September 24, 2007

by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
The Ultimate Fighter has produced a number of top flight fighters currently competing in the UFC, but Keith Jardine and Forrest Griffin may have set themselves apart from their former housemates with their respective performances at UFC 76.

Jardine, who was coming off a :48 second knockout loss to Houston Alexander in his last fight, came into his bout with Chuck Liddell with a picture perfect gameplan on how to chop down the former light heavyweight champion and after a big punch that put Liddell on the ground in the 2nd round, the “Dean of Mean” knew the fight was his to win.

“I knew I was winning that round,” said Jardine about the 2nd session with Liddell. “I knew the first round was a close round, so I guess it gave me a little bit of confidence. I guess I was just focused, I was locked in, I didn’t stop with that punch, I kept moving forward and tried to maintain my focus the whole time.”

It was after that initial round that Jardine’s confidence started to soar when Liddell hit him but the New Mexico fighter didn’t go down.

“At the end of the first round I started to see some openings and I felt I started to turn the tide a little bit and just had a couple little moral victories, I felt that I had,” stated a confident Keith Jardine. “I saw him getting tired a little bit, so I was pretty confident going into the 2nd round of that fight.”

After a three round war with Liddell, it was Keith Jardine who pulled the upset victory, but only by split decision, while most believed Jardine should have won unanimously. Jardine spoke to the dangers of ever leaving a fight in the judges’ hands which again raises questions about the scoring system in MMA.

“Anytime it goes to a decision you should be nervous but I fought the best that I could fight,” said Jardine. “I really felt like I won the last two rounds and the first round was close so I was pretty confident. When I saw the crowd change I was booed and everything at the beginning and at the end the crowd was cheering me when I was raising my hand I knew that I had won.”

Make no mistake that while Jardine was happy with his win, he showed tremendous respect for his opponent, Chuck Liddell.

“Liddell’s the greatest champion in UFC history, the greatest light heavyweight champion ever”

Of course the obvious question now for both Jardine and Griffin are their hopes for a title shot in the future. Jardine remains steadfast that he just wants to fight the best in the world.

“I’ll fight whoever they give me,” Jardine stated. “I’m here to fight all the best fighters with a title or without a title, I don’t care.”

Forrest Griffin on the other hand feels that the division is completely stacked right now and he is just one of many fighters vying for a chance to get at light heavyweight champion, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.

“There’s a lot of good guys, a bunch of them that are pretty good light heavyweights that are at this table,” said Griffin at the UFC 76 post fight press conference. “You’ve got guys like (Wilson) Gouveia, Tito and Rashad if they ever figure out a winner, that guy (motioning towards Keith Jardine), Nakamura, I mean you’ve got a lot of good guys…Wanderlei…so there’s a ton of guys, I want to fight all of those guys. I really just think I’m a pretty decent athlete, I enjoy fighting, I’ll fight anybody.”

During the fight with Shogun one of the more interesting moments that took place was the point in which the Brazilian was in Griffin’s guard and the former Ultimate Fighter winner pushed off the cage with his hands which the referee pushed away and warned Griffin not to do. Griffin started to verbally react to the warning which he did not agree with.

“He kind of put me against the cage and the ref yelled at me which I’m very upset about,” said Griffin. “My fingers did not go through, I was pushing off the cage and I started yelling back at the ref and Shogun elbowed me in the face.”

While the incident was strange, it did not cost Griffin the fight and he went on to earn the UFC’s submission of the night and a $40,000 bonus for his finishing win over Shogun, forcing the tapout by rear naked choke.

As previously mentioned, both fighters are now being asked constantly about their place in the UFC’s light heavyweight title hunt, but Griffin wouldn’t mind getting a loss off of his record first.

“Keith did knock me out,” said Griffin about Jardine who he lost to in December 06. “I’d like the chance to at least attempt to return the favor.”

Both fighters are now on a collision course with anyone who wants to make a name for themselves in the UFC’s light heavyweight division, but the road starts with Keith Jardine and Forrest Griffin after they proved they truly were Ultimate Fighters on Saturday night.