For Luke Rockhold, desired Vitor Belfort rematch hinges on UFC Fight Night 35 win


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(This story appears in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)

DULUTH, Ga. – To say Luke Rockhold is in a critical situation Wednesday might be an understatement.

The former Strikeforce middleweight champion gets his second shot at success in the UFC after a promotional debut this past May that he’d love to forget.

Rockhold (10-2 MMA, 0-1 UFC) meets Constantinos Philippou (12-3 MMA, 5-2 UFC) in the main event of UFC Fight Night 35, which takes place at Arena at Gwinnett Center, just north of Atlanta (5 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1).

In May, Rockhold made his UFC debut after crossing over from Strikeforce as its final 185-pound champion. A win over Vitor Belfort might have thrust him right into a title consideration. But instead, Belfort landed a spinning kick to the head, and Rockhold found a permanent spot on the wrong end of a highlight reel.

It’s a loss Rockhold has been thinking about avenging ever since it happened, including the time in the fall he was sidelined with a knee injury. After eight months, he finally gets a chance to start to put that loss in the rear view mirror.

“The Vitor loss was tough – it’s a tough one to suck up,” Rockhold told USA TODAY Sports. “I’ve somewhat moved on, and I’m focused on what’s ahead of me, but it’s definitely still something (I think about). … I think I can definitely rewrite that story a little better, and I’d like a rematch somewhere down the line. Obviously I’m tired of people talking about that kick.”

But the Californian, who trains at the renowned American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, knows any chance he has to work on the rewrite has to start against Philippou, who recently was on the verge of title contention, as well.

Philippou had a five-fight winning streak snapped with a loss to Francis Carmont in September, and the Frenchman may have drawn up the blueprint for how to fight the Cyprus-born New Yorker.

“Costa’s a good, solid boxer who knows how to gauge the distance and keep the fight where he wants it for the most part,” Rockhold said. “Carmont definitely exposed a weakness in his game. … He’s got to get through my arsenal of strikes, and the thing is, if he gets too close, he might just trip and fall into a guillotine or a ground-and-pound situation.”

And that might be the best way for Rockhold to start to put the Belfort loss behind him – just to get moving forward again toward a rematch.

It’s that loss and eye on the future he’s using as motivation tonight, and that, he believes, is a bad thing for Philippou.

“This is not a good time to fight me,” he said. “It’s the wrong place and wrong time to be fighting me. Now it’s time for me to do my thing here. I didn’t come here to be second best or to just be a journeyman. I came here to be the best – the best of the best.”

For more on UFC Fight Night 35, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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