Former Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold makes his UFC debut in the UFC on FX 8 main event against former light heavyweight titleholder Vitor Belfort, and plans to break the Brazilian in Brazil.
Rockhold (10-1) hasn’t fought since July 2012 due to Strikeforce going out of business and a wrist injury that forced him out of his last scheduled bout. The time off has been good for him mentally and physically, but not financially.
“If anything I think it was good for my body, good for my mind,” Rockhold said during a recent episode of MMA’s Great Debate Podcast. “At the same time, I would have liked to get in there a lot faster, sooner. But you have to listen to your body and mine just wasn’t letting me. My wrist was all jacked up. I tore a ligament in my wrist. It took a long time with trying to come back too early.
“It’s exciting. I’m not only excited, my bank account is excited. It’s been a long time,” he said about his May 18 UFC debut.
Rockhold made a name for himself in the now defunct Strikeforce promotion, but the UFC is where he always hoped to be.
“I started with Strikeforce. I loved being with Strikeforce, sad to see it go. But I’m not going to lie, there was a part of me that always wanted to be in the UFC. I always wanted to face that competition and shut up the people who talk behind the scenes,” he said.
“This is where I think most fighters have wanted to be. When I grew up as a kid watching fighting it was the UFC. That was the place to be and I’m excited to be part of it,” the 28-year-old athlete added. “I was glad to be part of strikeforce and I’ll always remember that, but this is it. This is the UFC and I’m excited to have the next chapter in my career.”
While the last Strikeforce middleweight champion would have preferred a title fight in his debut, he’s happy to face Belfort, who has recently fought for both the UFC middleweight and light heavyweight titles.
“I’m happy to fight Vitor and I’m excited about it. This is a great opportunity for me. It’s a great debut and I get a free trip to Brazil while I’m at it,” he said.
Belfort (22-10) is surrounded by controversy for his use of testosterone replacement therapy after having previously tested positive to a performance enhancing drug in 2006. The topic is brought up to Rockhold in every interview leading up to the fight, but he doesn’t believe it will be an issue.
“It’s going to be there. I’m going to Brazil, that’s the only place that he’s going to be allowed to do it, so obviously it’s an issue, but it’s not really,” said Rockhold. “Vitor is going to be dangerous whether he’s on it or off of it. I think it can help him in some ways, but I think it hurts him in more ways than it helps him.”
Although he doesn’t think Belfort’s TRT use is an issue, Rockhold doesn’t agree with it.
“I think it’s crap. I’m not going to lie. I’ve already said that before. I don’t think he should be cleared for TRT. He was a steroid user in the past, and his body transformation is unheard of,” exclaimed Rockhold. “I’ve seen guys on TRT and they don’t look like Vitor. His transformation from when he fought Anderson (Silva) to the way now he looks like a completely different human being. It doesn’t look natural. It doesn’t look right.”
Rockhold believes Belfort is abusing TRT.
“I have a hard time believing he’s under the legal limits of TRT. I believe he’s far exceeding that,” he alleged.
Despite Belfort’s TRT use, he and Rockhold are fighting and it only motivates Rockhold in his preparation.
“It doesn’t change anything. It just makes me focus harder, makes me work harder,” he said. “He’s going to have that explosive strength and speed off of that, but that’s Vitor. He’s always had that. It might be a little more than usual I guess, but I’ll be prepared for it, trust me. And I’ll be looking to break him as soon as possible. I’m going to put it on him.”
“There’s a recipe to beat Vitor Belfort. I don’t think many people have seen the recipe to beat me yet,” he added.
Rockhold is focused on Belfort, but admits that he has the bigger picture in mind as well.
“I’m looking to put myself back on top,” he said. “I want to be that champion again. I’m used to being the top dog and I’m no longer the top dog right now, so I’m looking forward to solidifying my spot.
“I want to get that title shot as soon as possible. That’s why Vitor was in my sights to take at the time,” he said. “As long as I go out there and put on a good performance, I don’t know why they would deny me.”