The unpredictable nature of mixed martial arts produced another stunning outcome Saturday when heavy underdog Keith Jardine produced a split-decision victory over the recently deposed Ultimate Fighting Championship light-heavyweight king Chuck Liddell.
Jardine knocked Liddell down in the second round, and repeatedly landed scoring punches through the third round in a bout fought throughout in a stand-up striking position at Anaheim's Honda Center.
"It feels like I won the belt," said Jardine, a near 4-1 underdog.
Less than four months after losing his title in a first-round knockout loss to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Liddell, 37, dismissed pre-fight questions that age was getting the better of him.
While he surged at Jardine, 31, with explosive attacks that won him the first round on all three judges' scorecards -- "I was seeing stars the whole first round," Jardine said -- Liddell was decked by Jardine early in the second round. Jardine tried to finish off Liddell like Jackson did, but the former champion regained his senses far quicker than the last fight.
Jardine began bleeding from swelling outside his right eye later in the round, but Liddell couldn't do more than stagger him, while the underdog rallied by belting Liddell in the head and jaw with sharp lefts.
As the open assault by Jardine continued, most in the crowd implored Liddell to unleash his old explosiveness.
Instead, Jardine tacked on two more hard lefts, and Liddell tried and missed a last-second back-kick, looking up almost hopelessly at an expired clock.
When the decision was announced -- judge Marcos Rosales gave Liddell a 29-28 edge, but Cecil Peoples and Richard Bertrand awarded Jardine victory by the same scores -- newly signed UFC fighter and longtime PRIDE Fighting Championships former champion Wanderlei Silva shook his head in disapproval.
Liddell was supposed to clinch a long-awaited date with Silva in December if he could beat Jardine, a lesser known and less popular fighter. Now, UFC President Dana White has to decide what to do with Silva, and Liddell has to contemplate his future.
Earlier, Forrest Griffin's surprising victory over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (16-3) displayed the elements that make the sport so charming to its growing fan base: hard fighting, a punching exchange, elbow throwing, blood and a decisive rear naked chokehold.
Only 15 seconds remained in the fight when the bloodied Griffin (15-4) produced the decisive chokehold while positioned atop his opponent's back, ending a compelling battle in former PRIDE Fighting Championship star Rua's UFC debut.
"I was checking the clock because I was tired," Griffin said in the Octagon after his victory. "It wasn't a real good choke but fatigue is a son of a [gun]."
"I ain't that great, but I'll fight anyone," Griffin said as current UFC light-heavyweight champion Jackson of Irvine looked on from the crowd.
In a clash of top welterweight contenders, Jon Fitch dealt Diego Sanchez (19-2) his second consecutive loss by split decision. Fitch (20-2) proved the stronger fighter, maintaining a dominant top wrestling position for the most of the bout.
Light-heavyweight Lyoto Machida, who holds mixed martial arts victories over former UFC champions Rich Franklin and B.J. Penn in other organizations, improved to 11-0 with a unanimous decision over former PRIDE Fighting Championships fighter Kazuhiro Nakamura (11-7) of Japan.