Strikeforce middleweight champ defends for first time Saturday
The current Strikeforce 185-pound champion will make his first title defense when he steps into the hexagon to face “The Dean of Mean” this Saturday, and he has no problem providing a proper welcome for the UFC veteran.
"I think it’s going to be an issue with him coming down weight to 185 pounds," Rockhold said. "I think his cardio has been questionable, and coming down to 185 pounds I believe should hurt him a little bit. My cardio is off the charts, and I’m looking to expose him in every area. I’m going to really put the pressure on him and this fight will be in my favor the longer it goes.
“Keith Jardine comes to fight, and if you’ve watched my fights in the past, you know I’m coming straight after him. I don’t sit around and wait. I pick my shots, fight clean and fight hard. Fans are going to see a great fight."
Jardine is well known for having one of the most unorthodox striking styles in all of mixed martial arts. His herky-jerky approach has earned him key victories over former UFC champions Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin. Despite the confusion Jardine has caused opponents in the past, Rockhold believes he is well prepared for whatever is brought to the table.
“You have to study and do your homework,” Rockhold said. “You have to learn what you can about a guy and become aware of what his most dangerous assets are. For Jardine, his right hand is one of his strongest points. He throws punches from every possible position, so I have to keep my hands up and stay tight.
“I have to keep my left hand high up in this fight. I have to be fast, beat him to the punch and out-counter him. I have to be sharp. I can’t get too carried away and let the fight reach brawl status. I like to brawl sometimes in the gym, and I have to keep that out of my head. I’m going to pick my shots and be the faster fighter.
“Speed is going to be a big factor. Jardine throws looping punches and mine come in straight. I should be landing first, and that is the game plan: Be first and be faster. I need to get in and out, counter, and I think that will be what it takes to beat Keith Jardine.”
While both fighters prefer to keep the fight standing, there are drastic differences in their styles. Rockhold uses length and reach to his advantage, while Jardine is notorious for pulling his opponents into close range where he can turn the fight into a brawl.
“[Jardine] can try to make it an ugly, dirty fight, but he has to get to me first,” Rockhold said. “I’m faster and my footwork is better than his. He’s going to try to keep coming forward to force that brawl, and I’m going to keep shutting him down. I’m going to stay on the outside and hurt him. I believe my clinch work will dominate him when he gets too close.
“I know he wants to brawl inside, and I’m not going to do that. He has a small window to win this fight and I’m not going to give it to him. I’m always looking to fight at my biggest advantage, and that is how it’s going to be. He is going to try to make it a brawl, and if he continues to pursue it, I might take him down and sit him on his ass.
“I’m prepared to use everything in this fight. My jiu-jitsu is better than his, and I believe I’m one of the elite grapplers in the division. I might be a little more offensive with my wrestling, take him down and expose that part of his game. My wrestling is good, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to get the win.”
Rockhold’s reign as the Strikeforce middleweight champion started during a period where the organization’s future seemed uncertain. After the Zuffa purchase, three of the five divisional champions made their way to the UFC, leaving Rockhold in short company as a current titleholder. Now that Zuffa has announced it is committed to seeing Strikeforce thrive, Rockhold is looking to get the right level of competition to advance his career.
“I want to fight guys who have earned their spot,” Rockhold said. “Keith Jardine is more of a last-minute replacement – a short-notice fight, and it is what it is. In the future, I want to fight top guys that will move me up in the divisional rankings. Most of the top-ranked guys are all in the UFC. In most of the rankings, I’m the only guy in the Top 10 who isn’t in the UFC. I hope they can bring in new blood, some new contenders, because we need to find out who the true No. 1 contender is in this sport. Anderson Silva is the best, no doubt, but I believe I can compete and beat anyone in this division.
“I’m more than happy to welcome anyone that comes over. The same goes for some of the other fighters, as well. My teammate (Muhammed) 'King Mo' (Lawal) is one of the only fighters I feel who can beat Jon Jones in the light heavyweight division. I don’t feel many people match up with him the way Mo does. Gilbert Melendez is another friend of mine, and he needs competition. I think bringing over some top contenders could really do big things for Strikeforce.”