Luke Rockhold ascended all the way to the peak of the middleweight division while competing in Strikeforce where he became the champion in 2011 before defending the belt on two occasions and he did all this without actually being the best he could be.
The American Kickboxing Academy standout looks back on his time in the San Jose based promotion and quickly points out his flaws and shortcomings despite an undefeated record and rapid rise up the ranks. Maybe it was this invincible feeling that led to Rockhold’s debut in the UFC where his whole world was shattered courtesy of one spinning heel kick courtesy of Vitor Belfort.
It certainly wasn’t the start he envisioned when he came to the UFC where Rockhold expected to be a top contender to the title in just a couple of fights. Instead he suffered only the second loss of his pro career, and ended up as a highlight and one of Belfort’s best career finishes.
The knockout put him down and woke him up at the same time as Rockhold wiped the haze from his eyes, and the fog lifted from his mind as he finally figured out he wasn’t the best in the world — but he knew he could be.
"I think I forced issues sometimes and I took things personal," Rockhold told FOX Sports recently. "Like say the (Keith) Jardine fight, I felt disrespected I had to fight Jardine at the time and I came in there trying to kill him. (Tim) Kennedy, I knew I was going to be frustrated with his style and I got frustrated with a lot of things in that fight and I was loading up and just wasn’t fighting the way I should. The Jacare fight, I was nervous for that, I relaxed later on.
"This fight, I know I’m coming into my prime and I know Iâm better than these guys."
Rockhold dispatched of Costas Philippou in his last trip to the Octagon and he hopes to do the same to Tim Boetsch this weekend at UFC 172. At 29 years of age, Rockhold feels the weight of age pressing down on him because he believes this is the time where he’s entering his prime, but it’s a slim window and there’s no going back from here.
I’ll go back down to Brazil and fight Vitor on steroids. He’s not going to land that kick again
— Luke Rockhold
There’s nothing more Rockhold would like than to focus on the future starting with Boetsch on Saturday night, but he can’t move on until he rights a wrong from the past.
The loss to Belfort still haunts Rockhold, but not for the reason you might think.
For the past few years, Belfort was a noted user of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) and whether he liked it or not, became the face of the controversial treatment when it came to MMA. Recently, TRT was banned in states like Nevada and it cost Belfort a title shot against middleweight champion Chris Weidman and possibly his standing as the top challenger for the belt when he does finally return.
But none of that matters much to Rockhold because his reasons for wanting a rematch with Belfort all come from a personal place, deep down inside his heart.
He lost the fight to Belfort because he got caught by a fluke kick that he guarantees if the Brazilian middleweight tried to pull again, he’d not only miss, but he’d pay dearly for it in the process.
"I don’t give a s–t. I’ll go back down to Brazil and fight Vitor on steroids. He’s not going to land that kick again," Rockhold said. "I will overcome Vitor Belfort. No matter what, steroids or not, doesn’t matter to me. Lightning will not strike twice."
The easy spur to land in Rockhold’s side when it comes to interviews is to ask about Michael Bisping, a fighter he sparred with in the past who then went onto say he was the unofficial Strikeforce champion because he got the better of him while training. It all came down to talk with Bisping and poking at that open sore was like playing basketball on an eight-foot rim — anybody could dunk it.
The more intriguing option when it comes to Rockhold is Belfort — a fighter who continues to nag at him like a rock in his shoe or a hair at the back of his throat that he just can’t spit out.
The only problem he sees with targeting Belfort right now is the likelihood of him coming back to the UFC any time soon. Since dropping out of the fight with Weidman, Belfort has virtually become a ghost only appearing on a few occasions and barely talking to the media at all since being cast out of the middleweight title picture.
Maybe it’s just Belfort getting his just desserts after seemingly cheating the system for so long while using TRT after being a convicted steroid user in the past.
"There’s some fishy things going on. The highs and lows of Vitor Belfort, I would not want to be that guy," Rockhold said. "Be on top of the world getting all these ‘knockouts of the night’ and all these awards of the year and then all of a sudden get shunned into the shadows. He leads a shady life and it seems like karma might be coming back."
He leads a shady life and it seems like karma might be coming back.
- Luke Rockhold
Whether Belfort addresses every question about his past or answers none of them, doesn’t matter to Rockhold. Whether Belfort comes back to a title shot or has to face another contender along the way, it doesn’t matter to Rockhold. The only thing Rockhold cares about is that Belfort’s path eventually ends at his front door.
"Who knows what’s going on with (Vitor) Belfort. He seems to be completely silent about it. Who knows what happened with that last drug test of his or when he’s going to be fighting," Rockhold said. "I hope he comes back soon, because I definitely would be seeking that fight sooner than later."