Our three-day series of previewing this Saturday’s UFC 96 event continues with a look at the night’s main event. While an actual title belt will not be on the line, a title shot could be at stake, as Quinton Jackson must defeat Keith Jardine in order to advance to July 11’s UFC 100 where it is believed that Rashad Evans and the UFC light heavyweight title awaits.

Quinton Jackson (29-7) vs. Keith Jardine (14-4-1)

Jardine has played the spoiler well role in the past few years, spoiling potential title shots for Forrest Griffin at UFC 66 and Chuck Liddell at UFC 76.

With each victory, Jardine moved himself into title contender status but proceeded each dramatic upset victory with first round (T)KO losses.

At UFC 71, Jardine was ambushed by then-newcomer Houston Alexander, who gave him a prison-style beatdown and finished him just 48 seconds into the fight. Then, at UFC 84, Jardine was steam rolled by Wanderlei Silva and was knocked out just 36 seconds into the fight.

Jardine is a counter fighter who apparently has trouble with fighters who employ a blitzkrieg style. Jackson can be aggressive at times, but he is not reckless and isn’t going to jump on Jardine from the outset.

Jackson looked outstanding in knocking out Silva at 3:21 of round 1 this past December at UFC 92. The former UFC light heavyweight champ not only redeemed himself after two previous TKO losses to Silva, but the win came at a crucial time as he was coming off a title loss to Griffin as well as felony charges this past summer for reckless driving.

While it’s hard to say for certain after just one fight, Jackson certainly appeared to be back on track. Leaving Juanito Ibarra and his LA-based training camps for the Wolfslair Academy in the cold U.K. appears to have done wonders for his career. With his career and life moving forward again, Jackson is just one win away from a title shot against current champion Rashad Evans this July at UFC 100.

However, I question the logic of this matchup. Jackson was impressive enough at UFC 92 to warrant an immediate title shot. He would have gotten that shot had Evans been ready. As bad as the UFC needed a main event for this show, they are risking a great deal of long-term money in favor of a quick fix.

If Jackson loses, the proposed UFC 100 matchup is off and if Jardine wins, he will be caught in a holding pattern, as he will not fight his friend and training partner, Evans.

A loss for Jackson is not out of the question, as both fighters complement each other well. I expect a lot of give and take between the two with several momentum shifts. The biggest concern here has to be Jardine’s trainer, Greg Jackson, who is a master strategist. He will give Jardine a gameplan that will allow him to go out and cause problems for Jackson.

Look for Jardine to use his brutal leg kicks to exploit Jackson’s lack of diversified striking. While Jackson has tremendous power in his hands, he does not have good Muay Thai skills. When it comes to kicks, Jackson does not employ many offensively and is terrible when he comes to defending them.

If the fight goes to a decision, I believe Jardine will once again shock the world. However, I think that so long as Jackson was focused for his training camp leading up to this fight that he will eventually catch Jardine on the chin and knock him out.

Prediction: Jackson by second round knockout.