Strikeforce: Gegard Mousasi vs. Keith Jardine In-Depth Preview

Gegard Mousasi vs. Keith Jardine

In a whirlwind of insipid nicknames, "The Dean of Mean" Keith Jardine fills in for an injured Mike "Mac" Kyle to face Gegard "Dreamcatcher" Mousasi on Saturday's Strikeforce card.

A quick glance at their recent performances might justify betting lines as high as -575 in favor of Mousasi, who has won seventeen of his last eighteen, with explosive wrestler Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal accounting for his only flaw. Jardine is batting a mediocre .500 in his last sixteen fights, winning two of his last five, and they were 6-2 Francisco France and 8-5 Aron Lofton. 

Regardless, this last minute swap gives the card more oomph and the rising Dutch-Armenian a more robust challenge. Jardine has squared off with 'the who's who in the canoe' at 205-pounds, many of whom were top-tenners. Let's chronicle the list of bad-asses Jardine has battled:  Whitehead, Bonnar, Gouveia, Griffin, Alexander, Liddell, Wand, Vera, Rampage, Thiago, Bader, and Hamill.

Mousasi has taken on all comers and done his best to challenge himself outside of the UFC's bubble, but the edge in experience definitely rests with Jardine. We applaud fighters for courageously diving in against the best, and Jardine has done just that. Additionally, he accepted this fight with one week of notice, so you have to respect his courage and valor.

Perhaps through osmosis after training with the stoic Fedor Emelianenko, 30-3-1 Gegard Mousasi shuffles into the cage looking like most people do when they first wake up in the morning. Seeming half asleep and a little confused, or maybe on the verge of a lazy yawn, complete with messy hair and a five o'clock shadow, I've often thought he'd interrupt the referee giving final instructions to ask if there's time for a cup of coffee or to grab an Egg McMuffin.

It's ironic that this apparently disinterested and aloof character then erupts into a thunderstorm of sheer violence less than a minute later.

Find the full analysis after the fold.

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Out of his 30 wins, Mousasi has quite convincingly finished 27 of his opponents, 24 of them in the first round. He's a finely tuned and well balanced machine of destruction, battering 17 victims by TKO and 10 by submission. 

He's defeated middleweights, light-heavyweights, and heavyweights; a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion, a few K-1 champions (under MMA and kickboxing rules), and a couple of Olympic-rate Judo players. Under the DREAM banner, he was the middleweight champion, middleweight Gran Prix champion, light-heavyweight champion, and light-heavyweight Grand Prix champion. He was also the first fighter to hold multiple weight class titles in DREAM, and the Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion.

What makes all those accomplishments even more impressive is that Mousasi is only 25 years old.

Variables

Preparation: Having less than a week to prepare probably favors Jardine more than Mousasi. It gives him that win/win advantage of having less at stake considering the growing hype surrounding Mousasi, and Jardine's unique style might seem even more foreign and complex without much time to study tape on him. 

Jardine's chin: Keith's ability to take a punch is a question mark. Just when you think Alexander proves it's soft, he takes a few square from Liddell, then gets clobbered by Wand. He absorbed a spoonful from Rampage, then dropped to Thiago and Bader. Bearing in mind that he's traded with a grocery list of prestigious knockout artists, I really have no idea what to expect when his chin meets leather.

Striking Phase

Jardine's awkward and inelegant striking is well-documented. His angles and timing are off-tempo and unusual enough to make him a wild card to both send and receive unexpected punches. 

In an uncommon medley, Jardine throws wide loopers and paws at weird trajectories while incorporating straight punches. Instead of employing the more traditional stance with linear strikes, Jardine jumbles up his footwork and swats with both hands in circular flurries like an alley cat rearing up on his hind legs.

This is more of a compliment than a critique, as integrating the conventional style of hooks, uppercuts, jabs and crosses in conjunction with his unique style makes him a tough nut to crack -- especially for counter-strikers. He's got a nice one-two and keeps his right hand cocked by his chin, but his left hand always wanders down and leaves a gap. His leg kicks are fierce and his "bread and butter" technique that he fires effectively and often, and he also uses it as a tool to control distance. This forces his opponent to either disengage and stay well beyond  their perimeter, or move in close enough to counter-punch and deal intimately with his curious angles and rhythm.

