Rockhold takes Strikeforce middleweight belt with win over Souza

Maggie Hendricks

CINCINNATI --  Luke Rockhold became the new Strikeforce middleweight champ with a tight decision win over Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza at Strikeforce on Saturday night. In a bout that saw Rockhold outstrike Souza 145-63, the judges saw the fight 50-45, 48-47 for Rockhold.

Souza took Rockhold down early in the first round, but then had trouble maneuvering him. Rockhold worked to his knees, where was able to land punches, then get to his feet. Jacare took him right back down, but they worked back up again, and Rockhold was able to break free. Jacare took advantage, and stalked Rockhold down with kicks. Rockhold responded with a dazzling array of strikes, including three straight punches as Souza held Rockhold's leg.

Rockhold started the second round off well, showing a spinning back kick, but was wobbled by Souza twice. They continued to go back and forth, both landing powerful strikes, until Rockhold took over the round in the final seconds.

Early in the third round, Rockhold landed  a shot to Jacare's groin, halting the fight. When it was restarted, Jacare avoided Rockhold's strikes to get a takedown. Rockhold slipped back to his feet and pressured Jacare around the cage.

Blood dripped from Rockhold's face by the fourth round, but he did not slow down. He continued to stalk Jacare around until the Brazilian forced the fight into the cage. Jacare tried to turn their clinch into a takedown, but Rockhold slipped out. He returned to the clinch and landed damaging knees to Jacare's face.

Rockhold started well in the fifth and final round, but couldn't maintain his pace of landing strikes and pressuring Jacare around the cage, as Jacare managed a takedown halfway through the round. Still, Rockhold returned to his feet, withstood a front kick to the face, and landed more punches and kicks as the fight hit its final minute.

Rockhold, a product of the well-known American Kickboxing Academy, came up through Strikeforce's Challengers series before getting bigger shots. That system is in place just so that fighters aren't hurried along, and they did a good job with Rockhold, who is now their champ at just 26 yars old. .

But like with other Strikeforce championships, the future is vague. Though middleweight is one of their deeper divisions, it's not clear what will happen next. The young man can now just savor his victory before worrying about what's next.

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