The People vs. Keith Jardine
What is it about Jardine that doesn't endear him to MMA fans?
No one boos Jardine, exactly, but no one really cheers for him. Ask why he invites apathy, and no one will be able to articulate a reason.
He's hardly a reluctant slugger: He'll wade in and get dirty, as he did against Chuck Liddell. He's not a braggart, not a reformed street thug with a mouth bigger than his ability. He holds wins over three of the biggest names in the 205-pound division: former champions Liddell and Forrest Griffin, and Brandon Vera.
So what's the problem? Why accuse Jardine of contributing to an overpriced, underwhelming UFC 96? (Pay-per-view price of $44.95, plus applicable sales taxes.)
Three possible answers:
1. He hears the final bell nearly 50 percent of the time. There are no spectacular finishes in the Jardine arsenal: If he's going to win, it's likely going to be because he sucks you into a war of attrition, taxing your conditioning and earning the victory by unraveling a few more feet of guts.
Put more succinctly: He doesn't win pretty.
2. He's been broken before. If Jardine's roughhouse style remained unsolved, there would be some mystery -- as in the case of Lyoto Machida -- as to whether this fight will be the one in which he's figured out.
Instead, he's suffered abrupt batterings that have made him look like Peter McNeely to his opponent's Mike Tyson. Houston Alexander made him forget the entire third grade; Wanderlei Silva used his head for batting practice. There's no aura surrounding his methodology. He's talented but not immune to a primitive bee swarm of an attack.
3. He's kind of a bore. Not necessarily athletically, but in general. In a sport full of big archetypes, he looks the part of a Hell's Angel on parole: nasty, frightening, prone to clubbing people with a plumber's wrench.
But that's about where the color ends. His attitude isn't particularly intimidating. (He seems like a pretty pleasant guy, actually.) He doesn't say anything to make the audience love him or hate him. As a result, there's not much emotional investment in the outcome. If he beats Jackson, hey, he's delivered the upset special on a platter before. If he doesn't, it's just the latest in a line of losses that didn't shake anyone's ground.
Bizarrely, it's this kind of collective public coma that makes me want to root for the guy. Jardine puts in his hours at Greg Jackson's gym in Albuquerque, N.M., sweats and bleeds in just as much volume as anyone in the sport and enjoys few of the fringe benefits. I've yet to see him endorse a corporate giant (Rashad Evans and Microsoft) or throw an after-party (everyone else).
Maybe his lack of a niche is his niche: the blue-collar guy who doesn't feel the need to invent a persona or take big risks in order to rally a following. He goes to the gym and does his job: no fanfare, no fireworks, little attention. That's 95 percent of the working population.
I doubt much would change if he goes on to beat Jackson on Saturday. It puts him on the fast track to nowhere, because he and Evans have already declared they would never fight each other. Jardine could go on to defeat the majority of the UFC's light heavyweights and probably never be a substantial ticket draw.
Is it too bad? That depends on Jardine. We're too quick to assume that everyone in the sport clamors for the accompanying attention and ego inflation. In some cases, athletes enjoy the competition -- and the relative anonymity of flying under the radar.
One advantage to being the invisible man: no one sees you coming.
Jake Rossen is a contributor to Sherdog.com.