UFC 172 Fight Card: A Luke Rockhold Win Makes Him Suddenly Pretty Relevant

Matthew RyderFeatured ColumnistApril 26, 2014

Jan 15, 2014; Duluth, GA, USA; Luke Rockhold is interviewed after his win against Costas Philippou (not pictured) at Gwinnett Center. Rockhold wins. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

It's March 2011.

Jon Jones isn't the light heavyweight champion yet, but he's a week away from the fight that crowned him the king he still is today.

Matthew McConaughey's The Lincoln Lawyer is fixing to drop in theatres, and he's still a hopeless dope of an actor who could never, ever win an Oscar. The idea is laughable.

Lady Gaga is fending off Katy Perry's "E.T." and Rihanna's "S&M" at the top of the music charts, to the chagrin of anyone with ears.

And Zuffa just bought Strikeforce.

Dana White is sitting in his office and talking to Ariel Helwani, dropping a bomb on the MMA community that no one saw coming: The UFC's parent company just purchased it's main competition, swindling it from boss Scott Coker in the middle of the night.

It was a great time to be alive for MMA fans, as fantasy matchups began to become possible. What did this mean for Nick Diaz? Ronaldo Souza? The legendary Fedor Emelianenko?

They were all technically UFC property at that point, and nothing was off the table.

Quietly involved in that mix of available talent was a 7-1 middleweight who wasn't getting much attention but who'd shown signs that he might be something. That man was Luke Rockhold, and by the time Strikeforce would be folded into the UFC, he'd be the promotion's middleweight champion.

There was genuine enthusiasm for his arrival in the UFC, and people saw him to be a top contender. That was reflected in his choice of debut opponent, as he was given the now-legendary Vitor Belfort.

As was the story with most men who dared to enter the cage with the testosterone-infused Belfort, Rockhold was the victim of a highlight-reel knockout strike, and his stock plummeted. While most Strikeforce imports were holding their own, one of the organization's most prominent became iconic for all the wrong reasons after only a few minutes in the Octagon.

A year later, though, and things have changed. Testosterone replacement therapy is illegal, and with that fact has come something of a reprieve for those who fell at the hands of athletes who were using the therapy. Rockhold, now looking to win his second in a row at UFC 172, is back in the game.

Besides the circumstances around TRT, the rest of the middleweight division has either faltered or stagnated.

Belfort, a top contender on TRT, is now in a holding pattern. He's been replaced at the top by Lyoto Machida, who'll fight for the title in July.

Perennial contender and Rockhold foil Michael Bisping just lost, dropping out of the top five for the first time in a long time.

Everyone else around Rockhold in the rankings—save for Souza, who is in his own holding pattern at the moment (and whom Rockhold already defeated)—is either fighting lower competition or behind Rockhold in the pecking order for a title shot.

And so his fight at UFC 172 becomes a sudden shot at relevance for the American Kickboxing Academy product. With a win over Tim Boetsch, a burly brawler who's just credible enough to look good on an already solid resume, Rockhold could easily lay claim to a title shot.

Belfort seems keen to get back in there and is the only man clearly ahead of Rockhold based on their meeting last year, but from there, it's pretty much wide open. And given the circumstances around Belfort's career at the moment, nothing involving his ability to fight or even be sanctioned is automatic.

That makes Luke Rockhold suddenly pretty relevant. Going into UFC 172, his fight hasn't gotten much attention, mostly due to a Jon Jones headlining appearance and the antics of Phil Davis, but it might just be the fight to create the next contender at 185.

Who knew when you were listening to Lady Gaga on the way home from another bad Matthew McConaughey movie in 2011 that this would be the case by 2014? Funny how things change.


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