Fight Psyche: Luke Rockhold talks dreams coming true & staying hungry

Last Saturday, Luke Rockhold won the UFC middleweight championship in front of thousands in attendance and millions more watching on television. Three days later, he’s relaxing at home, enjoying the simple pleasures as best he can, considering his foot is still infected, and he’s a little banged up from a training camp and four rounds of fighting Chris Weidman.

"I’m living off of delivery food," he chuckled. 

He’s got his legs up, one of them in a boot. His laid-back posture both reflects a contented state of mind and is also required to help him heal from bumps and bruises.

The glow he felt after earning a world title still hasn’t left the 29-year-old. It’s likely that it never will.

For someone as cocksure and brash as Rockhold appears to be, seeing him overwhelmed with deeper emotions after winning was remarkable. After previous victories, Rockhold would often do a bit of physical gloating, and his face read of an "I-told-you-so" attitude.

In beating Weidman at UFC 194 the way he did, Rockhold had once again done just as he told us he would. This time, however, he had no time for bravado.

This time, he collapsed to his knees in the center of the ring, and buried his face in his black-gloved hands. Turns out, knowing you’re going to win still can’t prepare you for what it will feel like once you actually win.

"I always believed in myself," he told us.

"I always knew what I could do in there, and believed that I would win the world title. But when it actually happens, when your dreams all come true, it is the culmination of a life’s work. The feeling you get, I don’t have words for it. I don’t know how to describe it."

That he can’t describe the feeling is kind of the point. So, he doesn’t have to.

As it always does, the psychology got started long before Rockhold and Weidman fought. It began, and persisted, in large part due to Rockhold’s taunting of the then-defending champion.

Weidman is an impressive athlete and was a completely dominant, undefeated champion. Rockhold spoke of him like an awkward and uncool younger brother, though.

Rockhold said Weidman was slow and uncoordinated compared to him, and promised that he’d make The All-American wrestler look stilted on the feet, and then control him on the ground. Rockhold teased Weidman — likely a man who had been praised for his athleticism all his life — about not being able to kick well, and made fun of his training partners and teammates.

The biggest turning point in the fight came when Weidman threw an ill-advised reverse spinning heel kick at Rockhold. Rockhold’s head — Weidman’s intended target — was nowhere to be found by the time the kick made it to his body, and Weidman was subsequently taken down and beaten badly on the floor. 

Rockhold does believe that he messed with Weidman’s mentality a bit leading up to the fight. He doesn’t feel, however, that his ribbing about Weidman’s kicks were the specific reasons that the New Yorker decided to try that strike when he did.

"I do think I got in his head a little bit because he’s not used to people calling him out like that," Rockhold says.

"But, I don’t think I made him do anything that he wouldn’t have done, anyway. I’d seen Weidman throw those kicks before. He always tries something new in a fight. I felt like I was controlling the fight up to that point, as well."

Chris Weidman’s road to recovery, mentally, may be a tough one. Even as the victor, Rockhold will have his own head stuff to shore up.

For one, if he wants to stay sharp to have a chance at defending his belt, the Californian will have to find a way to stay just as hungry and driven as he was as a contender. He isn’t worried about that.

"Man, this thing is everything to me," he assured.

"Winning it is one thing, holding onto it is another. I defended my Strikeforce belt twice and you didn’t see me lose any of my intensity, drive or motivation. That’s just the way I am. I will always be hungry.

"I will always be motivated to improve until I feel I’ve achieved my potential. So far, I’m not even close to doing that. I wasn’t anywhere near as good as I can be in that fight. I haven’t come close to hitting my potential."