When Yoel Romero knocked Luke Rockhold out at UFC 221, it threw the former middleweight champion’s career into disarray. Having being brutally knocked out in two of his last three fights since winning the belt, in almost identical fashion no less, the question became, “Where does Rockhold go from here?” For a brief moment it appeared that Rockhold may be heading for a rubber match with the man who took the 185-pound belt from him, Michael Bisping, but now it appears that Rockhold has his sights set a little higher.
Speaking with Submission Radio recently, Rockhold announced that he had given up on a third fight with Bisping and was making preparations for his move to light heavyweight.
“I think it’s pretty much sure that I’m going up,” said Rockhold. “Bisping’s not gonna, he’s not gonna want the fight. He’s never wanted the fight. He knows what happened last time around, and so he’s gonna run his mouth, he’s gonna talk about it, try to build up his podcast, get his little goons behind him, but realistically he’s been scared of this fight from the start. And the UFC have tried to make it happen, and he just, he danced around it as best he could and they’re sure that – they want it still, but they’re sure it’s not gonna happen. So I’ve been informed to move on. . .
“I’m over it. I’m ready to move on and to do something that makes sense to me right now, and there’s opportunity at light heavyweight.”
Rockhold has always been one of the bigger middleweights in the division and, though he has never failed to make weight in his career, he says the cut to 185 pounds has been getting increasingly worse. The reprieve from the weight cut makes for an appetizing proposition for the former champion.
“The weight cut is just, it’s taking too much of a toll on me, man,” said Rockhold. “I felt completely drained and I lose a lot of my strength. And the last time around it wasn’t… it just gets worse and worse. I felt depleted. So I’m looking forward to building up, getting healthy and getting some meat on my bones and tossing some weight around at light heavyweight.”
Not only would Rockhold have to cut less weight though, but according to him he also would be facing a lower level of competition. Rockhold believes that 205 pounds is mostly a thing division and, more to the point, he already has some built in beef with one of light heavyweight’s top talents, Alexander Gustafsson. Rockhold and Gustafsson have been going back-and-forth since Rockhold announced his intention to move up to 205 pounds, with Rockhold saying he was “coming for that ass” and Gustafsson calling Rockhold “chinny” but Rockhold admits that he isn’t talking about Gustafsson when he’s addressing the relatively paltry nature of light heavyweight talent.
“I don’t think they’re as technical in many ways,” said Rockhold. “I think Alexander [Gustafsson] is one that stands above and beyond most of those guys. But for the most part, a lot of those guys, it’s not a deep division by any means. Alexander was always one of the true tests at that division and I’ll give him that respect. I wasn’t really referring to him [as easy], but beyond that there’s a lot of guys that are open.”
Gustafsson is currently on a two-fight winning streak, with back-to-back wins over Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira. He is ostensibly next in line for a shot at Daniel Cormier’s light heavyweight title but Cormier is currently set to return to heavyweight later this summer for a superfight with champion Stipe Miocic. Rockhold has a solution to that dilemma though: let him stand in for Cormier and fight Gustafsson with 12 pounds of gold on the line.
“There’s a lot of interest in the fight,” said Rockhold. “He’s a guy that’s been right there, that’s only lost to champions. He’s the top, he’s the cream of the crop in the division. You beat him, you basically are the champion. The only problem is that DC is the champion. So, what? I go fight Alexander Gustafsson when DC is fighting for the heavyweight title? I’m not gonna fight Gustafsson for nothing, and I’m not gonna put myself in the position where it creates a weird moment for me and DC. So, I think it all depends on what happens with this fight with him and Stipe. If that goes forward, yeah, I mean, I’ll fight Gustafsson. But once you beat Gustafsson, if DC’s out – If I beat Gustafsson, I should be the f*cking champion [laughs]. Just realistically. And I mean, if you think about it, he is the man to beat, other than DC. And so the whole division is in a weird space. It’s almost similar to how the middleweight division was. I guess it’s a little tied up at the moment. You kind of have to wait and see what happens in July.”