Just after winning the Strikeforce middleweight title in September, Luke Rockhold wasn’t even sure he’d get a chance to defend the belt with the promotion’s future in question for almost the rest of 2011.
Zuffa and Showtime breathed new life into Strikeforce for 2012 and beyond and so Rockhold got the chance to put the title back around his waist and climb into the cage to prove his championship mettle.
Facing Rockhold was former UFC light heavyweight contender Keith Jardine, who got the opportunity to fight for the belt in his first fight at 185 pounds.
Prior to the fight, Rockhold expressed his desire to face a more worthy and established fighter at 185lbs, so to back up his words he executed a picture perfect performance on Saturday night.
Extremely confident, Rockhold threw a variety of strikes at Jardine, almost as if he didn’t fear any reprieve from the veteran fighter.
Rockhold caught Jardine with a quick and powerful spinning back kick to the midsection, and his aggressiveness only grew from there.
The champion never slowed down and after pushing forward with his left hand, Rockhold blasted Jardine with a huge right that floored the New Mexico based fighter.
Rockhold knew the fight was his and just unloaded with an onslaught of monstrous punches, and with each landed Jardine faded more and more. Finally, referee Herb Dean saw enough and came in to stop the fight.
The win is very special for Rockhold because it was his first title defense, and it came over a very tough and veteran fighter like Keith Jardine.
“It means a lot. Fighting a guy like Keith Jardine, he’s a proven opponent, he’s tough and he came to fight. Too bad for him I love fighting and when the cage door shuts I feel like it’s my world,” said Rockhold.
Prior to this fight coming together, Strikeforce was working on a fight between Rockhold and Army Ranger and middleweight contender Tim Kennedy, but an injury befell the military veteran and so Jardine got the fight instead.
It would appear that Kennedy is next in line once he’s healthy and Rockhold is ready to go, but the champion sounds like he’s looking for a different kind of challenge.
“I like fighting, I like getting paid, but I love competition and striving to be the best. Right now, all the best guys are in the UFC at least the top ten ranked besides myself maybe in some rankings, those are the guys I want,” Rockhold said.
“I want to climb to the top, I want to fight the best in the world, and I think they should bring over some top contenders. Let’s see who the true No. 1 contender is, cause I believe I am and I’d love the chance to prove it.”
It’s hard to tell if the bosses at Zuffa will actually bring any top middleweights over to Strikeforce to face Rockhold, but for now he may want to get comfortable with the idea of facing Kennedy because all signs are pointing to him being next.
No matter what happens tomorrow, Luke Rockhold can celebrate being the reigning and now defending Strikeforce middleweight champion tonight.