BALTIMORE -- Luke Rockhold won’t go as far as to say he has a long-term plan for himself and his fight career. But there is a “but” coming.
“I have a rough draft,” he said. “I have a few things I’m thinking about.”
It’s definitely not that he’s looking past Tim Boetsch, the man he fights this Saturday at UFC 172. And yet, here comes another “but.” Rockhold is the heavy favorite in Vegas and elsewhere to handle Boetsch. Rockhold knows that, and he wants to act accordingly.
“I always plan on going in there and destroying my opponent,” Rockhold said during a UFC 172 media session attended by Bleacher Report. “…If I fight my fight, there’s no reason to think this shouldn’t be a quick night.”
The former Strikeforce middleweight champion has reason to be confident. He’s 11-2 as a pro and is coming off his first UFC victory, a highlight-making liver-kick TKO of Costas Philippou. Another win Saturday is the clear and necessary next step on any road map, but that doesn’t render Rockhold incapable of looking for what’s beyond it. And it turns out there are some old scores out there that he believes need settling, for him and for, let's say, MMA's larger cosmic order.
The overarching goal, of course, is the UFC middleweight title and all the various glories and riches that accompany it. With that goal alone in mind, Rockhold’s preference for his next opponent is, in his mind, an open-and-shut decision.
“Jacare is a guy I’ve fought, and he’s ranked above me and he’s pretty much the only [available] guy above me,” Rockhold said. “We had a great fight. I’m not going to lie; it was a close fight, but I believe I won that fight. All respect to Jacare, but I won that fight and I believe I’ll beat him again. If that’s the fight they want to make after this, that’s OK with me.”
The Jacare in question would be Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, who wore the Strikeforce belt before Rockhold took it from him by decision in 2011. Since moving to the UFC, a newer, more well-rounded Souza has gone a crisp 3-0 with two first-round stoppages, and as such is on the short list of challengers to Chris Weidman’s title.
Rockhold also said Wednesday he would like to take a break after UFC 172 and return to the cage in late summer or early fall. That could line up nicely with Souza’s schedule, seeing as Souza last fought in February and doesn’t yet have his next fight lined up.
But here comes that “but” again. You know who else doesn’t have a fight lined up yet? A one Mr. Vitor Belfort.
You might remember him. He knocked out Rockhold last May (in Rockhold’s UFC debut, no less) with a spinning head kick for the ages. One head-kick knockout later (this one on Dan Henderson) and Belfort had a shot at Weidman.
Now that is all in limbo, thanks to the uncertainty surrounding Belfort’s testosterone levels and related ability to get a license to fight in Nevada (or most anywhere else, for that matter).
In an interview with Damon Martin of Fox Sports, Rockhold called Belfort’s title derailment an act of “karma.” He also wants a rematch. Belfort is higher than Rockhold in the rankings. But there are forces at work that go beyond mere rankings. There are lessons to be learned, vengeance to be exacted.
“I want to avenge that [loss] in a rematch,” Rockhold said. “…I want to go back and get that fight.”
He also hides nothing when discussing Belfort and testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). Rockhold doesn't like it and he thinks it led to an unfair advantage for Belfort.
“It’s nice to see TRT get that out of the sport,” Rockhold said. “I’m not a fan. It’s a way for guys to mask their steroid use. Vitor getting pulled from the title shot because of his random test—and not releasing his test—says a lot. It speaks volumes.”
That's one personal matchup for Rockhold, then. A kind of needed karmic realignment. But if he’s dishing out karmic realignments, why stop at one? Why not be the karma police of the middleweight division?
Enter Michael Bisping. That would be the carnival-barking Brit who has made his share of enemies in the UFC and across the MMA fan sphere. The same Bisping who just lost an uninspiring decision to Tim Kennedy on April 16, and who brushed off Rockhold’s challenge back in January, but just Tuesday came crawling back to the notion. Much to Luke Rockhold’s delight.
I recall @Bisping telling me to win a fight before calling him out! Hmmmm— Luke Rockhold (@LukeRockhold) April 22, 2014
“It just brought a smile to my face,” he said of Bisping’s tweet. “It’s a ‘the tables have turned’ kind of deal. I called him out after the Vitor fight. I wanted him, I wanted to step it up and he said to win a fight in the UFC…I won my fight and he turns around and calls me out.”
Would he still be open to fighting Bisping?
“I’m not opposed to an easy paycheck.”
Rough draft indeed. So while Boetsch is the current focus and Souza and the belt are in his longer-term sights, it seems there are more pieces to the puzzle. Rockhold’s not afraid to put them together, or to veer away from the usual soundbites in pursuit of something that interests him personally as well as professionally.
“I just realized I want to be myself,” Rockhold said. “I am who I am. Love me or hate me, you have to let your personality go. This is me. I’m going to talk…This is who I am, this is how I feel.”
Scott Harris is an award-winning freelance writer who covers MMA for Bleacher Report. For more MMA and things like that, follow Scott on Twitter.