Luke Rockhold hasn’t fought since losing the UFC middleweight belt to Michael Bisping last June. With the current landscape being what it is, it appears like he isn’t in any hurry to rush back, either.
Much of Rockhold’s time out of the Octagon has been due to rehabilitating a knee injury, but there are other factors at play as well.
Rockhold, like many other top UFC middleweights, has been vocal in his criticism of matchmaking since Bisping won the belt. The champion has yet to put the title on the line against a top ranked fighter and isn’t poised to do so any time soon.
After Bisping took the title from Rockhold, the UFC granted Dan Henderson a title shot basically as a “thank you” as he headed into retirement. Though he was coming off of a victory over Hector Lombard prior to his championship challenge, Henderson had gone 2-2 overall in his four middleweight bouts prior to Bisping.
Following some time off to deal with a knee injury, Bisping is now expected to put the belt on the line against returning former welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre. UFC president Dana White has targeted UFC 213 on July 8 for the bout, but St-Pierre is still holding up the works, apparently angling for the fight in September or October.
“(The Bisping vs. St-Pierre) fight they made 100 percent cheapens the belt,” Rockhold told ESPN. “I understand what they’re doing, trying to sell pay-per-views to pay off a $4 billion debt. But this is not the fight to make.
“What’s the point of fighting the best guys in the world if you’re not going anywhere? I’ll only take a fight that gets me somewhere and gets me excited. I love fighting and I’ve got a lot left in me, but it’s got to be worth it. I think everyone is falling into that same realm. All the top guys are feeling the same way.”
Rockhold has been mentioned as a replacement for Kelvin Gastelum in a June fight with Anderson Silva. That is a fight that interests Rockhold. He’s said that he wants it and has agreed to take it. Silva’s team, however, is apparently looking for a different fight, so Rockhold is still waiting.
The title picture being what it is has Rockhold questioning whether it is worth fighting any of the top contenders. Beating the top guys in the division used to mean a direct path to the title, but “money fights” are muddying the waters. Yoel Romero is the current No. 1 middleweight contender, riding an eight-fight winning streak, yet he is on the sideline waiting for Bisping to fight St-Pierre.
“If I’m going to fight a tough guy, I want the guy that’s going to get me (a title shot),” Rockhold continued.
“Really, you almost have to put an interim title on the line to guarantee a title shot. The interim title is basically just a guarantee that you get a title shot and the money behind it.”
If Rockhold isn’t getting fights that interest him, if he isn’t seeing a clear path to a title shot, he’s content to wait.
“I’m making enough money outside the sport. I don’t need to jump back in. I’ve got things on my plate and I’ve got a lot of money to do it. I don’t need to be forced to fight.”
It’s an interesting time for the top of the middleweight division. Bisping is on tap to fight St-Pierre, Romero and Rockhold both appear willing to wait on the side, and Top 5 fighters Gegard Mousasi and Jacare Souza are entering free agency. Just what shape will the division take in the coming months? It’s anybody’s best guess.