Normally, a three-fight losing streak is enough to put you on the unemployment line. Hell, a two-fight losing streak can do it from time-to-time, and Eliot Marshall was even handed his pink slip following his first UFC loss. That’s where it helps to be Keith Jardine.
The fan favorite former TUF contestant has been on the wrong side of the results in each of his last three contests, suffering knockout defeats to Ryan Bader and Thiago Silva following his turn in the main event opposite Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 96.
Fighting in the upper echelon allows you to accumulate losses without the axe falling; even fighting in the middle of the pack does the trick if your name is Dan Miller. But at some point, the wins must come or else the your walking papers will, which makes this weekend’s meeting with Matt Hamill a must-win situation for “The Dean of Mean.”
What saved Miller following his most recent loss is that his level of competition has remained high; Demian Maia and Chael Sonnen both climbed into title fights, while Michael Bisping is a top-of-the-food-chain type, though not quite there yet. The trouble for Jardine is that he’s gone the opposite direction without a change in results. Jackson is a championship contender, Silva is a Top 10 opponent, and Bader is a bright, young prospect, but each is progressively lower on the relevance scale, yet the results have remained the same.
It could certainly be argued that Bader is a star-in-the-making and I wouldn’t disagree, but the trending of Jardine’s results is what is troubling. Back-to-back knockouts are never a good thing, and the pattern of defeats will draw obvious (though not quite accurate) comparisons to the string of losses that has ended the Chuck Liddell Era in the UFC. While Liddell’s championship past bought him some extra time and an additional fight last weekend, Jardine has never been to the top of the mountain, making a win all the more important.
Being a fan favorite can only carry you so far. While the audience loves Jardine for his “Hunchback of Notre Dame” fighting style and striking resemblance to The Techno Viking, the 34-year-old can get by on appearance and crowd appreciation alone. Though Hamill is another notch down the competitive ladder – and coming back off a dislocated shoulder courtesy of Jardine teammate Jon Jones – he’s not an automatic out by any stretch.
Working in Jardine’s favor are the two points just mentioned: (1) this is Hamill’s first fight in six months and (2) for once Jardine is the beneficiary of fighting a man a teammate has already faced; normally it’s Jardine who serves as the advanced scout, usually for BFF Rashad Evans. We’ve also seen that a gameplan built on keeping distance and utilizing kicks can be successful against the TUF 3 alum, as Rich Franklin picks Hamill apart in space before ending his night with a liver kick that would make Bas Rutten weep.
But a win is certainly not a foregone conclusion.
Hamill is a tough out for anybody, and his only losses have come to Franklin and the aforementioned Michael Bisping in a fight that ranks amongst the most controversial decisions of all-time. He’s a very strong wrestler who has developed a good set of additional skills to compliment his takedowns and keep opponents honest. If you’re only looking for the shot, Hamill will hit you with the headkick that left Mark Munoz on a stretcher.
Jardine has his work cut out for him Saturday night, and the added pressure of a fourth straight loss could easily be a factor, though he’ll say he hasn’t even thought about it. Trust me, he has.
Jardine might be too big of a name for some to believe the UFC would send him on his way if a fourth loss comes on Saturday night. I’m not one of those people. Do you honestly believe that Strikeforce could build a card around Keith Jardine as the main event? Can you see Jardine pulling the upset against “King Mo” or Gegard Mousasi?
While the San Jose-based outfit might come knocking, they can’t offer anything more than the UFC is putting before Jardine now, so staying put and continuing to collect checks with the letters “UFC” emblazoned on them is the best available option. The only way to do that is to put an end to an ugly three-fight losing streak.
If he comes away with a win, Jardine buys himself all kinds of time, but if a fourth defeat finds a home on his resume, “The Dean of Mean” could become the most well-known casualty the UFC has had in quite some time.
We’ll find out which one it is Saturday night in Las Vegas.