Jardine forces his way into picture

Kevin Iole

Forrest Griffin has the next shot at the UFC's light heavyweight title.

But Griffin has already lost to Keith Jardine.

One-time 205-pound king Chuck Liddell wants another crack at the belt, currently held by his nemesis, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.

Liddell, too, has already lost to Jardine.

And Wanderlei Silva, who has two wins over Jackson, concedes that while he's thinking of dropping to middleweight after his fight Saturday at UFC 84 at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas, he also wouldn't mind a shot at Jackson's belt.

Silva, not surprisingly, has a bout with Jardine on Saturday.

And when it's brought to Silva's attention that Jardine has not yet had a crack at the belt, he's puzzled.

"Keith is a very difficult fighter," Silva said. "If anyone should be fighting for a title, it's him."

Jardine, who fought as a heavyweight on Season 2 of the "The Ultimate Fighter," isn't about to complain about having to wait for a title shot, though. If he beats Silva, his record will make the case for him.

Even UFC president Dana White said it would be hard to deny Jardine with wins over Griffin, Liddell and Silva in his last four bouts.

"For the longest time, nobody would take guys from 'The Ultimate Fighter' seriously and it drove me crazy," White said. "When I told you Jardine was going to be fighting Chuck, you acted like you couldn't believe it. This guy is a very good fighter. I think finally after what he's done, he's starting to get the respect his talent demands. But, even now, not everyone recognizes it. I still hear a lot of that.

"There are people out there who think Wanderlei is going to walk right through him," White continued. "You know what I think of Wanderlei, but I don't think he's going to walk through Keith. And if (Silva) beats (Jardine), that's a very big, very significant win for him."

Of course, sandwiched around the wins over Griffin and Liddell was a quick knockout loss to the powerful Houston Alexander at UFC 71. But the more and more Jardine fights, the more it seems that the Alexander bout was an anomaly rather than a sign of a flaw in Jardine's game.

The Albuquerque-based Jardine is one of the world's elite fighters, even if he's too humble to say it.

Jardine looks as if he could melt butter with his angry stare, but he's as soft-spoken and easygoing a fighter as there is in the game. He's the type who calls it an honor to fight a highly decorated fighter like former longtime PRIDE champion Silva and said his primary goal is simply to get better fighter after fight.

One of his passions is film work and he's had bit roles recently in two upcoming movies, "Crank 2" and "Beer for my Horse." His ability as a fighter, he said, is what led to being able to indulge one of his passions.

"The thing with fighting is, everything I have in my life I owe to fighting," Jardine said. "I understand that completely. I don't have a big head and I really believe if you understand the sport, there's no way you could. You're only as good as your last fight. I beat Liddell and all of a sudden, everyone wants to be seen with me and slap me on the back. But you know what will happen if I get knocked out. That's part of the business. I understand that."

UFC middleweight contender Nate Marquardt, one of Jardine's training partners, said that Jardine's low-key approach and unassuming nature have allowed him to fly a bit beneath the radar. But Marquardt said the fighters who work with Jardine daily at Jackson's Submission Fighting, understand how good Jardine is.

Marquardt said Jardine is one of the camp's hardest workers, coming in each day to go as hard as he can for as long as he can.

"We have a lot of good guys here, and Keith is a handful for any one of us," Marquardt said.

Among the stars who train regularly at Jackson's in addition to Marquardt are UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre and light heavyweight contender Rashad Evans.

Jardine has seen tape of Silva's sensational fight at UFC 79 that he lost to Liddell, but said he's not really able to use that as a gauge for what to expect. Jardine, who felt the Silva-Liddell bout reminded him of the much-hyped 2005 bout between Stephan Bonnar and Griffin, said he has an idea of what to expect from Silva but can only enter the cage with a loose plan.

"Wanderlei is such a great fighter and he has so many ways to come at you," Jardine said. "What I expect more than anything is a great fight."

And that's pretty much what Silva, one of the sport's legends, said about the bout, as well. It says something about Jardine's place in the game when a fighter of Silva's stature talks about Jardine in almost reverential tones.

Silva has lost three in a row and desperately needs a win. He says he's trained harder for Jardine than he has for any fight in his life.

"I need a win, there's no doubt about it," Silva said. "The good thing for me is, if I beat someone like Jardine, that's a very important victory. Jardine is a very, very tough opponent. He could beat anyone. I will be very satisfied if I can beat him. He's as good as anyone out there."

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