ANAHEIM, Calif. – The UFC 76 news conference was well under way on Thursday. UFC president Dana White took center stage and engaged the media in his trademark back-and-forth banter.
The featured fighters sat at tables on either side of White, looking straight ahead and waiting to field questions about their Saturday night matches at the Honda Center.
All except one, that is. As the question-and-answer session unfolded, Keith Jardine, sitting directly to White’s right, had his head turned to the left and his glare focused on the big flat-screen TV on the wall.
The man known as “The Dean of Mean” was transfixed on the clips of the worst moments of his career, the 48-second TKO at the hands of Houston Alexander at UFC 71 in May.
“That’s the first time I’ve really watched that,” Jardine said after the news conference. “I don’t try to dwell on the past, but watching that is a little bit of a motivator. I wasn’t in a good place mentally for that fight and that’s not going to happen again.”
Perhaps watching his personal lowlight was the final kick in the butt the hard hitter from Jackson’s MMA in Albuquerque, N.M., needed before he faces the glare of the biggest spotlight of his career. Jardine (12-3-1) faces former UFC light heavyweight champion “The Iceman” Chuck Liddell in the main event Saturday night.
“I don’t think this one is going 15 minutes,” Jardine said. “You have two guys who are going to bash each other until one guy falls.”
Jardine was announced as Liddell’s opponent when White’s original plan for a Liddell-Wanderlei Silva fight fell through. White was criticized in some corners for the choice of Jardine as an opponent, considering the Butte, Mont., native has appeared live only twice on main UFC pay-per-view cards.
Though it would help the fight’s hype to say that Jardine is miffed by the reaction to his elevation to main event status, it simply isn’t the case. Jardine says he has gone out of his way to avoid reading about himself.
“I instituted a personal media ban,” Jardine said. “When they first announced the fight, I clicked around on the Internet a bit and saw some disrespect going on. So I decided I wasn’t reading any message boards or Web sites or anything like that until after the fight was over. I’ve got more important things to worry about than whether people think I can hang in a main event.”
Although you never know how a fight is going to pan out once it hits the octagon, this fight seems as clear-cut as can be from a game-plan standpoint. There’s a reason why this card was titled “Knockout.” The fighters have combined for 32 career wins. Jardine has two career submissions, one in his first career fight; Liddell has one, and that came in 1999. Sixty-five percent of Liddell’s wins have come by way of KO or TKO, as have half of Jardine’s victories.
So both fighters will come out looking to go with their bread and butter.
“I don’t think I have to come out and show too much respect (of?) Chuck’s punching power,” Jardine said. “I know he can hit. I can hit, too. I think my kickboxing is better than his is. Chuck is one of the all-time greats, but I’m not going to back down from getting into a slugfest with him if I have to.”
Jardine is coming off the sort of loss that could derail a career if the aftermath is not handled correctly. Heading into the Alexander loss, Jardine had built up the biggest surge of momentum in his career. Jardine went into UFC 71 the winner of six of his past seven fights, including his thumping of Forrest Griffin at UFC 66, which made him into a player.
“Everyone has a fight in his career that is sort of an eye-opener,” Jardine said. “Everyone has a fight that makes you realize you can’t take anyone lightly. That loss made me change some things up in my training. I’m coming in lighter than I’ve been walking around, and I’m happy to have an opportunity like this.”
Neither fighter has ever lost two consecutive matches. Liddell, of course, lost the light heavyweight title to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 71. But Liddell is a long-time vet with experience bouncing back from losses in a major-event spotlight.
“If I win this, this isn’t going to be one of those huge upsets,” Jardine said. “I don’t see this as some sort of one-sided fight. He’s coming off a loss, I’m coming off a loss, and one of us will get back in the win column.”
More UFC 76: Liddell-Jardine fight breakdown.