Luke Rockhold doesn't want to be 'paper champion,' needs to beat Vitor Belfort to prove he's best in the world

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

With the possibility of Luke Rockford vying for the UFC middleweight strap in the near future, the AKA-trained fighter says he feels he needs to beat Vitor Belfort first, before becoming the best in the world, after previously getting knocked out by "The Phenom."

Since getting knocked out by Vitor Belfort at UFC on FX 8 back in 2013, in what was his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debut (video), Luke Rockford has bounced back rather nicely.

The former Strikeforce middleweight champion has reeled off back-to-back first-round knockout victories over Costas Philippou and Tim Boetsch in the span of three months.

And as he continues his ascension to the top of the rankings, Rockhold knows a title shot could be within reach. Still, he wants to earn the title as the best in the world by beating "The Phenom" in a rematch.

From his conversation with Sherdog:

"I think [a title shot in 2014] is definitely a possibility. I want to get the belt, but I don't want to be a paper champion. There's a guy that beat me, and I feel like I need to beat him to be the best in the world. I'd definitely like to return the favor. Whenever that guy comes back, that's who I'd prefer over everybody."

Admitting that getting over the loss to Belfort is still tough to do, the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) - trained fighter says the brutal defeat was probably one of the best things to happen to him.

He explains:

"That loss to Vitor was probably one of the best things to happen to me. It gave me perspective and it really made me rethink my style and where I'm best. If I rush things too much, I take unwarranted shots. Whereas, if I wait and relax and find my range and let the fight come to me, that's when I'm like a sniper. I know my striking is up there with the top [fighters], and I believe my wrestling and jiu-jitsu are, as well. When I'm relaxed, everything works better. I was a little nervous in that fight, and I tried to rush things at first. I finally started to relax, and then out of nowhere came the kick. Losing makes you rethink everything and focus on how to be your best. That's what I've always done. The last time I lost was in 2007, and I went on a nine-fight win streak and won the [Strikeforce] belt. That was a big step, and now this is the next step."

For now, Belfort seems to be in limbo, as there is no word on when the Brazilian plans to return to action.

According to "The Phenom," he is cleared to go after he was bounced from his UFC 173 title fight against middleweight champion Chris Weidman due to the ban on testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). No official word on whether or not he's controlled his testosterone levels to Nevada's standards has been issued, but it should be coming soon.

Hey, if Chael Sonnen and Dan Henderson can do it, so can "The Phenom."

When that day comes, Rockhold will be waiting for a rematch. Whether or not UFC matchmakers grant him one, is another story. There is always this other beef Rocky can settle in the meantime.

Or not.

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