gonzaga wilting toward the canvas.
"He hit me with one shot and I think I have my first broken nose ever. It stunned me a little bit," said Carwin, who added that a victory over an opponent like Gonzaga ought to be enough to silence some of his detractors and convince people that he's ready for top ten opponents.
"Just keep putting them in front of me," he said. White seemed eager to do just that.
"Beating Gonzaga and beating him the way he did, I don't think there's anyone he can't fight in the UFC."
In other action at UFC 96:
• In one of the evening's most bizarre bouts, Matt Brown overwhelmed Pete Sell in the opening seconds and then spent the bulk of the next minute reluctantly continuing the onslaught while simultaneously berating referee Yves Lavigne for not stopping the contest. Sell appeared to be dazed but battling on before Brown finally shoved him to the floor and finished him with a few perfunctory punches at 1:32 of round one.
• Matt Hamill took his time figuring out a plan of attack against former Oklahoma State wrestling stand-out Mark Munoz, but once he went to work it was over in a hurry. A right head kick from Hamill connected cleanly and midway through the first frame and left Munoz slumped against the cage. Hamill added a few unnecessary punches before the bout was halted at 3:53 of round one, much to the delight of his hometown crowd.
• Xtreme Couture fighter Gray Maynard proved he is more than just a wrestler by putting on a three-round striking clinic against Jim Miller, battering his opponent from start to finish. For perhaps the first time in his MMA career, Maynard used his wrestling prowess to avoid takedowns rather than force them, and it paid off with a unanimous decision victory. Said Maynard after the bout: "I box everyday. I want to proved to people that I can."
• MMA'slovable nerd, Tamdan "The Barn Cat" McCrory, got back in the win column with a first-round TKO victory over Ryan Madigan. McCrory dominated the fight from the opening seconds, taking Madigan down and mounting him several times before eventually unleashing a barrage of punches and elbows that forced an end to the contest.
• Kendall Grove pulled out a victory when he needed it most to prolong his stay in the UFC. Grove needed just 1:32 to put Jason Day away with a straight right followed by a series of heavy elbows that left the Canadian out cold. After the bout Grove commented on recent comments from White suggesting he might be dropped from the organization if he didn't win by saying, "I thought I was going to lose my job. I guess not."
• Jason Brilz got off to a rocky start when he tried to exchange punches with Tim Boetsch in the first round, but his corner's advice to take the fight to the ground in rounds two and three proved prudent. Brilz controlled Boetsch on the mat and wore him down with repeated takedowns, eventually securing the unanimous decision victory.
• Brandon Vera looked like his old self as he used a series of punishing leg kicks to dismantle light heavyweight Mike Patt over the course of two rounds. Vera set the tone early when he dropped Patt to his knees with one particularly brutal leg kick, but "The Truth" stayed patient and waited until the damage to Patt's left leg left him unable to stand. Lavigne mercifully called a stop to the bout at 1:27 of round two.
• It will go down in the record books as a win for lightweight Shane Nelson, but he can hardly enjoy the TKO victory over Aaron Riley due to the incredibly bad stoppage by referee Rick Fike. Nelson dropped Riley with a hard right hand in the opening minute of their bout and followed up with several more blows, but Riley appeared clear-headed as he worked off his back. An over-eager Fike jumped in immediately to stop the bout at 0:44 of the first round, drawing the ire of everyone in the arena, especially Riley, who said in his post-fight comments that it was "definitely an early stoppage."
More UFC 96
GROSS: Jackson's future troubles, more notes from UFC, Dream
GROSS: Live blog of Jackson vs. Jardine
NEXT?: Rampage to take on champ Evans
JUDGES' CHOICE: Jackson earns unanimous-decision win
SALARIES:Rampage leads with $325K paycheck