Luke Rockhold to Defend Strikeforce Middleweight Title vs. Keith Jardine

Keith Jardine

Jardine drops from light heavyweight for bout

For his first defense of the Strikeforce middleweight title, Luke Rockhold will face an opponent without a win in the promotion.

Rockhold will put his belt on the line against Keith Jardine next month, who fought to a draw in his lone Strikeforce fight in April. Sources close to the as-yet unannounced matchup confirmed the plan to Heavy.com on Friday. MMA Fighting first brought word of the fight late Thursday.

Rockhold (8-1, 7-0 Strikeforce) is unbeaten since signing with Strikeforce in 2008, including six stoppages. His win over Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in September to win the middleweight title was the first decision of his career – and first time he had been out of the first round. He won by unanimous decision in the five-round bout, including a 50-45 score. It was Rockhold’s first fight in more than 18 months.

Jardine (17-9-2, 0-0-1 Strikeforce) fought Gegard Mousasi to a controversial majority draw in April. Mousasi lost a point for an illegal upkick in the fight, which made the fight a draw on two judges’ scorecards. Mousasi won 29-27 on the third.

The choice of Jardine for Rockhold’s first title defense is intriguing on at least a couple of levels. Consensus was that Rockhold likely would make his first defense against Tim Kennedy, but that won’t be the case. And Jardine will drop down from light heavyweight to middleweight for the fight. Rockhold even took to his Twitter feed Thursday to say the opponent choice would be surprising, saying Jardine is “not who u would expect!”

Jardine has spend the majority of his career at 205 pounds, along with early fights at heavyweight. Jardine was a cast member on Season 2 of “The Ultimate Fighter” as a heavyweight. After one fight there following the show, Jardine moved to light heavyweight for a dozen fights with the UFC, going 5-7.

The UFC cut Jardine loose after he lost four straight and five of six, but to some quality competition – Wanderlei Silva, Rampage Jackson, Thiago Silva, Ryan Bader and Matt Hamill. His UFC wins came against Mike Whitehead, Wilson Gouveia, Forrest Griffin, Chuck Liddell and Brandon Vera.

Once outside the UFC, Jardine lost again, to Trevor Prangley at Shark Fights 13, to see his skid hit five. But two wins after that – against Francisco France and Aron Lofton – got him a shot in Strikeforce.

Rockhold and Jardine are expected to fight Jan. 7 at a still unannounced Strikeforce show at the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas.