Luke Rockhold has a chip on his shoulder.
As a fighter that has all the potential to be a huge crossover superstar in the world of MMA thanks to his exceptional talent and living, breathing Ken doll looks, Rockhold was stuck toiling in relative obscurity even as Strikeforce’s last middleweight champion before the company was bought out by Zuffa LLC. But now Rockhold will get the opportunity to re-introduce himself to the world when he steps into the Octagon for the first time on May 18th for UFC on FX.
Oh, did we mention that Rockhold’s first UFC fight will be against living legend Vitor Belfort in his home country of Brazil? Not exactly a warm introduction to the UFC. Against Belfort, Rockhold will step into hostile territory as a fighter that casual fans aren’t familiar with. It almost seems as if it’s a fight Belfort is set up to win. But that’s exactly how the 28-year-old likes it.
“Vitor is a former champion and one of the biggest names in the sport,” Rockhold says about his upcoming UFC debut before he boards a flight to Jaragua do Sul. “Beating a guy like Vitor will definitely put me on the map and project me into a bigger fight. This will be a whole different level and obviously the fans in Brazil will be against me but I’ll be turning his fans into my fans.”
Oh, did we also mention that the11-1 Rockhold is facing a Vitor Belfort that has been cleared to use the controversial testosterone replacement therapy — a procedure that allows helps increase testosterone levels so a fighter can have increased size and mass. It’s a procedure that has drawn extreme criticism from UFC president Dana White who sees it as a way for a fighter to get an edge, like a steroid. Belfort is fighting in Brazil because the U.S. won’t grant him the exception, and Rockhold is upset that the former light heavyweight champion will circumvent the system.
But rather than refuse to fight, Rockhold is more inspired than ever to kick Belfort’s ass. Considering that Belfort was busted for steroids back in 2006 in a fight he lost to Dan Henderson, Rockhold figures that if other fighters have beaten Belfort before, why can’t he? “Who knows if Vitor was ever clean when he fought,” he says dismissively. “He was caught for steroids earlier so it’s obvious he needed an edge and now it’s TRT. Whatever. I don’t really care. I just have to block out all of the bullshit and fight.”
This isn’t to say that Rockhold is happy to fight someone with an edge, he’ll just do what he has to do. Meanwhile, he’s campaigning heavily against the use of TRT and wants to see it regulated for the safety of other fighters.”I’d like to see the authorities and the UFC crack down on it or at least get them to the legal limit,” Rockhold says. “It seems like guys are taking all kinds of steroids and then cycling off it so they can reach that peak.”
Today, Rockhold sees the fighter that he grew up admiring as “less of a man” than he is and plans to prove it on May 18. “I am more of a man. I’m 6’3″, I have a longer wingspan and I have bigger feet,” Rockhold says with a laugh before explaining that TRT is nothing more than a way for Belfort to hide from the fact that he struggles with adversity. “I’m just more of a man, literally. I just think when the going gets tough, I’ll man up and I haven’t seen that from Vitor. I’ll come out on top if things get hairy.”
The deck is stacked against Rockhold but it’s nothing new for him. When he won the Strikeforce title back in 2011 with a unanimous decision victory over Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, he did so by being a massive underdog and having not fought for 19 months. He wasn’t supposed to win, but he did. The same scenario will play itself out but Rockhold is prepared thanks to the preparation he gets at the American Kickboxing Academy.
“I’m in the gym with a bunch of killers day in and day out,” he says of his sparring partners that include UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion King Mo Lawal, and a host of other top shelf names. “You can get knocked out at anytime. I get the butterflies sparring with them every day so this fight is nothing for me.”
The tools are in place and with a high risk, high reward bout on the horizon, Rockhold feels that a win will propel him to the next level. “It’s definitely frustrating when you don’t get the respect you feel you deserve,” he says about being overlooked for so long. “We didn’t have the stage at Strikeforce that the UFC has. I’m not spectacular in any one area but I have skills in every department and I’m more well rounded than anyone out there. Soon they’ll find out.”