Keith Jardine: One more round

"I'd like to do another fight, win or lose. Just go out there 100-percent me and leave it on the mat and say goodbye"

Photo Illustration/FOXSports.com/Getty Images

He was never the best in the world, but Keith Jardine was always the definition of a fighter’s fighter — willing to step into the fray against the opponents and situations most other competitors would turn down the second it was asked of them.

Jardine faced Chuck Liddell when he was supposed to be nothing more than a road bump on the UFC Hall of Famer’s journey back to another title shot.  He stepped up to fight in the main event of UFC 96 when the promotion desperately needed a headliner and only his opponent Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson was assured of a title shot with a victory.  Jardine willingly faced newcomers, veterans, and even took a fight on eight days notice against former Strikeforce champion Gegard Mousasi as a perceived sacrificial lamb, served up to the gods of necessity. 

Some of Jardine’s greatest highlights include him being the victim of a vicious knockout, not the other way around, and his best and brightest moments including wins over former champions like Liddell and Forrest Griffin are often blurred for the sake of clearer vision to discuss his toughest defeats. 

Still, Jardine was a beloved figure in mixed martial arts circles after his run on The Ultimate Fighter season 2, but following lopsided defeats to former Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold and Roger Gracie in his final two fights, the long time Team Greg Jackson fighter has faded into the background far away from the limelight he was once nestled under, instead opting to focus on a budding movie career and new business ventures.

Jardine wasn’t ready to step away from competition when he had his last fight in 2012, but his body was telling him a much different story.  A once vibrant and active athlete, Jardine could barely drag himself out of bed in the morning due to lack of energy and vigor.  So with no thoughts of a return to MMA in mind, but merely a wish to feel better, Jardine opted to seek council in the form of testosterone replacement therapy.

"After my last fight, I got really into why am I sick? Like I’m not well.  I’m basically a zombie. I have enough energy to train, sleep, eat and make myself get up to train again, but poorly at that.  There were a lot of things wrong with my chronic overtraining for years and nutrition and my diet.  So after my last fight I got my hormones checked, and I was like an old man and they said that’s why I was feeling so bad," Jardine told FOX Sports.

"So I got on the TRT because it’s like ‘oh this is cool’, so I saw the doctor and got some testosterone and it had the placebo effect. Like I felt good right away, but then towards the end of the month I’m not the slightest bit better."

So I got on the TRT because it’s like ‘oh this is cool’. I felt good right away, but then towards the end of the month I’m not the slightest bit better

— Keith Jardine 

Despite claims from several top athletes in MMA who said TRT was the savior that allowed them to continue fighting, Jardine had no such luck using testosterone injections and his body continued to deteriorate. It was a chance encounter when Jardine ran into an old friend and fellow Ultimate Fighter alum Tait Fletcher that helped him turn the corner.

"I ran into my buddy Tait Fletcher and we started talking about a paleo diet and I was willing to give it a go, and it’s just changed my life," Jardine said. "My life is back to normal.  My energy’s up, I was working out twice a day just to keep my body composition, not to get better at my sport and now I’m working out a third as much, a quarter as much, even less than that and I’ve got better body composition, better wind.  I’ll go to grappling, and I’ll win every round and it’s like wow this is amazing.  I thought I had to train everyday, twice a day, just to stay on top of the game.  It was such a weird feeling."

Training comes second these days for Jardine because he’s made the successful transition from fighter to actor without ever having the star power or public relations push that champions like Ronda Rousey received when coming to the UFC.  Jardine started out dabbling in acting with small roles on shows like Breaking Bad when the series was looking for standout characters who just happened to live in New Mexico where the show was filmed.

Since that time and his subsequent break from fighting, Jardine has stayed busy with stunt roles and even landed a sizeable part in the upcoming movie ‘Inherent Vice‘ where he shares the bulk of his screen time opposite Academy Award nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix.

"I did a couple stunt roles in Transcendence and A Million Ways to Die in the West, but what I’m most proud of, I did a deal with P.T. Anderson and Joaquin Phoenix. P.T. Anderson’s the director of directors.  He wrote and directed ‘Boogie Nights’, ‘There Will Be Blood’, a lot of Oscar winning movies so that was a true honor for me," Jardine said.

"That’s up there with the proudest things I’ve ever done, along with my best fights and everything.  My manager called me and said they’re having trouble casting this role, do you want to come down here? I had to fly to LA on my own dime and I walked in on a cold reading, talk about nervous, but I didn’t know it was for Paul Thomas Anderson.  I walked in and I did this cold reading with some pretty sick dialogue, it was a few pages, and we went over it for about two hours and I went home and about a week later I got a call that I got the role."

Keith Jardine in one of his biggest wins over Forrest Griffin 

The reality of that casting process was Jardine landing the role in spite of being a fighter instead of because of it. As it turns out being a professional fighter turned actor was actually a hindrance to his new career because some casting directors tend to pigeon hole fighters in a type cast role, and even then, if they wanted a professional mixed martial artist, why not go for a bigger name like Chuck Liddell or Jon Jones? So it was refreshing when Jardine found out on his first day as part of the cast of ‘Inherent Vice’ that no one had any idea that he used to be one of the top fighters in the UFC.

"Until the day I arrived on set, they had no idea I was a fighter.  It was just because of the look and being able to do the look," Jardine revealed.

The filming for the movie was a real experience for Jardine, who had been a part of some pretty serious projects previously, but mostly as a stunt actor and not in speaking roles.  This time he had a script, actual lines, and even some back and forth with the star of the movie.

"All my action was with Joaquin, such a great guy. Super humble, super sweet, just a great guy," Jardine said.  "I could tell you stories.  Like we were at lunch and he was like there’s this one part in the book where this happens and he’d say ‘go read this and see what you think’ and next thing you know I’d be over in my trailer and they’d bring me a bunch of lines from that part of the book.  It was crazy."

In addition to his acting parts, Jardine has also recently started his own business alongside Fletcher in a company called ‘Caveman Coffee’. 

Chances are if you visit Twitter with any frequency, you’ll see a slew of fighters talking about the product after trying the brand courtesy of Jardine and company.  It’s a labor of love right now, but Jardine is passionate about the brand and growing the business even if he has to be the turtle and the rest of the coffee industry is the hare.

"Tait introduced me to, and it was sort of a crutch to getting onto the Paleo diet, and I was always a big coffee drinker and you put grass fed butter and MCT oil in your coffee, that’s just a basic recipe.  It jump starts your day.  Everyone I know and care about, I try to get them to take MCT oil.  It’s super great brain food.  That latches onto caffeine and bypasses your digestive system and gets right to your blood and right to your brain. It makes you feel like an incredible euphoria, I call it a state of well being," Jardine said about Caveman Coffee’s roots.

"We’ve been live for about six months and we’re just trying to keep up with the growth."

So with roles in several huge movies poised for release in 2014 and a growing coffee company to keep him busy, Jardine is finally ready to walk away from fighting — or is he?

I’ve never said I’m retired, I never officially retired. It would be kind of cool to officially retire in the right way

— Keith Jardine 

With renewed energy and his passion for training returned after getting his body healthy again, Jardine is contemplating a future inside the cage at least for one more round.

"I’ve never said I’m retired, I never officially retired.  It would be kind of cool to officially retire in the right way," Jardine said.

Looking at the last few years of his fight career is like trying to decipher words in a book while staring through a kaleidoscope.  He doesn’t even recognize the person that he was against Rockhold or Gracie, and Jardine would like the chance at redemption if for nothing more than to go out on his own terms.

"I’ve been thinking about that a lot more lately, especially these last few days.  I do have a lot of stuff going on, and if I had a choice between a huge acting role and a huge fight, I would take the acting role.  Not just because it’s the smart thing to do, but that’s more of a challenge right now to conquer that world.  You get the same damn feeling when you’re on a scene, you’re going over your lines, cameras are rolling with an A-list actor, and you get the same feeling as you’re about to walk out to a fight.  It’s almost the same identical feeling," Jardine said.

"I’ve been playing around with the idea of having one last retirement fight. For me, my last fight was against (Gegard) Mousasi.  Even though I took that fight on eight days notice, that was 100-percent me, that wasn’t the sick me.  I consider that the last fight that I did."

Jardine hasn’t made up his mind on whether or not he will actually come out of his self-induced hibernation and return for a final fight.  At 38, Jardine knows his best years inside the cage have already passed and he’s not trying to relive his youth or find a path that leads him back to the top 10 of any division in the sport.  He just feels like it would be a great bookend on a career that started back in 2001 to have one final swing inside the cage, and when the fight is over, whether his hand is raised or not, hang up the gloves and walk back into the shadows for a final time.

"I’d like to do another fight, win or lose, I don’t care," Jardine said. "Just go out there 100-percent me and leave it on the mat and say goodbye."