He's been a UFC staple since he first joined the company during season two of The Ultimate Fighter. He has wins over two former light-heavyweight champions -- Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell -- on his resume. But heading into his UFC 110 matchup with Ryan Bader, it's easy to wonder about Keith Jardine's standing in the UFC.
Jardine (15-6-1) has lost three of his last four bouts and won only twice since the start of 2007, with both of those victories coming via split decisions.
To give Jardine his fair due, he's fought a string of stars, from the aforementioned Liddell and Griffin to Wanderlei Silva and Quinton "Ramapage" Jackson, among others, making a long stretch of victories nearly impossible.
The matchup against Bader, however, represents a different stage in his career. While in the previous bouts it was Jardine trying to build his name against proven veterans, this time it's the exact opposite.
The 26-year-old Bader (10-0) takes a step up in competition level in facing the battle-tested Jardine. Bader is someone a lot of people have checked off as a blue-chip prospect who might one day be a real player in the light-heavyweight division. A two-time NCAA All-American while at Arizona State University, he has top-flight wrestling and has shown flashes of brilliance in other areas, though he clearly remains a work in progress.
But the UFC pitting Bader against Jardine on the main card of a pay-per-view in his fourth octagon bout shows that they believe he's ready for a test against a veteran who knows all of the tricks to survival in the sport. It's a dangerous fight, and should Bader lose, it will stop his forward momentum, at least momentarily. Should he lose, however, he has plenty more time to rebuild.
Jardine has a lot more at stake. You can shrug off a loss to Wanderlei Silva or Rampage Jackson, or maybe even Thiago Silva, who at one time were all top ranked light-heavyweights, but he's got to show he's capable of defeating a prospect on the way up to re-establish himself.
Even with four losses in his last six fights, Jardine is still considered by many to be a top 20 light-heavyweight, ahead of Bader in the UFC pecking order. But the 205-pound division is perhaps the deepest in the sport. At 34 years old, Jardine is old enough and smart enough to know that allowing someone to pass him on the list of contenders is an almost uncorrectable mistake at this stage of his career. But if he can't stop Bader's relentless takedowns and power, it's exactly the reality he faces.