The second bout on the Showtime broadcast of the Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley card is a light heavyweight non-title clash between former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi and former UFC contender Keith Jardine. Jardine enters this fight as a late replacement for Mike Kyle. He's on a two-fight win streak after dropping five straight fights, albeit all of them against tough opposition. Mousasi enters this bout with wins over Jake O'Brien and Tatsuya Mizuno after losing his belt to Muhammed Lawal.
Most have dismissed Jardine as an afterthought. More on that later, so here are the questions facing Mousasi who is in something just short of a must-win position:
A year ago at this time, Gegard Mousasi was the next big thing in the world of mixed martial arts. Then he lost his title to Muhammed Lawal and spent the rest of 2010 competing in an absolutely worthless DREAM Light-Heavyweight Grand Prix, where he beat Jake O'Brien (who absolutely should not have been fighting) and Tatsuya Mizuno. At 30-3-1 in his career and still only 25-years old, Mousasi has a ton of time left, but needs to start fighting more relevant fights. He still is a special talent in my mind, but it's time for him to get going and really take fighting in Strikeforce seriously. This fight here against Keith Jardine will be a real interesting test to see where Mousasi's at. If he comes out and dominates, I'd like to see him in a big fight in the near future.
There are multiple dimensions to the game, but here's how the two stack up in the most important phase: the striking. To wit:
Jardine's awkward and inelegant striking is well-documented. His angles and timing are off-tempo and unusual enough to make him a wild card to both send and receive unexpected punches.
In an uncommon medley, Jardine throws wide loopers and paws at weird trajectories while incorporating straight punches. Instead of employing the more traditional stance with linear strikes, Jardine jumbles up his footwork and swats with both hands in circular flurries like an alley cat rearing up on his hind legs.
This is more of a compliment than a critique, as integrating the conventional style of hooks, uppercuts, jabs and crosses in conjunction with his unique style makes him a tough nut to crack -- especially for counter-strikers. He's got a nice one-two and keeps his right hand cocked by his chin, but his left hand always wanders down and leaves a gap. His leg kicks are fierce and his "bread and butter" technique that he fires effectively and often, and he also uses it as a tool to control distance. This forces his opponent to either disengage and stay well beyond their perimeter, or move in close enough to counter-punch and deal intimately with his curious angles and rhythm.
Mousasi is one of those guys who makes things look easy, and his boxing is the best example. He's not flashy in any way; just a textbook fundamentalist. Picture-perfect footwork and overall punching technique are delivered in crisp combinations with smooth head movement, all from a balanced stance and nearly impenetrable guard. Though his hands make up most of his offense, he throws kicks to all levels, snapping off a formidable high kick on occasion.
He has just the clean style of quick left hook and brutal uppercut that Jardine has walked into before. His hands are lightning fast and accurate as hell. I can't even recall Mousasi being dazed by strikes in any of his fights, and since two subs and one decision account for his only losses, I'd put his chin on a fairly bulletproof level.
Considering his impeccable technique, heavy hands, and past performances in kickboxing and MMA, Jardine's abnormal style might score a few times unexpectedly, but he should be seriously out-matched standing.
None of this analysis is incorrect per se. I'm going to go out on a limb, though, and pick Jardine. My reasoning is pretty simple. Yes, Jardine's ability to take punishment is severely compromised. But even in the fights he lost, he won rounds. He nearly defeated Quinton Jackson before that third round disaster. Jardine's defense is porous, but his rhythm is different and Mousasi is a slow starter. Hell, he's a slow third-round fighter. He often fights at the meter set by his opposition. If he lets Jardine do that, he's going to lose a round or two or even the entire fight.
And the strength of schedule could not be more different. Mousasi is talented, but hasn't fought even close to the level of competition Keith Jardine has. That experience provided with a brief respite from hard action and a fighter who isn't aggressive enough, generally, to make Jardine pay by cornering him and making him exchange is a fighter who is ripe for an upset.
My prediction: Keith Jardine by split decision.