COMMENTARY | At UFC Fight Night 35, former Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold (11-2) annihilated Costas Philippou (12-4) by delivering a devastating kick to his opponent's liver. The No. 10-ranked contender collapsed in pain, and the fight was immediately halted. Rockhold will now face more formidable opponents in his quest to secure a world title.
However, Rockhold's win at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Georgia was desperately needed. Despite the incredible amount of buzz that surrounded Strikforce's last middleweight champion, Rockhold faltered in his UFC debut against Vitor Belfort (24-10) at UFC on FX 8. He was viciously knocked out by a spinning heel kick, and his chances of making an impact on the middleweight division seemingly deflated.
However, with his impressive win over Philippou at UFC Fight Night 35, the No. 6 contender has revitalized his career and placed himself among those who vie for the middleweight title. Coincidentally, two of those who make up the division's Top-five are Belfort and Michael Bisping (24-5).
Against Belfort, Rockhold has been adamant in his wishes to avenge his loss against the former UFC light heavyweight champion. As for Bisping, Rockhold holds a personal grudge against the Englishman that will more than likely be settled in the Octagon as well.
Luke Rockhold vs. Vitor Belfort
After being knocked out by Belfort at UFC on FX 8, Rockhold has made his intentions clear regarding a rematch with the former UFC champion. In fact, immediately after his bout against Philippou at UFC Fight Night 35, according to Elias Cepeda of Cagewriter, Rockhold remained steadfast in his position to face Belfort. He stated, "I want my rematch with Vitor (Belfort). I would like it here in the States."
Rockhold yearns to face the man who put a damper on his UFC debut, but Belfort is currently slated to face the current middleweight world champion at a yet-disclosed date. Therefore, pending the results of the Chris Weidman/Belfort matchup, Rockhold may wish to cement his presence within the 185-pound division by competing against and defeating one or two other opponents who round out the division's Top-five.
Luke Rockhold vs. Michael Bisping
In the world of mixed martial arts, it is customary to defeat at least one top-five opponent before receiving a title shot (but not mandatory--a la Glover Teixiera). Not only is Bisping ranked No. 5 on the UFC's Top-10 list, higher than Rockhold, but actual tension resides among the two middleweights.
In 2012, Bisping appeared on MMA Uncensored Live (h/t BloodyElbow.com) and stated:
"Let me put it like this. I've sparred with Luke Rockhold recently and let's just say, I'm the unofficial Strikeforce champion. Sorry Luke, but these are the facts."
Irrespective of the validity of the story, Rockhold didn't take too kindly to Bisping's statements. After his quick knockout defeat over Philippou, Rockhold made his ill will toward Bisping known. He stated, according to Brett Okamoto of ESPN, "I will go through anybody I have to to get that (rematch against Belfort)--especially Michael Bisping. That would be nice."
Bisping is currently slated to face Tim Kennedy (No. 9) at The Ultimate Finale Nations on April 16. Considering the amount of tension between the two fighters, (given that Bisping makes it past Kennedy) having Rockhold and Bisping settle their differences in the Octagon would cement one of them as a top-five contender and prep the winner for a middleweight title shot.
Clinton Bullock is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner and has studied mixed martial arts for many years. He has been published in Yahoo News, Bleacher Report, Philadelphia Sunday Sun Newspaper, and Next Step Magazine. Follow him on MMAUnchained.net, Facebook & Twitter @clintonbullock.
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