Luke Rockhold is excited about upcoming opponent Tim Boetsch. He wants to perform, he’s up to the task, and all the other things that UFC fighters are when they get their next bookings.
Rockhold (11-2 MMA, 1-1 UFC) is set to fight Boetsch (17-6 MMA, 8-5 UFC) at UFC 172 on April 26. Really, though, he hasn’t let go of other targets past and present, including Michael Bisping.
“I still want Bisping, of course” he recently told MMAjunkie Radio. “I want both (Bisping and Vitor Belfort). I’m not one to talk s–t unless it’s warranted, and Bisping went out of his way to make some false statements on national TV, so that gets under my skin, and I will keep talking until I get that fight.”
Rockhold’s beef with Bisping stretches back to 2012, when “The Count” appeared on the now-canceled “MMA Uncensored” and said he was top dog when the two sparred in the gym. Belfort, of course, knocked both of them out in successive performances.
Of course, getting a first fight with Bisping is far easier for Rockhold to acquire at this point than a rematch with Belfort, who is scheduled to fight middleweight champ Chris Weidman for the title in May at UFC 173.
Rockhold, a former Strikeforce champ, plans to do his part to make the Bisping fight happen, but he’s only half the equation. Bisping (24-5 MMA, 14-5 UFC) has another challenge ahead when he meets Tim Kennedy (17-4 MMA, 2-0 UFC) at the TUF Nations Finale on April 16.
“My gut says I’ll get it if he can get past Kennedy,” Rockhold said. “Can he beat Kennedy? Truthfully, I’ve trained with Bisping and I fought Kennedy, and I think Kennedy is probably going to beat him.
“I want Bisping to win because I want to beat his ass, but Kennedy is just too tenacious. He’s going to stick to his game plan. He’s going to wrestle him and take him down. Bisping’s tough enough to where I think he can get up and not make it a dominant fight, but I think Kennedy’s tenaciousness will get to him. I think it will be a boring fight, but I think Kennedy will come out with the decision.”
That leaves Rockhold to seethe at Bisping when they run into each other on the UFC scene. He said he ran into his foe at Las Vegas’ RVCA gym and received a cold response.
“He doesn’t really want to say anything,” Rockhold said. “That was it for me. Say you’re sorry. You had your opportunity, face-to-face, in the first time I’d seen him. He just kind of walked by me and didn’t say anything. Then he saw my friend in the parking lot and he’s like, ‘I hope Luke’s not still pissed about what I said.’
“You had the opportunity to say it to my face and you didn’t. Apologize. Be a man, and when he couldn’t spit that out, pretty much that’s it for me. If you give me a sincere apology and you tell me face-to-face, I’ll respect you. But I just can’t respect someone who’s going to (tell) a second-hand apology through a friend in the parking lot. It doesn’t fly.
“He’s going to pay for his comments. If he somehow scrapes by and outpoints Kennedy, he’s going to be in for it because he will not have the opportunity with me. I will lay it on him.”
Rockhold said the training session with Bisping that led to his TV-show comments took place shortly after his Strikeforce title defense against Kennedy.
“I had a wrist injury and a couple things I was trying to let heal, and I wasn’t in the gym at all for five weeks,” he said. “As I was stopping through (in Las Vegas), I was talking to the owner of RVCA and asked if anybody was training, and [the owner] mentioned Bisping. I was like, ‘Ah, I never really liked the guy.’ He was like, ‘He’s really not that bad.’ I ended up going down there, and he talked me into training with him.
“Bisping was two weeks away from his Brian Stann fight and was in great shape, and I went out the night before, hung out with a girl and drank a bunch of wine, and somehow made it into the gym in the morning. That’s what happened, and Bisping went on to talk about it. He has his opinion. One sparring session, and he was completely cool about it, and he gave me his number and said, ‘Call me any time.’ Then he went on to talk crap.”
While it lacks the detail of Patrick Cummins’ jab at Daniel Cormier, Bisping’s comments to Rockhold are another example of the conflict that arises from gym stories that go public. Rockhold, for one, insists that it’s not just in the Olympic training room that teammates are supposed to remain silent about what happens on the training mats, but in all of MMA.
“You don’t get into detail about what exactly went down unless you’re not a man of your word,” he said. “I’ve trained with a lot of the best guys in the world, and I’m not going out there saying anything.”
Despite his lingering irritation, Rockhold said he is focused on beating Boetsch, whom he was originally scheduled to face at UFC 166 before a knee injury forced him to withdraw. But ultimately, that’s something a lot of fighters say when they entertain fights over the shoulders of upcoming opponents.
For Rockhold, it may not matter who is standing across from him, as he is apt to say. But it surely matters who he wants.
For the latest on UFC 172, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.
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