Jardine is only mean when it counts

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

PORTLAND, Ore. – You won't hear Keith Jardine screaming into a microphone, shouting obscenities at the fans or making derogatory comments about a sponsor.

He's not the kind to demand anything of anyone but himself. He's dubbed "The Dean of Mean," but he's one of the nicest, most thoughtful men you're likely to meet.

On Wednesday, Jardine was surrounded by a pack of reporters minutes after a light workout in preparation for his light heavyweight fight against Thiago Silva in the co-main event of UFC 102 at the Rose Garden.

He kept his gaze toward the floor nearly the entire time and spoke so softly that those standing but six or eight feet away strained to hear him.

He's a reluctant star, but he's bound to become one if he ever learns consistency. He has wins over former light heavyweight champions Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin as well as one over Brandon Vera that he calls "one of my favorite wins."

Jardine, though, hasn't won back-to-back fights in three years, going back to 2006 when he beat Wilson Gouveia and Griffin. Since beating Griffin, he's gone 2-3 in his last five bouts, alternating between wins and losses.

"Absolutely," he said of the need to gain consistency. "I need to put together a couple, two, three, four wins in a row and I'll be on top of the [Ultimate Fighting Championship] with these guys I'm fighting."

Jardine's list of opponents reads like a who's who of the light heavyweight division. In addition to Vera, Liddell and Griffin, he's been in with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Wanderlei Silva, Stephan Bonnar and Houston Alexander, among others.

Heavyweight Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who meets Randy Couture in Saturday's main event, was talking about how excited he is that his twin brother, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, will soon join the UFC.

As he discussed his brother, he noted the depth and quality of the 205-pound division and said it's the best in the UFC.

Jardine could probably discuss it as well as anyone. He's the kind of a yes man fight fans love, because UFC president Dana White and matchmaker Joe Silva never have to convince him to accept a fight.

"A lot of guys tell you they'll fight anybody, but then you mention this guy or that guy and things all of a sudden come up," White said. "With Jardine, you don't have to tell him who, just when and where. The guy just loves to fight and he's crazy enough to believe he can beat the best guys out there.

"When I made the fight with him and Chuck [at UFC 76], it was crazy. I can't tell you how many people were bitching and moaning and saying I was giving Chuck an easy one. Then he went out there and beat Chuck. He loves the challenge of fighting guys no one gives him a chance against and proving everyone wrong."

White has kept running Jardine out against some of the fiercest competition in the world because of Jardine's willingness to take on the challenge and his fan-friendly style.

He produces big knockouts – he kayoed Griffin in the first round but was brutally knocked out in the first himself by both Alexander and Wanderlei Silva – and is the kind of fighter you can't miss.

"You know something is going to happen when Jardine is in there," White said.

Jardine couldn't make it happen against Jackson, losing an excruciatingly close decision at UFC 96 that set Jackson up for a big-money fight against Rashad Evans at UFC 107 in December.

Jardine was knocked down with 10 seconds to go and one of the fight's three judges told him that was the difference.

He feels he's improved dramatically since then, but still doesn't get the kind of fanfare or notoriety that many of the men he faces do. If it bothers him, he does a good job of hiding it.

"It has a lot to do with my personality, because I'm kind of like the blue collar UFC fighter," Jardine said. "I'm working my way in through the back door. I haven't been fed any [easy] opponents. I didn't win the reality show. I'm just making my own way.

"I haven't been mass marketed to anybody. That's the thing. The marketing machine hasn't really gotten behind me. I'm fine with it, but I just think that the Forrest Griffins and those guys, they'd rather have those guys have the title than me."

Jardine realized that made him sound like he was complaining, so he added a quick addendum. He's not the kind of to have any extra attention paid to him.

"They kind of let me go my own way a bit because I'm not out there craving attention and I'm not out there hamming it up for the fans," Jardine said, grinning. "I'm not being like Brock Lesnar after the fight [at UFC 100]. That was embarrassing. I'm not that guy. I never will be. I'll always be humble and be mean when it counts."

Jardine has never forgotten his roots. The son of a miner, he's retained the lessons his father taught him as a boy.

He treats others like he wants to be treated and he doesn't call undue attention to himself – except when he has gloves on his hands and he walks into a cage.

"I come from a real hard-working background and I don't think my Dad would think very well of me if I were out there making an ass of myself," Jardine said. "I'm just going to be myself and hopefully, people will appreciate that. When I have the title, hopefully I will have a lot of fans because of the way I am."

People who appreciate someone who has worked for everything he has gotten, who has taken the hard path to the top and who conducts himself as an intelligent professional are bound to be won over by Jardine one of these days.

The others? Well, they're likely already fans of Lesnar's. And there's nothing Jardine can do about convincing them.

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