Former middleweight world champion Luke Rockhold (16-4) isn’t a middleweight anymore. His next fight, July 6 at UFC 239 (10 p.m. ET, PPV), will be up a class at light heavyweight against Jan Blachowicz (23-8).
So, when Rockhold is asked about the lunch he just had in Florida where he’s conducting his training camp at Henri Hooft’s Hard Knocks 365, he focuses on the quantity, not the specific flavors of the dish.
“Lunch was a hefty portion,” he chuckles.
Eating big during training camp is new to Rockhold, who for years whittled the weight from his 6-foot-3 frame down to the middleweight limit (185 pounds) for competition. Since moving up to the 205-pound class, however, the Californian says his mind, body, and training have benefited a great deal.
“Feels right,” he continues.
“Eat right, train right, I’m replenishing, doing everything that I need to. I’m not restricting my training. I’m not restricting my eating. I’m doing everything I need to be the best me.”
Pushing one’s body to its limit for performance in preparation for a fight is not, in fact, often a good fit with also arbitrarily cutting down one’s overall body mass simultaneously. Yet, most elite fighters attempt this polar balance of high-performance preparation with low weight considerations.
Rockhold did it for years, and he increasingly found the goals of getting ready for battle and of dropping serious weight to be too at odds with one another.
“You’ve got to be careful [in camp while cutting weight]. You’re getting skinnier. You have to be aware of how hard you can push your body. Having the extra girth [makes you] more durable,” he explains.
In this training camp, Rockhold says he’s been able to push himself with only performance in mind, and also not had to eliminate strength training from his regimen. “I’m referring, really, to weight lifting, and doing everything I can,” he continues.
“Beforehand, I would be getting too big and scaring myself out of that middleweight range. Whereas now, it’s doing everything – training as hard as I can, getting as strong as I can, and getting all the benefits from it.
“When I’m healthy, when I’m feeding myself, I feel like I’m not compromising myself and that there’s really no one out there that can beat me.”
Though he’ll be moving up 20 pounds in class, Rockhold may not end up being a particularly small light heavyweight. He’s certainly got the height and reach for the division, and from what he tells us, the well-fed athlete will also have the fighting weight of most of his rivals in the division.
Rockhold will still have to “cut” weight the week of the fight, because all of that healthy big eating and lifting has resulted in positive gains. “Yeah, definitely. They’ll be some weight to lose,” he laughs.
“I’m 220, to 225. I’ll have some weight to drop but compared to dropping to middleweight, it’s absolutely nothing. It’ll be nice, healthy, easy. Just a few days of cutting back a little bit and we’ll be done with it.”
Weight-cutting is so arduous and dangerous a process that sometimes moving up a weight class as a veteran fighter can reasonably be seen as a reflection of a change in commitment or a realization that perhaps there’s no longer a clear path toward the title at the old class. Rockhold, however, has openly discussed moving up in weight for years.
In fact, he discussed that very topic with coach Javier Mendez during a training session at the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) in 2016 while he was still middleweight champion. Back then, as he is now, Rockhold was confident that his skills and athleticism would serve him well at light heavyweight.
The ensuing years merely helped Rockhold realize that it was time to let go of middleweight. “I’ve been meaning to do it for a long time, now,” he says of the move to light heavyweight.
“I think a lot of guys hold on too long. As you get older, your body ages and your bones get thicker, everything gets more developed, and you carry more weight. Naturally, it’s part of the process. So, I think a lot of guys hang on to those weight classes too long and they hurt themselves at the end or cut too much in general.
“You come out and you’re flat, you’re not powerful, you don’t have the pop. A lot of guys don’t show up to be what they should be. You’ve got to be understanding with yourself, and listen to yourself, try and get some perspective on how your training is and how you’re fighting.”
Rockhold had to reflect in precisely that way following his loss to fellow middleweight contender Yoel Romero at UFC 221 in 2018. Romero himself failed to make the middleweight limit for the fight, but Rockhold made weight and accepted the contest anyway.
The American says he struggled mightily to hit the scales on-target, and that his body never rebounded. Romero, on the other hand, appeared to have his power intact after weighing in heavy, and was rewarded with a title-shot, afterward.
“My biggest thing was the last weight-cut. The last weight-cut I felt like I was on death’s door and I did not respond,” Rockhold reveals.
“I did not respond in the fight. My body didn’t regenerate. I didn’t have any power in the morning. I had just convinced myself that it would come and nothing turned around. I didn’t, I couldn’t get my body moving fight day. So, I didn’t have any power, I couldn’t push. Having to fight one of the strongest guys there is and without any power to push him off just didn’t work for me.”
The submission specialist had long-planned his light heavyweight debut and was deep into camp for July 6 when the UFC came asking for a favor – that he postpone the matchup for two more weeks and switch his date on short-notice to July 20.
The UFC usually gets what it asks for from what it calls its independent contractor fighters, but Rockhold had no interest in switching up his plans to accommodate it and kept his date with Blachowicz the same. As a result, Rockhold was able to not disturb or needlessly prolong his training camp, didn’t need to get coaches and teammates new flights and accommodations, and was able to keep what he says is a lucrative Ralph Lauren modeling job.
“I think [the UFC] just needed a main event, a big name for ESPN [for the July 20 card], to satisfy ESPN. I wasn’t ready to move,” he says, plainly.
“I orchestrated a lot to get to this date. Of course, fighting is at the top of my list. but once you set dates, I have other things in life and I schedule things around that. For them to come to me and try to push me onto the next card to do them a favor, it just didn’t work out. I’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
Rockhold was asked about when the UFC comes asking for substantial changes and favors from established fighters in the form of fight date alterations, does it do so with the expectation of not altering pay in any way, or is there room to negotiate with the promotion? “Yeah, it varies. It definitely varies. I mean, you can play with those numbers,” he continues.
“It wasn’t going to be enough. I get paid quite well from Ralph Lauren so the incentive to move on wasn’t … I never really considered it so I never went in to try and negotiate it. I want to fight in Vegas, I want to fight on this card and I have things to do so I really didn’t consider it.”
Rockhold stayed focused on his training and the date he’d originally signed for, grinding in his fight camp home of the past several years in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The new light heavyweight says he loves the Hard Knocks 365 gym, and continues to help teach there as he did back home in California at the American Kickboxing Academy.
“Yeah, I’m always out trying to help where I can. I pretty much run Friday grappling [sessions], geared towards MMA grappling. So, I’ll push people and make them understand how to control situations, take the life out of people. I do enjoy teaching, I do enjoy helping the younger guys,” he says.
“The gym out here is cool. It reminds me of the old AKA where you have just a lot of hungry young kids. Everyone’s growing, everyone’s pushing each other. There’s so many good people around it’s got that energy where, constantly, every day, you’ve got to stay on your toes.”
Rockhold expects his new weight class to provide him with many new problems to solve, beginning with the very good Blachowicz, who has won four out of his last five contests. Still, the ever confident warrior likes what he sees in front of him.
“Man, I like every matchup. I like every matchup at 205,” he says.
“I was just looking for the top-tier, the top-ranked guy I could get. I’m an interesting matchup with everyone. I’m going to tactically approach them all differently. Jan’s the type of guy who has a decent ground game, he’s got decent wrestling, he’s got decent striking.
“It’s time to open him up, pick him apart, and take him out. One step at a time. I don’t think that he’s going to be able to compete with me much of anywhere in this fight.”
If things go the way Rockhold expects them to, he intends to pursue the very best at light heavyweight. The former middleweight king is intent on following in the footsteps of his friend and teammate Daniel Cormier and securing a world championship at a second weight class.
“I want Jon Jones,” he deadpans.
“What else am I here for, man? I don’t do things to be second-best. If I’m going to go do something, I’m going to do everything in my power to be the absolute best. I put fighting first. That’s who I am, that’s what I’ve been.”
As busy as he stays outside of the cage with business deals and international modeling, those are all practical considerations. At heart, and backed up by the daily grind, Luke Rockhold has every bit of passion for mixed martial arts as he had as a young prospect.
“Obviously, I’ve leveraged myself in other ways to make life easier for myself. When you rely on the UFC they tend to try and control things too much and when you rely on them they’re going to have the power. So, I have had to go outside and get leverage,” he concludes.
“Leverage in the actual fight, leverage in business, leverage is everything in life. Having leverage allows you to live the life you want to live. So, that’s what I’m doing. Everything that I’m doing is for this game.”
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