Monday, March 19, 2007

Jardine fights way into title mix

By Steve Sievert

With one more win, Forrest Griffin was likely in as the next opponent for UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell. Unfortunately for Griffin, he experienced a close encounter with Keith Jardine's right hand at UFC 66 in December.

Jardine upset Griffin with a technical-knockout victory — an outcome that shook up the 205-pound division and transformed Jardine from perennial underdog to title contender.

"They were really building up Forrest as one of the top contenders for the title shot, but I think the way I beat him, I took that position," said Jardine, who earned a UFC spot after his performance during the second season of The Ultimate Fighter reality show. "Right now, people have to consider me whenever they talk about who's a contender for the title."

The 31-year-old "Dean of Mean" trained for the fight against Griffin expecting a give-and-take, three-round battle of attrition. Griffin had been stopped only once in 16 fights and had never been knocked out by a punch.

Instead, Jardine finished the season one TUF champ with a flurry of nine unanswered shots in the first round after landing a right hook-left uppercut combination that dropped Griffin to the mat.

"I wasn't surprised," Jardine said of his breakthrough effort. "I had hoped to finish it somewhere in the second round. I had a lot of confidence going into that fight."

Internet message boards were heating up earlier this month with word that Tito Ortiz would be next in line for Jardine at UFC 71 in May. The speculation was premature.

"They (UFC) really don't know who I'm fighting yet," Jardine said. "Whoever I fight next, I'm going to beat, so they've gotta figure out who they want to risk. They know I'm a contender, but I think they want to build me up a bit more."

Jardine will be in action at UFC 71, but Ortiz won't provide the opposition. Ortiz is expected to face Jardine's training partner, Rashad Evans, in July.

"I want to fight a top contender," Jardine said. "I want to fight Tito, and I'd love to have the honor of fighting Chuck, but I might get someone who's a steppingstone. I don't like steppingstones. Man, they're hard to train for. They're trying to take what you have."

Griffin can attest to that.

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