SAN JOSE, Calif.—Luke Rockhold wants to get paid to fight. It’s a simple premise for a prizefighter, but for the Strikeforce middleweight, it’s proven more difficult.
The American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) representative has had to pull out of fights with both Matt Lindland and Tim Kennedy due to injury in the last 12 months. No fights equals no money during his 14-month layoff—and no money means perspective.
“I cut out the partying a lot. I haven't had any money to party. All I've been able to do is train and work on what I need,” Rockhold told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview at AKA. “I want to get paid now. I've been living like a poor man for a long time.”
An extended layoff can cut off any fighter’s main income source, which may prove especially challenging for a prospect like Rockhold.
“The people around me is the only reason why I survive, Bob Cook and DeWayne Zinkin. I've had to take out a couple of loans, I'm not gonna lie,” he continued. “I want to pay off my debts. I want to start stacking some cash and set myself up for the future."
The future is bright in the 26-year-old’s mind.
Having never seen the distance in eight contests, Rockhold, 7-1, feels his time away from the cage and in the gym has increased his arsenal as well as his maturity. He guarantees he will display new weapons in June or July when the Santa Cruz, California-native expects to return.
"It could be a blessing in disguise,” he said. “I've improved so much, so much since my last fight. I've improved all my weaknesses. Maybe I wasn't ready for the big dogs. Maybe I could win [but] it wouldn't have been as impressive as I want to be. I know I'm ready now. I'm looking to impress.”
Rockhold is eager to fight his way back into the conversation since Strikeforce was acquired by Zuffa, LLC, parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
“They were calling [Strikeforce] the minor leagues and stuff like that. We're not the minor leagues. I'm excited to show we're not,” he asserted. “I want to fight all the toughest guys in the world. I'm not trying to duck anybody or scared of anybody. I want to fight everybody. Bring 'em on. Whether it's Strikeforce or the UFC, I'm ready."
Potential to step in the Octagon or meet its competitors is an alternate route—if not a more direct path—to achieve top-10 status in the middleweight division.
However, Rockhold welcomes unfinished business in the six-sided cage.
"Tim Kennedy is still a fight that I would definitely enjoy. I think that's a fight that the fans want to see,” said Rockhold. “I think that's a fight that Strikeforce wants to see. I want to make it happen. Let's make it happen, Tim."
Training alongside the likes of UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, Jon Fitch and Daniel Cormier at American Kickboxing Academy, Rockhold realizes opportunities are in his fighting performances and not the parties.
“Big injuries like this will scare you enough to slap yourself into focus and realize what you really want. There's nothing more that I want in life than to be the best fighter in the world,” he said. “I'm gonna do everything in my power to be that one."
Danny Acosta is the lead writer at FIGHT! Magazine. Follow him on twitter.com/acostaislegend