After Yoel Romero knocked him out at UFC 221, Luke Rockhold revealed he had plans to move up to light heavyweight because the cut down to 185 pounds was too draining on him physically. The former middleweight champion wanted to make a splash at 205 pounds, campaigning for an interim title fight with Alexander Gustafsson; but that bout never materialized, and now, Rockhold has put his light heavyweight plans on hold and is set to take on a familiar foe: the man he won the 185-pound title from, Chris Weidman.
Speaking with Submission Radio recently, Rockhold explained his decision to stick around the middleweight division for a rematch over an opponent he already stopped, saying that a fight at Madison Square Garden with the third-ranked middleweight in the world was an appetizing enough bout to make him want to drop the weight again.
“Simple enough, it’s a big fight in a big arena,” Rockhold said. “It’s a place I’ve always wanted to go and a perfect match-up. It’s a very fitting situation. It’s something that gets me up, gets me excited, and makes me want to drop that weight. And there’s a holdup. There’s a hold up in the [light heavyweight] division. I’m very, close to ‘DC’ [Daniel Cormier], and I know his standing, where he’s going and what’s going on right now. So there’s a lot of things that need to be cleared up before I make that move and run up on the light heavyweights.”
The 205-pound title picture is particularly muddled right now. Cormier is the champion of both light heavyweight and heavyweight, and though he has said he would like to defend his 205-pound belt once more, he also has a super fight with Brock Lesnar on the horizon. Meanwhile, former champion Jon Jones will be eligible to fight again in October following a 15-month suspension from USADA, and there are rumors abound that Gustafsson will be fighting Jones for an interim title shot. All of this is to say that while 205 pounds has a bit of a logjam right now, the middleweight division is fairly open. Champion Robert Whittaker will be defending his belt against Kelvin Gastelum next, but after that, there is no clearcut contender for him to face - except the winner of Rockhold-Weidman.
“It’s Weidman at Madison Square Garden,” Rockhold continued. “He’s an incredible fighter, man. He put away Kelvin Gastelum. People want to discredit Weidman because he’s had a couple of rough fights since we encountered but he showed up. You’re only as good as your last fight, they say, and he showed up and put Gastelum away as nobody else has. He’s very relevant in the division. He’s No. 3 in the world so going in an putting him away again speaks volumes.”
But Rockhold isn’t only interested in this fight because of the possible title implications; it’s also an opportunity to settle the score with Weidman once and for all. When Rockhold and Weidman first locked horns at UFC 199, Weidman was getting the better of the fight until throwing an ill-advised wheel kick that resulted in Rockhold taking top position and mauling the champion. The kick has gone on to be considered one of the worst in-fight decisions in MMA history and Rockhold would like to prove that ultimately it wouldn’t have mattered because the outcome was a foregone conclusion.
“I was seeking this fight,” Rockhold said. “I thought that we could make this thing happen. We were trying to get the Madison Square Garden fight originally, so it’s a fitting situation. It’s time to end this thing. We were supposed to have that rematch after the first fight. He thought certain ways about it, and it’s time to silence everything, everybody. There was nothing else happening but me dominating that fight and I’m gonna go out there and prove that. Spinning heel-kick, whatever the f**k you guys want to talk about, it doesn’t f**king matter. I’m gonna go out there, and I’m gonna put an end to this thing. I’m gonna put a stamp on it.”
That’s the goal for Rockhold: to leave no doubt as to who is the better fighter and to remind the MMA world that he is the best 185 pounder on the face of the Earth.
“I’m coming to win the f**king fight,” Rockhold concluded. “I’m coming to put him away. I’m gonna leave no doubt. People who doubt me, I’m gonna go out there and show myself. Every fight is different. There are complications in fights; I’m gonna go out there and prove myself as the top middleweight in the world.”