Keith Jardine is the Ultimate Fighter who introduced Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin to the brutal world of mixed martial arts.
UFC legend Keith Jardine reckons Irwin used to get grumpy if he didn't get his morning fix of boxing and jiu-jitsu.
The unlikely pair spent three weeks training at Australia Zoo in 2005 after being introduced by renowned MMA wrestling coach Gary Jackson.
In between working on arm locks and take-down techniques, Irwin taught Jardine how to feed crocodiles at his world-famous Sunshine Coast theme park.
As the UFC prepares to make its entry into the Australian market at Homebush's Acer Arena today, Jardine returned to Sydney last Saturday in preparation for his showdown with Ryan Bader on the 10-fight card.
"I got to hang out with Steve and train with him for about three weeks and it was one of the best experiences of my life," Jardine said. "I remember watching him on TV and wondering if that was just his persona, but then when you met him, that was really the way he was.
"He was incredibly energetic and it was awesome getting to spend time with him. He loved MMA, he was a huge MMA fan.
"If he didn't get to train in the morning then he'd be grumpy the whole day. I boxed with him a little and we did some jiu-jitsu. He was incredibly strong ... I guess from wrestling with all those crocs all the years. If he started MMA a little earlier he could have been a great athlete."
Jardine was touched by Irwin's death in September 2006.
"I'll never forget him teaching me to feed the crocodiles in the enclosure," Jardine said. "It was such a great experience.
Nicknamed "The Dean of Mean" in the US, Jardine has featured in Hollywood action movies "Crank: High Voltage" and "Gamer" on the way to carving out a reputation as a UFC fighter.
Taking the fight to boxing as the most-widely accepted contact sport, the strongest selling point the UFC has over its more traditional rival is the depth of fights available for each card.
For example, today's fight card is an epic.
The heavyweight fight between legendary martial artist Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and contender Cain Velasquez will be immense.
Then there's the middleweight stoush between UK fighter Michael Bisping and Wanderlei Silva, plus the Jardine bout against Bader. All quality on the one card.
UFC officials have identified Australia as a huge market for mixed martial arts and intend to continue a drive towards having it accepted as a mainstream sport.
UFC powerbrokers Dana White and Marshall Zelaznik identified the UK and Canada as similar target markets five years ago and after a concerted campaign the sport has since exploded in both regions.
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