There are middleweights, and then there are guys like Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold.
Rockhold's win this past September over Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza was a close encounter that saw only one judge give all 25 minutes to the AKA product, who makes the first defense of his belt tonight against "The Dean of Mean," Keith Jardine.
The UFC veteran replaces Tim Kennedy, who was supposed to initially face Rockhold before Kennedy had to pull out due to injury, and while Jardine will be making his middleweight debut, fans are now expecting Jardine to put on a competitive challenge just 24 hours removed from weighing in on the mark at 185 pounds.
Even at 185 pounds, Jardine's awkward offense is believed to be every bit as problematic for Rockhold to contend with as it was when Jardine was fighting at light heavyweight.
How, then, can Rockhold expect to handle his first title defense against such an awkward opponent?
Chalk it up to Rockhold's vast improvements as a fighter, coupled in with the training he's gotten at AKA, training with King Mo, Daniel Cormier, Cain Velasquez, Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch and others at the Bob Cook-operated camp.
Rockhold was widely seen as more a grappler than a striker early on in his career, but over time, his striking has gotten better and better, which has helped to complete his entire fight arsenal gradually. He's also managed to be actively aggressive in his fights, regardless of where the fights go.
Whether on the feet or on the ground, Rockhold will test Jardine as he's never been tested before.
Barring a mid-fight meltdown, Rockhold's progression as a fighter will continue as his unorthodox striking and aggressive grappling prevail over a game opponent that may very well be outclassed on this night.
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