Luke Rockhold back on track with brutal liver kick win over Costas Philippou

FOX Sports Marc Raimondi
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Duluth, GA

Here’s the thing about boxing – there’s no kicking.

Costas Philippou came in with a professional boxing background and big power in both hands. But Luke Rockhold is a polished mixed martial arts and he polished Philippou off in short order with a devastating body kick TKO at 2:31 of the very first round Wednesday in the main event of UFC Fight Night at The Arena at Gwinnett Center.

The first of Rockhold’s kicks landed on the liver and it dropped Philippou instantly. The second, a soccer kick to the body, wasn’t even necessary. Referee Herb Dean was already jumping in to stop the fight. Philippou remained down for a few moments in visible pain.

“It’s always there,” Rockhold told Jon Anik afterward, speaking about the liver kick. “You gotta set it up, go high to low. I have a lot of power in my kicks.”

The victory puts Rockhold (11-2) right back in the thick of things in the middleweight division, where he’s currently ranked No. 6. Philippou (12-4, 1 NC) came in at No. 10. Rockhold is sick of hearing about his spinning back kick knockout loss to Vitor Belfort in May and he knew a devastating finish would quiet the critics.

After the fight, he called out Belfort and Michael Bisping in one fell swoop.

“I’m not here to be good, I’m here to be great,” Rockhold said. “I want my rematch with Vitor and I would like it here in the states. I’d go through anybody to get that, especially Michael Bisping.”

Most people figured Rockhold, the former Strikeforce middleweight champion, would be the more well-rounded fighter coming into the bout with Philippou and some even expected him to take down the boxer. He didn’t need to. Rockhold’s technical, versatile striking did the trick.

When Philippou waded in to throw a combination, Rockhold clipped with him a left hook and dropped him. Punches that Rockhold landed bloodied Philippou’s nose and then Rockhold landed a head kick.

From there, Philippou seemed to get desperate, pressing forward, trying to make Rockhold feel his power. It didn’t work. Rockhold evaded and caught Philippou with a liver kick, sending him crashing to the canvas. Philippou, blood pouring from his face, was no longer defending himself and Dean put a halt to the fight.

Rockhold said before the fight that he wants to fight twice more in 2014 with one of those being either a title eliminator or title shot. Vitor Belfort will get the next shot against champion Chris Weidman and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Lyoto Machida seem to be waiting in the wings. It’s hard not to put Rockhold right up there, though – especially considering his loss came on what he and his team at AKA feel like a Hail Mary of a kick from Belfort.

Meanwhile, Philippou has now lost two in a row in very different fashion. He looked like a fish out of water on the ground in his last fight, a decision loss to Francis Carmont in September. Now, he lost on his feat, his strong point, against Rockhold. His stock has dropped and, at age 34, he doesn’t have a whole lot more time left to make a run in the division.

Rockhold is just 29 with a versatile skill set, one that he didn’t necessarily get to show off Wednesday night given how quickly the fight was over. His next fight will likely be against someone in the top five, which means Rockhold could get his wish for a title eliminator before the year is up.

He had to beat Philippou to get things started, though. And Rockhold made that look almost easy at Gwinnett Center.

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