Mousasi is one of those guys who makes things look easy, and his boxing is the best example. He's not flashy in any way; just a textbook fundamentalist. Picture-perfect footwork and overall punching technique are delivered in crisp combinations with smooth head movement, all from a balanced stance and nearly impenetrable guard. Though his hands make up most of his offense, he throws kicks to all levels, snapping off a formidable high kick on occasion.

He has just the clean style of quick left hook and brutal uppercut that Jardine has walked into before. His hands are lightning fast and accurate as hell. I can't even recall Mousasi being dazed by strikes in any of his fights, and since two subs and one decision account for his only losses, I'd put his chin on a fairly bulletproof level.

Considering his impeccable technique, heavy hands, and past performances in kickboxing and MMA, Jardine's abnormal style might score a few times unexpectedly, but he should be seriously out-matched standing.

Advantage:  Mousasi

Clinch Phase

Things don't get any easier for Jardine in the clinch, where Mousasi is a Judo black belt and has held his own against larger and stronger fighters. The clinch has served as the fuse to many Mx26w2_mediumof Mousasi's devastating finishes, as Renato Sobral found out the hard way. 

His composure when striking allows him to anticipate advances and dig underhooks, and he loves to plant punches with one hand while pushing his opponent off-balance with the other. His base is strong and he uses his hips well for leverage, which frees his upper-body to defend first, then punish with precise and powerful strikes.

Jardine is not really weak or inept anywhere, but his clinch game is somewhat commonplace. He tends to grab the over-under and dirty box, but leaves himself exposed when doing so, and seems more effective working his stand-up or ground rather than this transitional stage. He's a bit of a "fence leaner" with fairly primitive clinch skills.

Accomplished judokas Hector Lombard and Sokoudjou were able to ground him from the clinch, but a methodical defense eventually led to Mousasi turning the tables in one way or another. Other than that, it's mostly been floor-level freestyle wrestling techniques that Mousasi has struggled to fend off, and conversely, Jardine has absorbed a good amount of his fight-ending blows either inside or on his way to the clinch.

Advantage:  Mousasi

Grappling Phase

If there is a chink in Mousasi's armor, it's that he's been susceptible to being taken down. Denis Kang, Sokoudjou, Lombard, Dong Sik Yoon and "King Mo" were all able to put him on his back. This, along with his aforementioned submission losses (even if they were eons ago), make the ground Jardine's best option.

Before Jardine appeared on "The Ultimate Fighter", he was mostly known for his sound grappling. He has thunderous hammerfists and punches from the top and a keen grasp of positions and submissions. His best play is the armbar or taking the back and threatening with chokes, but mostly just pestering with strikes and aggressively seeking to advance position.

In a three-round affair, it's very conceivable for Jardine to distract with strikes and spring a takedown, then stay active to climb ahead on the cards. Mousasi has also risked dangerous positions when regaining his guard or getting back to his feet, and Keith is smart and experienced enough to grab guillotines and wrench chokes when the chances arise.

This strategy would also help to neutralize Mousasi's electric striking. I can see Jardine giving Mousasi a run once the fight hits the ground; it's getting there that presents the problem.

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Mousasi opens a volatile can of up-kick repellant from his back, which did some damage to King Mo, knocked Jacare out, and caused him to coax Denis Kang into a triangle. In my favorite example in the gif to the left, watch Mousasi hit a gorgeous inside trip from his back on a standing Sokoudjou, who's an athletic specimen with excellent takedown defense. Gegard hooks a foot inside with his right and boots a hip with his left to send Sokoudjou flailing.

For ground-and-pound, Mousasi has the "Peyote Punches" that sent Babalu straight to the Spirit World, and he's also developed solid submission defense. Even though I think Jardine could capitalize on Mousasi's propensity to allow unfavorable positions and flatter the judges with a few well-timed takedowns, it's not enough to even the scales.

Advantage:  Mousasi (slight)

Summary

I think this is a highly appealing fight where Jardine could surprise people with his experience and strategy. The right game-plan could allow him to squeak out a decision, as one takedown and strong top control in two rounds can win him the fight.

With that disclaimer, Mousasi's raw power and well-rounded flavor is likely to overwhelm Jardine with massive punches out of nowhere.

My Prediction:  Mousasi by TKO

Gifs from "Caposa"

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