Michael DiSanto, UFC - It might not be the main event at UFC 84, but the fight between Wanderlei Silva and Keith Jardine may be the bout with the most intrigue.
The 31-year-old Silva has already cemented his place in mixed martial arts history as one of the greatest of all time after his unbelievable five-year reign as the 205-lb champion in PRIDE. He owns knockout wins over reigning UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (twice), Kazushi Sakuraba (three times), Yuki Kondo and Guy Mezger.
It might not be the main event at UFC 84, but the fight between Wanderlei Silva and Keith Jardine may be the bout with the most intrigue.
The 31-year-old Silva has already cemented his place in mixed martial arts history as one of the greatest of all time after his unbelievable five-year reign as the 205-lb champion in PRIDE. He owns knockout wins over reigning UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (twice), Kazushi Sakuraba (three times), Yuki Kondo and Guy Mezger. Silva even moved up to heavyweight to compete in the open weight grand prix and bludgeoned granite-chinned Kazuyuki Fujita en route to a first-round technical knockout – only the third knockout loss of Fujita’s career.
But the once-fearsome champion hasn’t won a fight since July 1, 2006, dropping three consecutive fights since that date, including a drop-down, drag-out war with Chuck Liddell four days after Christmas in Silva’s return to the UFC, causing many to question whether the “Axe Murderer” is deep into a late-career decline that so many champions ultimately experience before stepping away from the game. Suffice to say, 0-3 since July 2006 and 2-4 since August 2005 leaves Silva desperately needing a victory if he wants resume his standing as one of the best light heavyweights.
His opponent on May 24 is in a very different situation.
Despite being a few months older than Silva, Keith Jardine has yet to fight for a title. In fact, he wasn’t considered by most to be a legitimate contender at 205 lbs until he scored a dramatic first-round knockout over Forrest Griffin in late 2006. A quick, though spectacular, 41-second knockout loss to Houston Alexander in his next bout caused many to question whether the win over Griffin was a fluke. Jardine emphatically answered that question last September, scoring a hard-fought split-decision victory over Chuck Liddell.
The win over Liddell firmly established Jardine as one of the top light heavies in the UFC and placed him on the short list of contenders to Rampage’s crown. In fact, if he beats Silva, he may very well be next in line after Rampage and Griffin lock horns in July.
With Silva seemingly on the decline and Jardine still basking in the glow of his win over Liddell, one would think that the “Dean of Mean” would be the betting favorite heading into UFC 84. But that is not the case. Jardine is almost a two-to-one underdog, presumably more because of Silva’s awesome reputation and star power with casual fans than the actual matchup.
It would be a huge mistake, however, for anyone, particularly Jardine, to count out Silva in this fight because all it takes is one knee to the jaw and this fight is over.
Jardine’s biggest flaw is his tendency to duck his head and lean forward when initiating an exchange of punches. While that protects his jaw from overhand rights or left hooks, it leaves him very exposed to uppercuts and knee strikes.
Silva isn’t much of an uppercut guy, opting instead to throw his punches in wild, overhand fashion, but knee strikes are his bread and butter. As Jardine lunges in with his head down, Silva doesn’t need to try and time him with a knee – something that is very difficult to do. Instead, he can step inside Jardine’s punches and grab the back of his neck and secure a Thai clinch. At that point, the end is near.
UFC fans are well acquainted with the damage that knees can cause after watching Anderson Silva terrorize the welterweight division. Wanderlei Silva is equally, if not more, effective with knee strikes than his namesake one division down.
Think otherwise? Get out the DVD of PRIDE 28 – High Octane from Halloween Night 2004. Silva put Rampage in just such a clinch and fired a series of knee strikes to the chin and nose. The end result was one of the most dramatic images of 2004 – a completely unconscious Rampage falling face first into the bottom two ropes as a bloodied (not from his blood, but from Rampage’s blood) Silva stood with his arms raised in triumph.
