Lost in the shuffle of the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix tournament semifinals at tonight's (Sept. 10) "Barnett vs. Kharitonov" event was a middleweight championship match-up pitting titleholder Ronaldo Souza against challenger Luke Rockhold.
Headed into tonight's festivities, there was a large contingent of pundits and fans that felt as though Rockhold was being thrown into a fire he would have no way of containing after more than a year away from the cage dealing with injuries, not to mention the elite level of his opponent.
As it turns out, those concerns were not without there merits but the "Handsome" one was unquestionably underestimated headed into tonight's fight. He was game throughout, matching the champion shot for shot and more than holding his own.
In fact, it was an extremely closely contested bout, close enough that it could have gone either way. The judges collectively decided they felt Rockhold did enough to win to become the new 185-pound champion after five grueling rounds of action.
Rockhold looked like he may get overwhelmed in the early going, but came storming back at the end of the opening frame to establish the fact that he would be no push-over.
Surprisingly enough, he stayed in tight and avoided getting in trouble at various points, utilizing a solid clinch game and effective distance striking to keep "Jacare" at bay.
He firmly established himself as the aggressor throughout all 25 minutes and closed every round strong. This was Rockhold's coming out party and he put in one hell of a performance against an extremely tough middleweight.
This one is very much open to debate, though Who did you score it for, Maniacs? Did Souza do enough to keep his title or did the judges make the right call in declaring a new champion?