In light heavyweight action, rising star and The Ultimate Fighter Season 8 winner Ryan Bader (10-0, 3-0 UFC) will battle long-time UFC veteran Keith Jardine (15-6-1, 6-5 UFC) in a very important battle for both competitors. Bader will try to continue his undefeated streak while also raising his stock as a legitimate challenger to the top tier of talent in the division.
Jardine will try to stave off a three-fight losing streak and put himself back in the fold against upper echelon fighters. Jardine is currently riding a two-fight losing streak with losses to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Thiago Silva while Bader is coming off an unanimous decision win over Eric Schafer.
This will be a significant step up in competition for Bader as his last three opponents ranked within the lower tier of talent in the division. Carmelo Marrero didn't present much of a challenge to Bader's background in wrestling as he took the veteran down time and time again during their match-up. Schafer was bombed by shots in the first round, but took advantage of a gassing Ryan Bader in the second. Unfortunately, he dropped the third round and lost via decision.
Schafer showed some weaknesses in Bader's game. Specifically, Schafer was able to consistently use his jab in the second round to pepper Bader with shots. Unfortunately for a guy like Jardine, Bader's gameplan in the first round of using his power to test Schafer's chin is Jardine's kryptonite, and it's been proven on three separate affairs in the cage.
The counter-argument to that style is that if Jardine is able to avoid Bader's power, he has the perfect style to frustrate Bader from a distance and ride out a decision victory by using kicks and jabs. Jardine also has experience on his side as well as one of the better wrestlers in the division in Rashad Evans to help him prepare for Bader's wrestling ability.
How will this fight play out? It's tough to say. Bader is actually coming in as the favorite in this fight, and I think that's somewhat surprising. While he has been successful, he hasn't been a proven finisher. He also hasn't taken on a guy with Jardine's unique style of stand-up, but he does have the assets in his skill-set to be a real menace in the opening round.
One factor that I continue to come back to is the inability for Jardine to put power onto his opponent's chin. He's been able to catch a few opponents in the past, but he generally maintains distance and sits on his back foot. He isn't known for dangerous power, and Bader may take advantage of that by coming forward and blasting through Jardine's lengthy jabs.
While Bader isn't technical in his striking, he does have the power to end Jardine's night quickly. I think Jardine could keep Bader's wrestling at bay, but it'll be a short night if Jardine gets caught instantly. I'm going to go with the favorite here. I'm not entirely certain how it will play out, but I think Jardine's time is over. Both men have the perfect gameplan to win, it's just a matter of who will be able to execute.