If Jardine isn’t careful, we could see a repeat of that on May 24.
Silva obviously needs to do more than just focus on knee strikes, as he may be unable to get Jardine in a Thai clinch, so another key for him is to try and time a Jardine lead left hook with a counter overhand right.
Jardine tends to throw a very wide, slapping left hook, particularly when he leads with it. He does this because he keeps his left hand pretty far from his body, which makes it difficult to throw a traditional left hook.
The punch is an effective one because it whips around and finds its mark against guys who don’t keep their right hand glued to their cheek in defense. But throwing a left hook in that fashion dramatically reduces its power, which means Silva can run the risk of catching one on the jaw as he tries to time the shot and counter it with an overhand right.
Silva isn’t the greatest “slip and punch” counterpuncher. He is more effective with his fists when engaging in wild exchanges. Even though his punches go well beyond what most consider to be “looping,” he generates tremendous speed and power with both hands. And he is very, very comfortable planting his feet and firing both fists with reckless abandon.
When he sees Jardine start to lead with a left hook, rather than running in and ducking with a one-two, the Axe Murderer should sit down and throw a homerun overhand right and then begin his rapid-fire attack. If one of his massive punches find the mark, it could be lights out. If not, it still creates enough of a diversion for Silva to step inside and secure the clinch for his vaunted knees.
Whereas Silva wants this fight to unfold on the inside, Jardine would be best served if he maintains the distance and fights on the outside. The Greg Jackson-trained fighter struggled in the first round of his bout with Liddell because the Iceman chased him down with aggressive punches, rather than standing back and countering. Once Liddell got knocked down, he became much more of a counterpuncher, which fits with his normal approach to fighting.
Jardine was able to hammer Liddell from the outside by mixing lead leg kicks and kicks to the body with those same kicks at the end of combinations. Liddell simply had no answer for Jardine’s kicks, and by the end of the fight, the left side of his torso was a grotesque shade of purple. If Jardine is able to keep the fight on the outside against Silva, he should be able to enjoy similar success with his kicks.
Unlike Liddell, who stands in a deep, crouching stance, Silva stands more upright, thus he is much more adept at checking leg kicks. Lead leg kicks, therefore, likely will not be as effective against him as they were against Liddell. But when he plants and throws punches, he absolutely sits down on his shots, which will make counter leg kicks and kicks to the body at the end of combinations particularly effective against Silva.
Few guys truly commit to leg kicks or kicks to the body. Jardine is not among them. His kicks are among the hardest, most damaging strikes in the 205-lb division. His kicks sap the power from his opponent, set up big right hands and generally keep an opponent off guard. Thus, Jardine should be just as committed to firing kicks with monotonous regularity against Silva as he was against Liddell.
If Jardine throws upwards of 10 kicks per round, mixed between leg kicks and kicks to the body, he stands a great chance of winning the fight, if not stopping Silva inside the distance. He needs to be careful, however, of leading too often with kicks. He was very open to counter left hooks when he threw lead kicks against Liddell because he is very slow to bring his right hand back up in a defensive position after throwing the kick.
Fortunately for him, the Dean of Mean avoided eating a left hook on the button that night. But he may not be quite so lucky against Silva. Thus, Jardine needs to focus on quickly getting his right hand back up into a protective position after firing leg kicks or kicks to the body.
Jardine also knows that Silva’s punches are thrown from downtown Las Vegas, so he should be able to step inside and fire a counter right hand bomb down the center in search of a knockout once Silva starts to unload. That is how Jardine scored a knockdown – it was a perfect straight right hand to the jaw during an exchange – and there is no reason why he cannot do the same thing to Silva.
Even though Silva is the betting favorite, it is difficult to pick against Jardine in this fight. Silva hasn’t looked like himself in the past few years, though he came close to returning to form in his bout against Liddell last December.
Then again, it would be a mistake to count out a great champion like Silva in any fight where a guy decides to stand and trade with him, which is exactly what Jardine is expected to do.