Luke Rockhold returns to action, after being sidelined for 18 months due to a shoulder injury, to fight for the Strikeforce middleweight title against champion Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza at the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati on Saturday.
Not prone to injury, the layoff has been rough for the rising 26-year-old contender.
“It sucked,” Rockhold recently told MMAWeekly Radio about his hiatus from fighting.
“I’ve never felt anything like that. It’s my only serious injury I’ve really had in my career, and it makes you realize how fast the window can close on you in this sport. An injury like that can end your career, or take you way for so long that it derails you,” he said.
Rockhold relishes the opportunity to fight for the title and scoffs at the notion that he doesn’t deserve the shot at the belt.
“I’m in I guess you would call it a win-win situation. For a lot of people it’s considered that, but for me, I’m focused on winning and that’s what I want to do,” said Rockhold. “I always feel pressure to win and that’s what I come to do every fight. I don’t take fights to lose. I take fights to win, and I believe I’m going to win this fight.
“I’ve always dreamed of fighting Jacare. I’ve always thought I matched up well and now it’s time to go out there and prove it.”
Speaking in his defense of getting the title shot, Rockhold explained why he feels that he got he call to face Souza.
“I thought about all the title contenders. With Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller going to the UFC and Robbie Lawler losing and Tim Kennedy losing, I think all the contenders had kind of beat themselves out. I was really one of the last ones standing,” said Rockhold.
“I’ve performed. I believe I’ve done well in my fights. I’ve never hit the stool before. I think that’s a big accomplishment and I like that. For the most part, I feel like I’m a well-rounded fighter. I feel like I can bring more to the table than most of these guys can. I can fight Jacare on all levels,” added the challenger.
“I grew up wrestling. I think I can out-wrestle Jacare. I believe my jiu-jitsu is one of the best in the sport. I can compete with Jacare in the jiu-jitsu. I can definitely strike with him. I really believe that I can strike with anybody. So I believe all three aspects of the game I have more so than a lot of people. I can put them all together and I think that’s going to pose a big problem for Jacare.”
Not only is Rockhold eyeing Souza’s title, he senses that Strikeforce will soon merge with the UFC and sees the match-up as an opportunity to springboard into world title contention.
“I’ve always believed I can compete with the best in the world in this division and this is my chance to show that and to really put myself on that next level,” he said. “With the organizations merging and everything like that; everyone predicts the end of Strikeforce. And with that merge, it’s going to speak volumes to come in with that belt and that’s what I plan on doing.”
For the doubters, Rockhold plans to show he’s more than just a challenger.
“If you don’t believe in me now, I’m going to make a believer out of you after this fight is over,” he said. “Win or lose, you’ll see that I’m definitely deserving of this fight. I promise.”