As the Strikeforce fighters continue to trickle into the UFC’s roster, one name undoubtedly has more hype behind it than others. The last man to ever wear the Strikeforce middleweight belt, Luke Rockhold (10-1, MMA) will make his Octagon debut in the main event at UFC on FX 8 on May 18 against a legend of the sport, Vitor Belfort (22-10, MMA), in Brazil.
Though it’ll be nearly a year since Rockhold last fought by time he makes his promotional debut, the American Kickboxing Academy trained fighter from Santa Cruz, CA feels he can out-class Belfort in all areas of the game.
“I think my advantages is everywhere really. Vitor will always have fast hands, he has good power, but I pose a lot of problems myself. I’m a longer fighter, I have better kicks than him. I believe my advantages are on the ground, in wrestling, in the distance in the stand up. I have plenty of ways to win this fight. And most of all, I got more heart than Vitor. I think I’m more of a man than Vitor.”
The recent influx of Strikeforce fighters have come into the UFC and wrecked havoc against some of the top names on their roster. Even if Luke is hungry to get out on MMA’s most elite stage and show the world who he is, he told MMA Fight Corner that the wins Strikeforce’s roster has compiled thus far in the UFC just proves how much talent the former organization had.
“I’m motivated for every fight, especially when I’ve got a good opponent in front of me like Vitor – someone who poses some challenges to overcome,” Luke said. “It’s not so much coming in with Strikeforce, it’s just fighting in general. I think our guys in Strikeforce have been as good or better for a long time and now we’re coming in and kicking everybody’s butt.
“Cormier won – he beat a top contender in the UFC. Josh Thomson beat another top UFC fighter. And I think Gilbert Melendez won that fight for the title. And then you have Pat Healy coming in and beating up Jim Miller, so it’s like all our top guys against their top guys we’re winning fights. And obviously they’re winning some fights too, but it’s the same caliber of fighter.”
In Strikeforce, Luke became the middleweight champion by defeating Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and then defended his title successfully twice. His first defense was against Keith Jardine and the next was against Tim Kennedy. However, Luke didn’t get the opportunity to come into the UFC’s 185 pound division and get an immediate title shot. His hope is a win over Belfort will put his name in contention.
“I’m focused on Vitor, but I don’t see how [a win] couldn’t warrant a title shot. I mean, Gilbert got an immediate title shot. I’ve defended my belt twice and taking out a top contender like Vitor, why wouldn’t I?”
But getting past Vitor won’t be an easy task. Belfort’s defeated some of the best in he game including: Wanderlei Silva, Randy Couture, and Yoshihiro Akiyama. Most recently, Belfort scored a huge win over Michael Bisping on the last FX card, knocking him out with a head kick in the second round.
Following that win, it was revealed that Belfort had been approved for TRT (testosterone replacement therapy) use and was “under the supervision of a medical doctor from the State of Nevada, after being diagnosed with hypogonadism, or low testosterone” as per a statement released by Zuffa, the UFC’s parent company.
The Nevada State Athletic Commission’s executive director Keith Kizer has said that Belfort would likely be denied for an exemption in Nevada because he tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone in the past. Where this fight is concerned, Belfort is allowed to fight using TRT as long as he tests within the ratios allowed by the UFC and the newly formed Brazilian Athletic commission. Also, the UFC is taking extra measures to test those on TRT during their training camps to monitor that their testosterone levels aren’t over limit.
“I think it’s a crock of s*** personally. I don’t understand it,” Luke said of Vitor’s TRT exemption. “I think Nevada set the standard for most of the other states. And it’s like the NBA and Baseball, if they travel overseas, they’re not going to be permitted to use steroids just because they’re overseas. I think it’s just crap. But at the same time, if they’re not going to punish him, I will. And I believe it hurts you in more ways than it helps you.”
While some fighters might feel that travelling to scrap in his opponent’s backyard means that they’re about to tread waters in hostile territory, Rockhold not only thinks he’ll be welcomed in the Arena Jaraguá in Jaraguá do Sul, Brazil, but said fighting Vitor in his native Brazil has him riled up even more for the impending battle.
“I’m fired up about it. It just fuels me even more. It just motivates me to train and it just puts a little chip on my shoulder. I’m pushing myself like nobody else. It sounds like I’ve got lots of fans out there and once I beat Vitor, obviously, I’ll bring everybody to my side. From what I hear, a lot of Brazilians don’t like Vitor. They don’t like his cheating ways and I’m getting a lot of support on social media from Brazilians. So, I’m excited. I get a free trip to Brazil, I get paid, and I get to kick someone’s ass.”