One of the major storylines in the lead-up to The Ultimate Fighter 11 Finale was the downward spiraling career of Keith Jardine. In the last two years, Jardine was knocked out in three of his five appearances in the Octagon with his lone win coming against Brandon Vera at UFC 89 in a split decision performance. Wanderlei Silva, Thiago Silva, and Ryan Bader all connected with heavy punches that dropped the five-year UFC veteran and put into question whether he could compete at the highest level of competition in the UFC.
Dropping down the ranks considerably since the days in which the words "contender" and "title shot" were spoken in the same breaths as his name, Jardine drew the lower-to-middle echelon wrestling talent in Matt Hamill. Hamill provided somewhat of a lesser threat in terms of knockout power, but his wrestling base and proven strength still hinted at the possibility that Jardine could be pounded out. But with all things considered, many fans felt that Jardine's style has historically frustrated fighters with Hamill's style.
Unfortunately for Jardine, there wasn't a "rebirth" or "rejuvenation" in anything we saw on Saturday night. The first round of action was one-sided in that Jardine was successful in landing combinations by using the same style he's used to eek out decision against Chuck Liddell and Brandon Vera, and for the opening minutes of the second round -- Jardine was showing his superiority in the stand-up game against Hamill. Some would say it was impressive, but I think the expectation was there for Jardine to be much more seasoned in the stand-up game.
That success changed as Hamill clipped Jardine midway through the second, drawing blood over the left eye of Jardine. The follow-up head kick and barrage of uppercuts downed Jardine, and after the accidental eye poke docked Jardine a point -- the sense of urgency and aggressiveness of Jardine landed him on his back while Hamill blasted Jardine with uppercuts as he regained his feet.
The third round was narrowly won by Hamill, and the fight itself ended in a decision victory for Hamill while sporting a broken hand and an oozing case of staph infection at the small of his back. The bigger story, in my mind, is the fact that Jardine has dropped his last four fights in the UFC with this most recent loss coming against a mid-echelon fighter.
Is Jardine in danger of being cut from the promotion? I'm not exactly sure, but I would believe his long tenure with the company would garner him one more fight. The more important question is whether or not Jardine's physical condition and style of fighting can survive against the more youthful, more well-rounded fighters moving up the ranks. Obviously, Jardine's chin has diminished considerably, but Jardine's inability to land knockout power and play it safe in the striking department from a distance make me believe he's on the downside of his career permanently.
The book has been left open on Keith Jardine. Opponents realize that his power isn't substantial enough to endanger their chins, but Jardine's chin is susceptible to the brawling fighter who can push Jardine to the fence. He isn't overly strong in that he can toss opponents to the wayside when they press forward, although he does have the strength in his takedown defense to stay on his feet. Unfortunately, the stand-up game is becoming an increasingly more dangerous environment for Jardine.
- Matt Hamill continues to win despite looking ragged in his approach to striking. The uppercuts in the clinch were impressive, and it's definitely a technique that has found more success and use in the Octagon in recent fights. Johny Hendricks comes to mind as does Shane Carwin.
- Court McGee completely outclassed Kris McCray in every facet of their match-up on Saturday night. McCray was surprisingly out-wrestled by McGee, and McGee's use of trips against the fence only added more frustration to McCray's attempts to get back to his feet. Unfortunately, McCray's striking isn't impressive at all, and McGee seemed to realize his own striking wasn't threatening either. With McCray's offensive weapons relying on his size and wrestling, it was over once McGee established his superiority.
- I should probably give Chris Leben some credit. The man is just flat out accurate with his heavy punches, and while he isn't blazing fast in his delivery -- it's still a delivery that beats most opponents to the punch. Aaron Simpson was unable to evade Leben's lead jabs and overhands in the second, and as he backpedaled to avoid damage -- "The Crippler" came alive.
Simpson won the first round in my mind, but he showed a weaker takedown game in the second that Leben was able to sprawl out of and unload his own offensive attacks. Perhaps Simpson gassed a little after the first due to the stunning left hook from Leben, but it was apparent in the second that Simpson didn't have the energy to put Leben down anymore.
- Dennis Siver's unpredictability and diverse combinations did the job against Spencer Fisher. Fisher had huge problems calculating exactly what Siver was about to throw as his kicks and punches were never being thrown in telegraphed patterns. Front kicks, outside jabbing leg kicks, spinning back kicks, and inside leg kicks all set up Siver's bombing overhands and straight punches. Siver didn't land "The Big Kabosh!" at any point during the fight, although he did land a stunner in the second, but overall -- Siver won the bout by not telegraphing his attacks and causing Fisher to remain a bit reluctant in throwing his own combinations.
- I suppose some fans yelled out "I told you so!" after the Jamie Yager vs. Rich Attonito battle went down. Yager came out strong with some solid kicks and punches, but his accuracy wasn't great as he missed Attonito on multiple occasions or Attonito was able to block the blows. It was a close first round, but I was definitely thinking Yager might eventually land a few of those combinations and end Attonito's night.
But Yager's gas tank didn't last, as many had stated this week in the lead-up to the evening's action. Once Yager began to slow, Attonito was completely outclassing him. It was surprising how sudden Yager went from fleet-footed to trying to evade Attonito's attacks at all costs. It's obvious his conditioning needs to improve, and it's going to plague his career without any improvement.
- John Gunderson's submission defense was the winner against Mark Holst. Holst used his length to put Gunderson in a lot of danger over the course of the three-round lightweight contest, but Gunderson's experience and wrestling ability kept him out of danger.
- Seth Baczynski probably should have been given the decision over Brad Tavares, but it was a close fight nonetheless. Baczynski's gameplan seemed to revolve heavily around his submission game while Tavares was more willing to strike and land in top control to pummel Baczynski. Unfortunately, Tavares' gameplan relies on him going to the floor, a place where Baczynski has a bit more experience.
Baczynski sunk in two decent triangle choke attempts in the first and third, the third round attempt nearly tapping Tavares. Much of the fight was spent in scrambles on the ground with both men posturing for a positional advantage. Tavares was more of the offensive puncher than Baczynski, but Seth made up for lost points from punching with good guard tactics and submission attempts. Both fighters showed good takedown defense, but Baczynski's willingness to pull guard allowed him to bring the fight to the ground on more than one occasion. Fight could have went either way.
- Josh Bryant provided virtually no offense against Kyle Noke as Noke peppered Bryant with heavy leg kicks in the opening round. Noke also tagged Bryant with a solid right hand in the first, but the barrage of leg kicks and right hands in combination in the second round completely incapacitated Bryant. Huge one-sided beatdown victory for Kyle Noke.
- Chris Camozzi vs. James Hammortree was a very close fight, but Camozzi eventually came out the victor via unanimous decision. I won't comment on it in detail, however, because it was apparent that neither fighter is ready for this level of competition. Both men were out of gas by the second round, and the sloppiness that was displayed in this fight will likely have Camozzi, the winner, on his backside against better competition in the future.
- Travis Browne is a heavy-handed monster, and James McSweeney isn't as good as he thinks he is. Sure, he could probably leg kick me to death at my local watering hole if I get out of hand, but he doesn't seem to have the defense or ground game to stop either heavy-handed punchers, decent wrestlers, or higher-level grapplers. That's a large swath of opponents that will give him problems. Browne won't be at the top of the division by any means at this point in his career, but he's someone to keep an eye on as he could make some waves against mid-echelon heavyweight competition.