The UFC Light Heavyweight division is ultra-competitive, and both Keith Jardine and Thiago Silva will be looking to re-establish themselves next weekend, as the two touch gloves and thrown down at UFC 102.
Both men enter the cage coming off defeats. Jardine was outpointed by Quinton "Rampage" Jackson back in March, while Silva was handed the first defeat of his career in January by current champion Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida.
Neither fighter can really afford a second consecutive loss. With the emergence of youngsters like Jon Jones and Luiz Cane, as well as the addition of veterans Tito Ortiz, Vladimir Matyushenko, and perhaps Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, both Jardine and Silva need to get back into the win column or risk drowning in the Light Heavyweight talent pool.
What's at stake?
Neither man is going to vault into immediate title contention with a win.
Champion Lyoto Machida will make his first title defense against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 104 in October, and the winner of the eventual Rashad Evans versus Rampage Jackson TUF 10 battle is understood to be next in line.
In truth, neither of these two are serious title contenders.
Though Silva has just one loss on his record, and it comes at the hands of the current champion, he has yet to defeat a truly formidable opponent in the UFC. No disrespect to Antonio Mendes, Houston Alexander, Tomasz Drwal or James Irvin.
While Jardine has beaten a number of noteworthy names within the division in Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell, he followed each of those startling upsets with first-round defeats at the hands of the aforementioned Alexander and Wanderlei Silva.
Both would require more than this win to get there name "in the mix," as Dana White likes to say when referring to title contenders.
Win/lose scenarios: Keith Jardine
More likely than not, a win for Jardine keeps him in his current role as Gatekeeper—a fighter with enough talents and guile to challenge anyone in the division while separating the pretenders from the contenders.
If Jardine were to lose, it would mark the first time in his career he has suffered back-to-back defeats, and a drop down the ladder would certainly be in order.
Unlike some fighters who recently received their walking papers following consecutive defeats, Jardine should have no such worries. The UFC wouldn't think of letting a well-known and recognizable name like Jardine become available for their new enemies at Strikeforce.
Win/lose scenarios: Thiago Silva
Should Silva emerge victorious, a spot alongside Jardine at the entrance to the upper levels is a possibility, and another step up in competition would certainly be warranted.
A loss, however, could spell doom for the American Top Team member, as two losses to upper tier talent greatly outweigh four wins over fighters either no longer with the company or fighting at a different weight.
Predicting the punches
The adage "styles make fights" has to be thrown out the window every time Jardine takes the ring, as calling his Hunchback of Notre Dame, awkward approach a style is a kick to the groin to styles of all kinds.
That being said, both these fighters prefer to keep it standing up, and each has shown the ability to end a fight with their hands.
However, they have each shown a distinct ability to get KTFO as well, which means as much as they will look to stand and trade, each will be sure to keep a safe distance and ensure they aren't left looking up at the lights when the final bell rings.
Though Silva showed great resiliency in coming back from being staggered early against Antonio Mendes to finish the fight inside the first round, Jardine simply possesses the more complete skill set and a tremendous edge in competition.
Look for "The Dean of Mean" to take a similar approach as the one used to defeat Chuck Liddell back at UFC 76. He will stick and move, keeping Silva guessing with an assortment of leg kicks and off-tempo strikes while maintaining enough space to avoid his dangerous hands.
And the winner is...
You'll have to check out the UFC 102 "Punch Drunk Predictions" next Saturday to see who I think will come away victorious.