Former Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold encountered a violent setback in his UFC debut, but he said he’s still the same threat to the middleweight division.
“I still feel as good as ever,” he recently told MMAjunkie Radio. “It doesn’t change my goals, and it hasn’t shaken my confidence. I know what I’m capable of, and I’m going to go do it.”
Rockhold (10-2 MMA, 0-1 UFC) gets a chance to reset when he takes on Constantinos Philippou (12-3 MMA, 5-2 UFC) in the main event of UFC Fight Night 35, which takes place Jan. 15 at Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga. The main card is expected to air live on FOX Sports 1 or 2 following prelims on MMAjunkie.
“This is just another fight to get back on track,” Rockhold said of his meeting with Philippou.
In May at UFC on FX 8, Rockhold fought for the first time in the octagon and quickly found himself the victim of a flashy spinning back-kick from ex-champ Vitor Belfort. After hitting the canvas, Rockhold was completely knocked out by punches in the first round.
It was his first loss in nine fights and five years after competing under the Strikeforce banner.
Had he beaten Belfort, Rockhold, who’s ranked No. 7 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA middleweight rankings, would have been in line for a shot at the middleweight title. But despite the dip on his roller coaster ride as a professional fighter, he said he won’t be defined by the loss.
“A spinning heel kick is going to derail my whole career? You’ve got to be joking,” he said.
After more than six months on the bench, Rockhold is itching to get back into the cage to fight No. 11 Philippou, whom he anticipates will favor fists over kicks.
“I want to get this one behind me,” he said. “I’ve never been in this good a shape this far out from a fight, so this is going to be a good one for the fans.
“Costa’s going to come to box, and I’m not going to let it slow down. I’m not going to Francis Carmont him or nothing. Trust me.”
When he came in studio for his interview on MMAjunkie Radio, Rockhold bore the marks of his efforts to get quicker. A trip to Las Vegas prompted a visit to the boxing gym of renowned coach Jeff Mayweather, where his longtime training partner, Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, set up a sparring session with pugilist Andrew Tabiti.
“I got a little marked up – I’m not going to lie,” Rockhold laughed. “The guy is lighting fast, and it was tough. It’s hard to gauge him, and I was dying at the end of it. I was using so much footwork to get away from him.”
Rockhold said he went six hard rounds with the 3-0 pro boxer, who apparently came prepared for the encounter.
“I didn’t really have a corner with me,” he said. “I had (UFC lightweight) Gray (Maynard) as a friend, who wouldn’t even give me water between rounds. [Tabiti's] got, like, three coaches telling him what to do between rounds. I’m like, ‘Where’s my water? I’m dying over here.’
“He’s a handful to deal with. I couldn’t even see his right hand coming. He’s so quick. I rushed in too much. He was so quick in and out, I felt like I had to cover so much ground to come get him. When I would, he would come back, and I would overshoot my [punches].”
After getting his eye-opener, Rockhold said he’d like to return to the boxing gym to work on his jab and overall boxing skills. It could come in handy for Philippou, after all.
“I like to isolate myself in different aspects of MMA,” he said. “It was hard to adjust, but now that I look back on it, when you go with top-level guys like that, it gives you a chance to improve upon what you’re doing and see the whole.”
And for fans that might think he’s an easy mark against top talent, he would say they’ve only seen part of the picture.
For the latest on UFC Fight Night 35, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.