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Strikeforce Main Event Breakdown: Luke Rockhold vs. Keith Jardine

Keith JardineA few months ago, Luke Rockhold was given an opportunity to fight for the Strikeforce middleweight title, a decision that many saw as a head-scratcher. Rockhold seized his chance, out-working Ronaldo Souza to capture the belt despite his major underdog status. The placement of Keith Jardine as his first challenger is a similarly puzzling choice, and one that could lead to another surprising champion.

Unlike Rockhold when he got his chance, Jardine comes into the bout as a known commodity, a respected veteran who had a long UFC stint that was marked by inconsistency best illustrated by back-to-back fights in 2007. The first came at UFC 71, when he was knocked out by then little known Houston Alexander in just 48 seconds. Just four months later, he rebounded to shock Chuck Liddell in a decision win.

Jardine's ability to surprise persists. Last April, he signed on short notice to face vaunted fighter Gegard Mousasi, a winner of 17 of his last 18 fights, and gamely fought him to a draw.

The prevailing sentiment regarding Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Jardine is that the challenger can cause some matchup troubles for the champ due to his unique style, but Rockhold (8-1) brings with him some inherent issues to address.

For one, he is very comfortable switching stances. Against Souza, for example, he fought most of the bout as a southpaw, but one fight prior to that, he dropped Paul Bradley twice with right hooks from an orthodox stance. He also knocked down Cory Devela with the same punch, leading to the finish. That type of unpredictability adds an extra element to preparation, and gives more dimension to an already diverse attack.

Though six of his eight career wins have come by submission, Rockhold's striking game has progressed well in his days at American Kickboxing Academy. One of his best attributes is his ability to mix things up.

Rockhold is equally adapt at punching and kicking, and often uses kicks as a lead striking maneuver instead of setting them up with his hands, a tactic that can make an opponent wary of wading forward. Against Souza, for example, he threw almost 90 kicks in the five-round bout.

Rockhold has shown an ability and willingness to trade with any of his opponents, and his chin has proven to be solid. Jacare knocked him down once, and rattled him on at least two other occasions, and Rockhold showed very good recovery skills.

On the ground, he may be at his best. The jiu-jitsu brown belt usually looks to take his opponent's back and look for the rear naked choke. Defensively, he performed superbly against the world-class grappler Souza, never finding himself in real trouble despite being taken down five times.

Jardine, though, is a lot more interested in looking for ground strikes than a tapout. Like his standup, his ground attack is unorthodox, featuring looping right hands that come in the same motion as a pitcher throwing a fastball.

It will be interesting to see how Jardine (17-9-2) approaches Rockhold. Will he want to take him to the mat or go at him standing up? In the past, that wouldn't have been a difficult question to answer. For the vast majority of his UFC run, Jardine rarely tried to take the fight to the mat. In his last four UFC bouts, for example, he tried only three takedown attempts total. But in his most recent fight against Mousasi, he did a complete 180, trying an astounding 13 takedowns (and completing six). That relative success largely helped him salvage a draw in a fight in which he was otherwise soundly outstruck.

Like Rockhold, Jardine is generous with his kicks, but he tends to go low and attack the legs instead of head-hunting. His punching tends to come from unusual angles and combinations conclude with him falling away from his opponent.

Statistically, neither fighter has a big edge. According to FightMetric, Rockhold historically lands strikes at a 38 percent rate, barely better than Jardine's 37 percent. Rockhold is marginally better defensively, avoiding 67 percent of his opponent's strikes, while Jardine avoids 61 percent.

Much will depend on Jardine's approach. Rockhold really doesn't care to look for takedowns -- he's tried only one in his last four fights -- so it's probably up to Jardine to push the fight in a different place. If it stays standing, I'd give Rockhold the edge due to his ability to switch stances, keep a strong pace, and take a shot.

Two other things to consider are Jardine's cut to middleweight and his conditioning. After a decade of fighting, this is his first time competing at 185 pounds, a move that may or may not agree with him. He had some stamina issues against Mousasi, and though that fight was on short notice, it was at his usual weight. The extra stress in the weight cut could negatively impact him, or perhaps his power will transfer better as a middleweight. Either is possible. Anyway, it's not like Rockhold is a small middleweight. He's 6-foot-3 and sturdy, so Jardine is not going to outsize him in any meaningful way.

Overall, Rockhold is a faster and more dangerous fighter than Jardine at this point of his career. In his win over Souza, he showed he can handle himself against a veteran on the ground, and his standup should have him scoring more points as the fight goes along. Jardine's always had the upset formula in his bag of tricks, but this is a fight Rockhold should win, and I'm calling a five-round decision win in his first title defense.