The only thing standing between Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and an opportunity to regain the UFC light heavyweight title that he lost to Forrest Griffin at UFC 86 last July was Keith Jardine.
On Saturday night during UFC 96 at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, Jackson clinched a title shot against current 205 pound champion Rashad Evans after outpointing Jardine for three rounds en route to a unanimous decision victory.
Displaying head-jerking punching power and several successful takedown attempts, Jackson bested Jardine by scores of 29-28, 29-28, 30-27 on the judges’ scorecards.
Jardine kept things close in the first, controlling the distance between the two combatants while also displaying the better command of the Octagon. However, the fight opened up in the second round. While Jardine appeared to have Jackson rocked at one point, Jackson still took the round in decisive fashion by scoring the first knockdown of the fight.
The two fighters then employed a stick-and-move philosophy to open the third round with Jackson missing on a combination. However, Jackson began to gain momentum following a successful double leg takedown attempt.
Soon after the takedown, Jardine was able to get to his feet and land several leg kicks with the two fighters clinching up and exchanging positions against the cage while met with a chorus of boos.
After referee Yves Lavigne separated the two fighters, Jackson dazed Jardine with a combination and then put an exclamation point on the round by knocking Jardine down for the second time in the fight just seconds before the final bell.
With the win, Jackson is now expected to challenge Evans at UFC 98 on May 23. While the UFC has yet to officially announce the matchup, Evans did reveal during the broadcast that his first title defense had been moved up to UFC 98 in place of the previously scheduled main event between Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir. Play-by-play announcer Mike Goldberg confirmed that Evans’ opponent would be Lyoto Machida if Jardine won but that Jackson would get the shot if he was able to secure a victory over Jardine.
During his post-fight interview, Jackson yelled “I want my belt back!” with Evans entering the cage at that point. The two engaged in a staredown and an extended verbal exchange between the two was caught on mic.
Despite the intense words between the two, Jackson and Evans shook hands before Jackson walked away. However, Jackson issued one parting salvo by promising that there would be “black-on-black crime” at UFC 98.
In the night’s co-main event, former NCAA Division II wrestling and football All-American Shane Carwin improved to 11-0 with his knockout of former UFC heavyweight title challenger Gabriel Gonzaga just 1:09 into the fight.
Despite the quick defeat, Gonzaga began the fight in a composed manner and even rocked Carwin. Despite being in obvious trouble, Carwin fought through adversity and recorded the eleventh first round stoppage of his career.
Former NCAA champion Mark Munoz was not as successful as Carwin, as he was defeated by hometown favorite and season three veteran of The Ultimate Fighter Matt Hamill.
Looking very raw with his striking ability and unable to take Hamill down, Munoz was knocked out cold following a head kick from Hamill that forced a stop to the bout at 3:53 of round 1.
Replays clearly showed that Hamill’s shin slammed into the temple of Munoz head, leaving him unconscious before he even hit the ground. According to color announcer Joe Rogan, Munoz was out for several minutes.
During Hamill’s post-fight interview, medical personnel could be seen entering the ring with a stretcher. The UFC issued no further updates on Munoz’s condition during the telecast.
In the card’s two other televised bouts, Gray Maynard moved to 7-0 following a unanimous decision victory over Jim Miller while Matt Brown obliterated Pete Sell with strikes, forcing a stop to their contest just 1:32 into their fight.
On the undercard, chronic underachievers Brandon Vera and Kendall Grove both turned in outstanding performances en route to stoppage victories.
Matched up against jiu-jitsu black belt Mike Patt, Vera decimated the Jorge Gurgel team member with myriad leg kicks. Patt was knocked down several times during the course of the fight as a result of the kicks and the fight was finally stopped at 1:27 of round 2.
Grove, who was put on notice last week by UFC President Dana White, wasted little time in TKO’ing Canadian middleweight Jason Day at 1:32 of round 1.
Additional undercard results saw Jason Brilz defeat Tim Boetsch via unanimous decision, Tamdan McCrory TKO Ryan Madigan at 3:35 of round 1, and Shane Nelson beat Aaron Riley via TKO just 44 seconds into their fight in a decision that many pundits considered a premature stoppage.