The real Luke Rockhold has finally stood up in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
After being destroyed by Vitor Belfort in his debut at UFC on FX 8 last year (in which he was the favorite going into the fight), the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) standout has finally made the impact he desired to create, the moment he signed with the organization.
At UFC Fight Night 35: "Rockhold vs. Philippou," which took place at Arena in Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Georgia, Rockhold sought revenge by delivering a highlight fight-ending kick of his own (check out video highlights here).
Rockhold mixed it up early and often against Philippou, until he clocked him with a liver kick that had his opponent crouching down in pain. The stoppage came halfway over the two-minute mark, and with that win, Rockhold looks like he could become a huge star under the UFC banner.
A lot of observers, including UFC broadcasters, feel that Rockhold could hold a title in the UFC -- and perhaps it is true. However, he still has his work cut out for him. The rise of Chris Weidman and demise of Anderson Silva has opened up the division immensely right now, and there are a few names in the top five that could be challenging for a title in no time, once Weidman and Belfort settle their score.
This is not to say that Rockhold cannot challenge for a title any time soon, although he needs a bare minimum of another solid performance (similar to the one on Wednesday night) to erase any doubt that he does not deserve to be there -- at least compared to his peers. If Rockhold can string together two victories, then his title shot should be on his doorstep in roughly a year's time.
It seems like Michael Bisping is the poster boy for middleweight call outs, and despite the fact that almost everyone has a bone to pick with the English superstar, that fight certainly makes sense.
Bisping, who has never competed for a UFC title, finds himself in decent standing right now, coming off a win over Alan Belcher at UFC 159. He is 2-2 in his last four bouts, and after being sidelined with an eye injury that kept him out of UFC Fight Night 30 against Mark Munoz, he should be cleared sometime soon.
However, Rockhold may be out of luck with that one, since Tim Kennedy has petitioned (literally) long enough for a bout with Bisping and it looks like that fight may materialize.
It makes no sense for Rockhold to fight Kennedy, since Rockhold beat him in Strikeforce in the summer of 2012 -- which was a successful title defense for Rockhold and Kennedy's last loss.
Another blossoming middleweight right now is Ronaldo Souza, who is currently riding a five-fight winning streak. "Jacare" may want revenge on Rockhold, since the AKA product was Souza's last loss -- and he also took away the Strikeforce middleweight championship from the Brazilian. Souza will first have his hands full with Francis Carmont next month, but if the latter can find a way to win -- that is an option in itself for the man in question.
To avoid the rematch scenario, the best option for Rockhold is to fight the winner of Lyoto Machida and Gegard Mousasi at UFC Fight Night 36 in Brazil, which takes place next month. The timing seems perfect, and the title implications could not be greater for Rockhold and the victor of that fight if the potential match up materializes.
The most important facet to take away from the "Knockout of the Night" winner is that Rockhold is not standing alone in a division, and he has not reached elite status -- yet.
That is something that is definitely possible, and with no shortage of potential opponents, Rockhold needs to keep doing what he has been doing his entire career -- focusing on getting better and looking impressive in doing so.
With the setbacks behind him, constantly winning in dominant fashion is the only answer if Rockhold wants to see that gold around his waist.
For UFC Fight Night 35: "Rockhold vs. Philippou" recaps and event coverage, check out our live story stream here.