If Jardine beats odds, Strikeforce gets odder

January, 6, 2012
1/06/12
4:42
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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If Saturday's Strikeforce card lacks the kind of inherent drama you’re used to, think of it like this -- what happens if Keith Jardine beats Luke Rockhold for the middleweight title? That would have to look like a burning zeppelin falling out of the sky to Strikeforce. In the pursuit of the best fighters in the world in Zuffa’s “second organization,” we’d turn up a 36-year-old UFC castoff who has gone 3-6-1 in his last 10 fights. What a spectacular thud that would be.

And it all started with a bit of confusion.

The first curiosity was why would Jardine -- who is referred to as a “journeyman” for lack of better nouns -- get a title shot to begin with? Hadn’t he developed a serious button on the point of his chin last we’d seen, getting knocked into twitching fits by Wanderlei Silva, Thiago Silva and Ryan Bader? In fact, his only wins in the last four years are a narrow split decision victory over Brandon Vera, and wins over Aron Lofton and Francisco France. Not exactly the stuff of champions -- nor even contenders. His Strikeforce debut against Gegard Mousasi was officially scored a draw (the costly point deduction), but, using the schoolyard gauge, did you see his face afterwards? It was like a dropped cobbler.
[+] EnlargeKeith Jardine
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesKeith Jardine has had his back against the wall before -- and upended the odds.

Of course, we now know the reason he was given the shot was out of necessity. The Jan. 7 date and venue were booked, and Rockhold needed an opponent. Ronaldo Souza, expecting a child, wasn’t available for the immediate rematch. Everybody else lacked a name, willingness, or credentials. So Jardine was dialed based on these ideas and availability. And it’s an opportunity that, if it’s not warranted, should be savored by the “Dean of Mean.” It’s a gift from nowhere, just like getting the fight with Mousasi.

It doesn’t mean that Scott Coker won’t be watching through his fingers a little bit. Rockhold is one of the fresh, lively pieces on Strikeforce’s roster. He is a (re)building block.

Should he lose as a 4-to-1 favorite against a guy “on his way out,” this would either A) feel like we drastically overvalued him after his victory over Souza or B) signal the second rising of the man whose first rising in the UFC was fairly pedestrian. Not to mention the double-edged sword thing going on -- the feeling that should Jardine be successful in regaining some personal relevancy, he contributes in making Strikeforce that much more irrelevant.

It adds up to a Jardine win being the worst-case scenario.

And it’s a promotion with bad scenarios all over the place to begin with. The welterweight belt has a flashing vacancy sign with burnt out bulbs. Ditto the light heavyweight division. And the heavyweight class is about to go away for good. Everything is haywire with Strikeforce, which Zuffa has intentions to use as a feeder league, or as a viable second stand-alone promotion, or as a hub to women’s MMA, or as a calico mishmash of the three (per usual).

Right now it looks like a private showcase of Gilbert Melendez and Luke Rockhold in the last anointed men’s divisions. Remove Rockhold and insert Jardine and ... well, yeah, it looks like Melendez is under quarantine.

It’s nothing scathing towards Jardine, either, because none of this is his fault. His drop to middleweight is meant to be a reinvention, and he’s a passionate guy whose concern is winning, not the bloody aftermath. It would be more meaningful if he’d beaten some top-ranked middleweights along the way, but he doesn’t have to apologize if he gets a title offer, nor if people agree with it. Who knows? Maybe he knocks out Rockhold like he did Forrest Griffin. Maybe he shows up at 185 pounds looking like the leg-whipping beast that downed Chuck Liddell at UFC 76.

It’s at least possible he does.

And that possibility has got to send a shudder down matchmaker Sean Shelby’s spine.

If it doesn’t? Well, then the direction of Strikeforce should send a shudder down the spines of those who’ve somehow maintained their interest.

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