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Keith Jardine returns to big stage as late replacement on Strikeforce card

Gegard Mousasi, Jardine’s opponent, looks to make another title push

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Justin M. Bowen

A bloodied Keith Jardine takes a break during a stop in the action during his fight against Matt Hamill in the Ultimate Fighter Season 11 Finale at the Pearl inside the Palms last June. Jardine lost a split decision and the UFC released him shortly after.

SAN DIEGO — The personalities of veteran fighter Keith Jardine and his high-profile coach Greg Jackson can be accurately summed up with one anecdote from last week.

Jardine (17-9-1) accepted a late-notice light heavyweight bout against Dutch striker Gegard Mousasi (30-3-1) on Saturday’s Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley card last Thursday and called Jackson to talk about it.

Although Jackson was happy for him, he immediately started lamenting that they didn’t have much time to prepare for a fighter of Mousasi’s caliber. Jardine heard enough.

“I’m like, ‘Greg, when it comes down to it, it’s just another (expletive) fight, man,” Jardine said. “That’s how I feel about all fighters.”

Jardine’s always-ready warrior’s mentality is what endeared him to fans during a five-year run in the UFC. But it also contributed to his downfall, as UFC cut Jardine after his fourth straight defeat last June.

With UFC’s acquisition of Strikeforce, the fight against Mousasi — which is the second of four fights televised by Showtime via tape delay at 10 Saturday night — is a chance for Jardine to get back in the organization. It’s an opportunity Jardine, who went 6-7 in the UFC and 2-1 on small regional MMA shows the last six months, couldn’t let pass.

“Someone like Mousasi, how could you turn that fight down,” Jardine asked. “If it was someone I had never heard of, it would have been easy. But I like to step up and fight the big fights and that’s what Mousasi is.”

Mousasi is the former 205-pound Strikeforce champion. He lost the belt a year ago in an upset to Muhammed Lawal and hasn’t fought in America since.

He won two fights in Japanese promotion DREAM during that span, but saw two Strikeforce bouts fall through. Mousasi feared he was headed toward the third canceled fight last week when previously announced opponent Mike Kyle pulled out with a broken hand.

Strikeforce officials offered Jardine as a replacement. Mousasi quickly accepted.

“I’m thankful for Keith Jardine taking the fight,” Mousasi said. “It’s going to be an exciting fight.”

Although Mousasi knew Jardine’s name and his basic career path, he said he had only watched him fight one round ever. That’s surprising considering how much time Jardine spent in the UFC spotlight and means Mousasi didn’t watch any film to alter his gameplan with the opponent switch.

But Jardine wasn’t offended in any way.

“It makes sense,” Jardine said. “It’s like I’ve only watched a little bit of him because of how much you’ve got to game plan for in a couple of days.”

The unfamiliarity should breed a raw slugfest between the two. Jardine wouldn’t have it any other way.

It sounds more exciting than watching his nephews’ tee ball games, which he thought would be his only athletic pursuit for a while.

“I don’t like turning down fights, especially if I know who the person is when I look at the name,” Jardine said. “I look at it as almost like backing down from a fight on the street.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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