COLUMBUS, Ohio – Quinton "Rampage" Jackson knocked Keith Jardine down with a big right hand in the waning seconds of the third and final round to clinch a unanimous decision in the main event of Saturday night's UFC 96 at Nationwide Arena.
The victory earned him a title match against light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans. But after the card, there appeared to be questions about whether Jackson, a former champion, will get the next title match.
About 15 minutes after the match was over, Jackson was told the match, which he was expecting would take place July 11, was being moved to May 23 because the UFC had decided to flip-flop the light heavyweight title matches and a heavyweight title match between injured Frank Mir and Brock Lesnar, originally scheduled for the later date.
"Damn," Jackson said. "I'll do anything for [UFC president] Dana [White]. I had plans to go on a vacation and find an Asian girl and fly first class, stay in a hut and tell her how I was going to win the light heavyweight title. Now it looks like I have to get my ass back to England to train in two weeks."
In reality, Jackson is going to have to assess his condition and then decide whether or not he's going to take the fight, a decision that he and White indicated he would probably make toward the end of this week. It would be his third fight in five months. If not, undefeated Lyoto Machida, who has already accepted the fight, will face Evans on May 23.
Jackson didn't act enthusiastic about the timing, and said he'd have to speak to his management about the switch in dates. He said it was most likely he would take the fight.
"Rampage" (30-7) won the unanimous decision over Jardine (14-6-1), Evans' best friend and training partner in Albuquerque, N.M., with scores of 29-28, 29-28, 30-27. Jardine's unorthodox style seemed to confuse Jackson in the first round, which was close. Jardine won on two of the three judges cards because he landed more often even though Jackson scored with harder punches.
Jackson noted that when he got into the cage with Jardine, early in the first round, he felt overtrained.
"I peaked too soon," he said. "I was knocking people out a few weeks ago."
Jackson won the second round, scoring an early knockdown, although Jardine rallied late in the round, which ended with fans giving the fighters a standing ovation. The third round was close, but Jardine was slightly in the lead until Jackson staggered him with a flurry of punches with about 40 seconds left. Jackson decked Jardine with seconds left with an overhand right and left hook combination, which clinched the fight.
"One of the judges told me I had the fight won until the last 10 seconds," said a frustrated Jardine, who owns victories over former UFC light heavyweight champs Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin.
Jackson said his original game plan was to rush Jardine but felt flat when he got into the cage.
"It was me," he said, when asked if Jardine's awkward style caused him to change strategy. "I probably psyched myself out."
"I knew it was close," Jardine said. "I don't play the points game. I was trying to finish it at the end."
"I wasn't hurt," he said, noting he felt he executed his game plan during the fight. "The punch was just hard enough to put me down."
After Jackson was announced as the winner, Evans came into the ring and the two had a face-off which brought the near-sellout crowd of 17,033 fans to a frenzy, with Jackson vowing to knock Evans out. At the time, Jackson was still under the impression the fight would be held in July.
The switch in dates was arranged Saturday. White said he got the word about Mir's knee injury on Friday afternoon from reporters Kevin Iole and Neil Davidson. At the time, he didn't believe the story, because he hadn't yet heard anything.
Mir, who was in Columbus for the Arnold Schwarzenegger Fitness Expo this weekend, had arthroscopic surgery earlier in the week to clean up bone chips behind the kneecap.
"He could have done the fight but he would have only had three weeks to train for it," White said. "The doctors said that he couldn't be sure to go all out on the knee until that time."
The company's two options if they were to postpone Lesnar vs. Mir were to move either Evans' fight or welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre's title defense against Thiago Alves up two months.
St. Pierre, who fought Jan. 31 and beat lightweight champ B.J. Penn, was back in camp within a few weeks to get teammate Nate Marquardt ready for his Feb. 21 fight in London, where he beat Wilson Gouveia. St. Pierre said he needed some down time after training.
White said that he went right from the press conference, where he was told about the injury, to a TV satellite series of interviews, while at the same time trying to get in touch with Mir's people. Evans was with him at the time and when he found out Mir was injured, White broached moving the fight up to Evans, who was agreeable.
The July 11 UFC 100 may, economy willing, be the biggest pay-per-view event in company history with Lesnar vs. Mir for the heavyweight title, St. Pierre vs. Alves for the welterweight title and a match of "Ultimate Fighter" Season 9 coaches Michael Bisping and Dan Henderson as the three main events.