You can follow Kevin Iole on Twitter at @KevinI
Keith Jardine insists he's prepared as hard as is humanly possible for his fights and hasn't taken one shortcut. Yet, the results have become depressingly familiar for the Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran, who meets Matt "The Hammer" Hamill on Saturday in a Spike-televised card at the Palms Casino in Las Vegas.
Jardine has become a regular in the loss column and has frequently gotten knocked out for his trouble.
Jardine, 34, has poured his heart and soul into his mixed martial arts fight career. The result has been a 15-7-1 record that includes wins over two former UFC light heavyweight champions, Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell.
As a whole, it's been top notch. Recently, though, he's been like a punching bag.
The last two years have produced next to no success despite Jardine's impeccable work ethic. He's lost four of his last five bouts, with the only win a hotly disputed split decision over Brandon Vera at UFC 89 on Oct. 18, 2008, that easily could have gone the other way.
If Jardine is working as hard as he insists, the long victory drought can mean only one of two things: Either he's simply not good enough to compete at the highest levels or he's working on the wrong things.
"Very confusing," Jardine said of his recent skein which includes knockout losses at the hands of Wanderlei Silva, Thiago Silva and Ryan Bader and a decision loss to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. "I had to sit down with my coaches and say, 'Listen, something is wrong here. I can't possibly work any harder than I've been working for these fights. I can't train any harder, but something is wrong. This is happening too much. There's something going on. It's not just a freak thing any more. We need to find out what it is.' "
Jardine's problem began when he ignored the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," and began to fiddle with his style. After his win over Griffin at UFC 66, Jardine was 13-2-1.
His style, particularly his striking, has frequently been described as unorthodox, so it made sense to Jardine to, in his words, "try to clean it up."
So Jardine set out to make changes in his approach. Going to a more textbook approach simply didn't work.
"I don't want to give too much away," he said of his old unorthodox approach, "but it was more movement and timing and posture. It's more doing it on purpose rather than by accident. Some of the times I've gotten caught, I've been trying to be a little too orthodox, actually, a little too clean.
"It was like I read a how-to boxing book and I was a little too planned in everything I was doing. It was like, 'All right, now I'm going to step this way and do this combination, take this angle and do that.' "
That required a lot of thinking in a sport which acting instinctively means a lot. By the time he thought of the move he needed to make, he was getting hit on the chin. After much analysis and much agonizing, he decided to take the simplest approach to solving his problem. He decided to do what he does naturally and not to think so hard about his flaws.
His unorthodox style worked; the orthodox one didn't. Plus, the unorthodox style was the one that came more naturally to him. He's back to being the old "Dean of Mean" and has given up on trying to turn himself into something he's not.
"Now, I'm just relaxing and flowing freely and [trying to] have fun," Jardine said. "I've just decided to relax a bit. Since I've been doing that, my sparring, my practices, everything has been off the charts. I'm a completely new person, I feel like."
He's a new person with an old style that suits him well, but he also has one other issue to overcome. If he loses, it would be his fifth defeat in his last six outings. And while no one at the UFC is saying, his job would figure to be in jeopardy if that occurs.
He professes not to be concerned, but it's only human nature and it would seem impossible that he hasn't ruminated on it just a bit, at the very least. He knows full well how deep the UFC's light heavyweight division is and how many fighters are attempting to break into the company. If a guy keeps losing, sooner or later, he's going to be out of a job.
Jardine, though, is saying all the things one would expect him to say. He's going to fight his fight, he says, and not worry about what may happen afterward.
"You know, I'm not really worried about that," Jardine said. "Honestly, it's kind of fitting that I'm fighting on 'The Ultimate Fighter' finale, because it kind of reminds me of back when I first started in the UFC. Every fight was like that. You win you stay, you lose you go.
"It makes you hungrier. It lets you relish the opportunity a little bit more. I'm in a good place [mentally] with all that."
However good he is with it, he'll be a lot better off if he wins. He fights the style that UFC president Dana White loves – he said he goes for finishes every time out and doesn't believe he's in the 'Points Fighting Championship' – but the numbers are what they are.
A win and he'll wake up Sunday knowing he has a job.
A loss and things become a lot less certain for him.
- Keith Jardine