With his second-round finish of Lyoto Machida (22-6) at UFC on Fox 15 on April 18, Luke Rockhold (14-2) emerged as the top contender in the middleweight division. His dominating performance earned him a post-fight bonus and likely earned him a title shot against the winner of champion Chris Weidman (12-0) and Vitor Belfort (24-10), who fight at UFC 187 on May 23.
The 30-year-old Californian doesn’t care who he ends up fighting, but hopes Weidman retains his belt.
“Really, I win either way. Either way I think it’s a beautiful match-up for me on both ends. It’s a big sell. We got Weidman. You got east coast, west coast, you got an all-American battle, and you got the true champ. I mean the guy went out there and dominated – this would be his third Brazilian legend in a row. So he would undeniably be the best out there in middleweight for some time,” Rockhold recently told Submission Radio.
Rockhold and Belfort have history. Belfort knocked out the former Strikeforce champion in Rockhold’s UFC debut in May 2013 in highlight reel fashion. The defeat snapped a nine-fight winning streak for Rockhold. It’s a loss that he would like to avenge.
“With Vitor, then you got bad blood. Then you got that genuine rivalry, and you got me coming for revenge. I love it either way. I’m looking to go out there and prove myself as the best fighter in the world. I think either way I accomplish that. [If] Weidman goes out there and beats Vitor, makes it look easy, I think we all know that story. I come out there and beat Weidman. On top of that, that proves that I’m the best in the world,” said the American Kickboxing Academy trained athlete.
“I’m the better guy [than Belfort]. I got caught by a lucky kick. I go out there and get that revenge against Vitor and there’d be nothing sweeter. Nothing sweeter. Either way, it’s a beautiful situation for me. I think Weidman is a better fighter, I think he wins, and truthfully that’s why I like the guy. I’d prefer him to win,” added Rockhold.
If Weidman retains his title at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 23, Rockhold likes the way he matches up against the champion.
“I’d say that I’m going to employ my will on the feet. I’ve got more weapons on the feet. You can’t outwrestle me. Weidman’s biggest strength is his wrestling and his pressure, and I’m not a guy that he can just come in there and pressure and outwrestle and dominate. Not at this size, not at middleweight, not anywhere really that much. I’m in there training with DC [Daniel Cormier] and Cain [Velasquez], so I’m used to big wrestlers that try to bully me,” he said.
“Obviously I feel comfortable on the ground. I think my grappling is second to none and I believe I’m the better striker in that match-up. So it’s just controlling and just hitting him on the feet and making him pay for trying to wrestle me,” added Rockhold.
“Weidman’s that champion. He’s a tough, tough guy. I respect him in so many ways. He’s got power, he’s got wrestling, but I’m more than prepared to take that title.”
Rockhold doesn’t extend the same respect to Belfort that he does to Weidman. In fact, he calls into question the former Testosterone Replacement Therapy user’s entire career. Before receiving TRT therapeutic exemptions, Belfort tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone following his PRIDE 32 loss to Dan Henderson in 2006. TRT use was banned in mixed martial arts in February 2014.
“Vitor is a joke. I’ll say it and I’ll say it again. The guy hasn’t fought clean once in his whole life. I think his whole career is a joke. But I’d be more than willing to go out there and finish that one too. That’s my opinion,” he said.