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Luke Rockhold recalls tougher spars vs. Islam Makhachev than Khabib: ‘No ‘55er works with me like this’

UFC 220: Miocic v Ngannou Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Islam Makhachev is regarded as Khabib Nurmagomedov 2.0 for a reason.

Teammates at American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) in San Jose, California, the two Lightweight smashers once worked closely with former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight champion, Luke Rockhold. While Nurmagomedov has since retired from mixed martial arts (MMA), Rockhold returns to action after a three-year layoff this weekend (Sat., Aug. 20, 2022) at UFC 278 in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Makhachev fights for the vacant 155 pound title on Oct. 22, 2022, at UFC 280 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

In many cases, it’s rare to see Lightweights working with bigger-bodied fighters above the 170 pound Welterweight class. Having felt the talent of Makhachev first hand, Rockhold unsurprisingly foresees his old teammate coming out on top against Charles Oliveira in the upcoming title tilt.

“I used to use Islam as one of my sparring partners when I fought [Lyoto] Machida back in the day,” Rockhold told Ag Fight. “No ‘55-pounder works with me like this then gives me a good go. Khabib, grappling, yes. But Islam was a better striker. We always said he was this 2.0 because he was a better striker. Maybe not the control that Khabib had but he always had this knack for striking that was just above Khabib at the time. But he still had this master of sport grappling and sambo.

“There’s no one like these two that I’ve felt at 155 pounds that can actually give me a run for my money and make me work — really, really work,” he concluded. “I just expect a different level of control. If Islam gets ahold of Charles he’s gonna slow that psycho down (laughs). I love that psycho but I’m very excited for the fight.”

Like Makhachev, Rockhold’s next bout also comes against a strong Brazilian, taking on consistent knockout artist, Paulo Costa, in UFC 278’s co-main event.

LIVE! Watch UFC 279 PPV On ESPN+ Here!

BLOCKBUSTER WELTERWEIGHT SHOWDOWN! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Sat., Sept. 10, 2022, with a must-watch updated Welterweight thriller that will see perennial fan favorite, Nate Diaz now battles former top-ranked Lightweight contender, Tony Ferguson, who will return to the 170-pound weight class for this last minute, upgraded assignment. Meanwhile, In UFC 279’s pay-per-view (PPV) co-main event, we now get the undefeated No. 3-ranked contender, Khamzat Chimaev, opposite Kevin ‘Trailblazer’ Holland.

Don’t miss a single second of EPIC face-punching action!


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 278 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ABC/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 278: “Usman vs. Edwards 2” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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