It had been 19 months since Luke Rockhold had last fought.
He'd also never fought anyone ranked even close to the top 25 middleweights in his young career thus far.
What chance could he possibly have against Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, the current consensus number four ranked middleweight fighter in the world in a middleweight title fight?
Someone forgot to tell Rockhold that, as he absolutely fought his heart out in winning a unanimous decision from "Jacare" last night (September 10, 2011), becoming the new Strikeforce middleweight champion in the process.
So what did the young American Kickboxing Academy fighter do that helped sway the judges in his favor?
Rockhold did not get off to a particularly good start. "Jacare" connected with a big right hand early and pressured the challenger into the fence with repeated takedown attempts that forced the Californian to constantly fight to get back to his feet. Once he did, he still had to work while being pressed against the fence.
Once free, Rockhold began to get off with his kicks, throwing everything he had including spinning kicks, switch kicks, front kicks as well as leg and body kicks at the end of the round.
In round two, "Jacare" again landed a big right hand that wobbled the challenger and followed it up with some serious aggression to keep the pressure on Rockhold. The young American would gut through it and again finish strong, really turning up the pressure with his punches in the final 10 seconds.
Round three was all Luke Rockhold. He moved forward relentlessly, throwing a heavy barrage of strikes in the direction of the Brazilian champion who had surprisingly become timid. There's no doubt that Luke Rockhold won the third round.
Rounds four and five were both incredibly close as both men stepped up the aggression with strikes and clinch attacks. Round four in particular was brutally close and could easily have been the "swing round" in the fight depending on who you felt had the advantage.
In the end, the judges decided with the challenger, Luke Rockhold, and they may have been swayed by his ramped-up aggression at the end of each round. Rockhold did not start particularly strong, but the memories of each slow start may have faded with how he finished. This was a brutal fight to score and literally could have gone either way.
For Ronaldo Souza, this was a case of simply not being aggressive enough. Perhaps after landing a couple power strikes early and hurting the challenger, he got a little caught up with trying to score a knockout but he never really came close again. He also gave up on trying to take the fight to the ground after the second round which was another key factor in his failure to really gain any momentum in the later stages of the fight.
Souza is still an incredibly gifted athlete and one of the most gifted middleweight fighters out there. He just needs to put it all together. It's not like he got blown out or anything (that 50-45 score was atrocious). Expect to see "Jacare" soon in the UFC whenever this Strikeforce experiment is over because there are not really any fights of interest in the Strikeforce middleweight division right now.
For Luke Rockhold, this kid answered all the questions about him. He shook off the ring rust in the opening rounds and came back with a fury. He'd never even left first round in his career yet there he was in round five trading blow for blow with the champion. Apparently all that training at the American Kickboxing Academy against some of the best fighters in the world helped him prepare for this one.
He'll almost certainly be matched up with previous title challenger Tim Kennedy, who's been on a nice two fight winning streak since initially coming up short against "Jacare" for the vacant title the first time. That should be a terrific scrap.
So what did you think, Maniacs?
How did you have this incredibly close middleweight title bout scored? How surprised were you with the unheralded Rockhold's performance?