UFC 172: 5 Fights for Luke Rockhold to Take Next

Steven Rondina@srondinaFeatured ColumnistApril 27, 2014

UFC 172: 5 Fights for Luke Rockhold to Take Next

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Luke Rockhold looked good Saturday night. Really good, in fact, as he choked out a tough Tim Boetsch in just over two minutes.

    While many were quick to brush off the former Strikeforce champion following his loss to Vitor Belfort, the middleweight division's chips have fallen in such a way that Rockhold is in the thick of title contention even with that loss. That makes pondering potential matchups for him quite the interesting exercise.

    So who could (and who should) we see Rockhold face off with next? What fights make the most sense for the UFC as it tinkers with the ever-shifting middleweight division?

    Find out right here!

Vitor Belfort

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    In case you didn't see it, Luke Rockhold is pushing for a rematch with Vitor Belfort pretty hard.

    While that match would normally be a pipe dream...not so fast. At the post-fight press conference, UFC President Dana White was very unclear regarding Belfort's standing with the promotion and laughed off the notion of Belfort fighting at July's UFC 175 card. We have no idea how long Belfort is out for and if he will get that shot at the winner of Chris Weidman vs. Lyoto Machida. 

    It might not be the next fight for Rockhold, and it might not be the next fight for Belfort, but a rematch feels inevitable right now. We'll have to wait and see how things shake out in the coming months for Belfort and what happens to the belt.

    Either way, this is a fight worth getting excited about, no matter how far off it may be.

Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza

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    Jeff Chiu

    Rematches go in both directions. While Rockhold wants to avenge his loss to Vitor Belfort, I'm sure Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza feels the same way about him.

    Rockhold and Souza faced off in 2011 at Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov. It was there that Rockhold would earn the Strikeforce belt, taking a unanimous decision victory to the tune of 50-45, 48-47 and 48-47. While it was a big, convincing win at the time, Souza flipped the switch after that bout and went from a physically powerful Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner to a straight-up killer.

    "Jacare" is currently on a six-fight winning streak, with two of those wins coming by KO and three coming by submission. During this stretch, he has shown off improved striking and, most impressively, a legitimate takedown game to go along with his jiu-jitsu.

    Souza currently sits above Rockhold in the rankings (that may change after the next wave of ballots, though), but either way, they're both clearly headed in the direction of the middleweight belt. It's tied up for a while yet, meaning the best way for either one of them to stake their claim would be with a win over the other. 

Tim Kennedy

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    Souza isn't the only Strikeforce veteran on a career upswing looking to get revenge on Rockhold. Tim Kennedy would definitely like a second crack at the former champ.

    Like Souza, Kennedy is undefeated since losing to Rockhold, is 3-0 in the UFC and has shown serious improvement over the last two years. Kennedy delivered a devastating knockout over Rafael Natal in 2013 to jump back into the UFC's Top 10, and he most recently manhandled Michael Bisping en route to a unanimous decision win. 

    Kennedy is in a relatively awkward spot, however. While he owns an admirable 9-2 combined record between Strikeforce and the UFC, those two losses came to Souza and Rockhold. Both were convincing enough to not warrant a quick rematch, and Kennedy has been toiling in the middle of the pack until very recently.

    Kennedy, though, has done enough to warrant another crack at a belt. With his profile raised on the heels of his win over Bisping, a rematch with Rockhold might just be down the road.

Michael Bisping

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    In spite of losing to Tim Kennedy a few weeks ago, no rising middleweight contender can go through an event without talking about a fight with Michael Bisping. It's against the rules. 

    It's a smart move by Rockhold, of course. Bisping is one of the UFC's most popular fighters but isn't bulletproof by any means. That opens up the opportunity for a winnable main event bout for a guy like Rockhold that raises his name value and greatly increases his chances for a championship bout.

    It's a great fight for Rockhold...but not so much for either the UFC or Bisping. 

    Bisping remaining competitive in the middleweight division is advantageous for the UFC, and any given bout with him is worthy of either a TV main event slot or the co-main event spot on a pay-per-view.

    Bisping also remains the UFC's best draw in England by a mile. Rockhold wouldn't be an easy fight for Bisping, and the UFC will probably want him to take a tuneup fight before diving back into the deep end. 

    That said, if Rockhold keeps jawing and it gets under Bisping's skin, we could see it happen in the near future.

The Winner of Gegard Mousasi vs. Mark Munoz

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    Michael Sohn

    Both Gegard Mousasi and Mark Munoz are established veterans deserving of a spot in the Top 10 of the middleweight division. Both of them are coming off losses to Lyoto Machida.

    They are slated to face off in Berlin, and the winner would work quite well as a potential opponent for Luke Rockhold.

    Mousasi is a formidable striker with a large body of work in both Strikeforce and Dream. Munoz has been a steady presence near the top of the UFC's middleweight division and has posted big wins over many Top 10 fighters over the years. While both of them have been somewhat forgotten due to the length between their fights, they remain a tough test for anybody at 185 pounds.

    They face off May 31, and the winner would make a solid, new opponent for Rockhold.