Luke Rockhold targets September return, has 'jumped to another level' since loss to Vitor Belfort

Sam Hon

Luke Rockhold was a recent guest on MMAmania.com's Darce Side Radio podcast. The No. 5-ranked UFC middleweight came on to promote the Sam Hon art exhibit called "Optical Panacea" that he was featured in and to discuss his options for his next opponent.

Luke Rockhold put on a near flawless performance against Tim Boetsch back at UFC 172 in April. Somehow during his first-round submission victory -- the seventh of his career -- he suffered the misfortune of breaking his toe (pic). So while the middleweight has been recuperating, he took part in "Optical Panacea," a series of artwork by artist Sam Hon that debuted last weekend at an exhibit in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand.

Rockhold was a guest on Darce Side Radio podcast this week to promote the exhibit and said it was a "really cool shoot to be a part of."

"It's so much different from any thing I've done and seen before," said Rockhold, who revealed he taught the finishing submission (inverted triangle Kimura) over Boetsch on a Sherdog "technique of the week" video about four years ago. "They put together these sequences and these story lines of each fighter or athlete or celebrity; Arianny is in it now, too. It kind of brings everyone's personality into play and originally it was fighting, but now it is into a whole other realm."

"Mine is a little different. I play two different characters. I'm fighting two different people. It's kind of weird. It's hard to explain. He (Sam Hon) catches everyone's personality and puts it into an image and creates a story line of their own background and what they are doing. So everyone is a little different. It was fun to be a part of."

As far as a return to the Octagon, the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) fighter said "September would be a great return." He is "looking to get back in," he said, but he is in a "weird spot in the division right now" due to Weidman and Machida being scheduled to fight, Anderson Silva recovering from injury and Belfort working out his situation with testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) now being banned, and having no timetable for a return.

"There's no good match ups right now for me," he said. "All I have ahead of me right now is Jacare (Souza) that's an active fighter."

Rockhold's biggest victory of his career came over Souza to win the Strikeforce middleweight title in September of 2011. Since then, both he and Souza have grown substantially as fighters with Souza winning six-straight since losing his title to Rockhold.

The Santa Cruz native said he "doesn't understand exactly why 'Jacare' is ranked above him," and he "doesn't know if the UFC wants" that fight to happen, but he would be "open to that fight, no doubt." Should that rematch happen, he said he would "prove himself once again and beat him." A win by either fighter would almost assuredly lead to a shot at the winner of Weidman vs. Machida.

"I think that is a fair statement and I think Jacare would definitely put me there I think," Rockhold said. "It seems like the fight to be had. I'm not really too interested in taking any more steps back unless I do get that Bisping fight. That would be kind of sweet. Otherwise yeah, I want to go forward."

The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt suggested a fight with Bisping during the UFC 172 post-fight press conference and said during the interview that "he doesn't think it is going to happen." He reiterated why that would be a fight he would consider even though "The Count" is ranked below him in the division.

"We have a little history together and it's just a fun fight," Rockhold said. "A fun fight and I'd like to beat him up. I'm not going to lie. We sparred together and he opened up his mouth about the situation. That's definitely a good excuse for me to go beat him and get a pay day. I've been using it pretty adamantly. I'm not really too bitter about it but if I can get use that to get that fight I will."

Bisping has since been paired off against Cung Le (details).

Rockhold may be looking forward, but he admits there is one rematch he wants and feels it is a necessary bridge he must cross. That would be against the man who knocked him out in his UFC debut in Brazil, Vitor Belfort.

"I want to be the champion. I don't want to be no paper champion. To be the true champion and be the best in the world, I believe I should beat Vitor Belfort, so that is the reason behind it. I don't think that spinning-heel kick really tells who the better fighter is out of the two of us and I think I've jumped to another level now, and I want to return the favor."

Obviously it goes without saying the controversy that has surrounded Belfort from his TRT exemptions, and his last three fights all taking place in Brazil, so if the rematch happens, Rockhold wants it on U.S. soil saying, "I came to him, so come over here to me. Come to Vegas. Come to California. It would prove a lot to the fans. Let's see it. Let's see what you got."

"I just think there was a lot of shady stuff and I've already put it out there," he continued on Belfort. "Something happened with that test. The random test that somehow pulled him from the title fight. He had the opportunity to release those test results and if he was clean and clear, why wouldn't he? Obviously that speaks volumes."

"He's already been caught for steroids, cleared for TRT. There's a lot of things that Vitor's done that pops out at you, throws a lot of red flags and I'd like to fight him for a lot of reasons. I think most people understand the sport, know, are true fans and follow and know the deal is and they know why I want to fight him. There are a lot ignorant fans that will be on his bandwagon, but I'm in it for the purity and for fighting for what's right."

The middleweight division has become deeper recently and will only get deeper once Silva returns to the 185-pound roster. So whoever Rockhold faces next, whether it's Souza, Belfort or whoever, he will certainly have his hands full.

"This is a tough time to be a middleweight and I just kind of drive off it. I want my competition to be better. That's what I like."

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