I've watched more or less every major UFC and Strikeforce event with the same dude for the last 4 years. He's my best friend from high school and I've known him for 12 years or so. After watching Keith Jardine take a shellacking from Roger Gracie, this buddy of mine turns to me and says something that I think is really apt:
"Watching Jardine fight is kind of weird. On the one hand, it's fun...but it's also kind of sad."
On reflection, I had to agree. The fight was only fun because Jardine had his ass thoroughly kicked by Gracie and was basically treated like nothing more than a warm body in the ring for two rounds, up until Gracie, presumably, gassed from a weight cut in which Roger managed to weigh the same as myself despite having around, oh, 7 inches of height on me.
The thing is, watching Jardine's fight with Gracie showed that this wasn't just a case of an aging fighter getting a glass chin, unable to take shots any longer. More distressingly, it started to look like Jardine's skillset had deteriorated. He showed no takedown defence to speak of. Furthermore, his striking has always been "unorthodox" but it looked like something entirely different on Saturday night. Exchanges, and basically all significant offence from Keith, seemed to involve Jardine putting his head down and throwing a series of wild hooks in succession, almost all of which would be three miles away from landing. The leg kicks were gone, straight punches were nowhere to be seen, and no bodywork was in sight. I've heard of K-1 level striking but, quite honestly, much of Jardine's output on the feet looked like Bum Fights level striking.
Jardine's unorthodox, rangy striking has frustrated many opponents over the years. Rampage, Liddell, Griffin, many of the sports greats have struggled with the puzzle it presented. Apparently, however, in 2012, there no longer is a puzzle; it's just a guy throwing sloppy hooks without planting his feet and from a huge distance away from his target, striking in a manner that at times seemed more akin to flailing than boxing.
Now, I said that the issue was the deterioration in skill and technique that disturbed me and not a glass jaw, but that's really what makes the case for Jardine's hanging it up so much stronger - he's already shown signs of a questionable chin. His fight with Mousasi was considered a near miracle given that in the UFC, it had become almost a guarantee that he was going out, or at least dropped, anytime he fought anybody with a modicum of punching power. Perhaps the clearest evidence of this, however, came in his first fight outside of the UFC against Trevor Prangley in Shark Fights.
For those who haven't seen the fight, it's a just a case study in a fighter's chin failing him. The old Jardine was there in full force. His striking was as funky as ever and he continually frustrated Prangley in the fight. The problem, however, was that while he would be winning the majority of the fight, anytime Prangley landed, Jardine would be robbled or straight-up dropped. As a result, two judges gave Prangley the decision - sure, Jardine was winning for the majority of the 15 minutes, but how can you give him the decision given that he kept falling over?
The Prangley fight showed a shot chin, and, together with the Rockhold fight (hardly a guy known for brutal knockout power), the Gracie fight showed, quite frankly, a shot fighter. At 36, Jardine is not young and, even worse, he's made a career out of taking a beating and having his face turned into a bloody mess in both wins AND losses. For some reason, it's not just the chin, but the skills that have deteriorated. His striking, once his forte, has been reduced to a parody of himself while his chin can't hold up either.
Jardine is starting to remind me of Jens Pulver in this respect, which is a tragedy. But really, the parallels are striking: a deterioration in skillset and technique to go along with a lessened ability to take punishment, combined with a complete unwillingness and/or inability to hang them up. All that's waiting to happen is for Jardine, like Pulver, to start losing to complete unknowns in tiny venues. After what I saw on Saturday night, we're not a long way from that.
The sad truth is that it's totally understandable why Jardine won't retire - his career is a case of "so close, yet so far." Recall that the fight that started this downward slope in his career was his 15 minute war with Rampage, a fight that he came within a hair of winning and only lost due to getting dropped in the closing seconds of the third round, th is at a time where Rampage was a much-feared competitor and a heavy, heavy favourite to win.
So close, yet so far, just like each time Jardine came close to a title contention - a shocking upset over Chuck Liddell is followed by a brutal KO at the hands of an elderly Wanderlei Silva. A thoroughly impressive knockout of Forrest Griffin is followed by a brutal knockout at the hands of some guy named Houston Alexander.
So close, yet so far. Jardine sniffed that win against Rampage and just missed it and twice lost after picking up the biggest wins of his career. It's easy to see why he wants to keep going: his career is a litany of missed opportunities that he just can't give up for good, like that broke gambler still waiting for that last "big score" after coming so close however many years ago.
But at 2-7-1 in the last 3 years, that score is looking a whole lot dimmer than it did on that fateful night in 2007, when the Dean of Mean did the unthinkable in outlasting the Iceman.