Luke Rockhold: Chris Weidman will be 'the one to break' Vitor Belfort

Getty Images via Zuffa LLC

You don't have to look back far to find a time when Luke Rockhold was the man at the front of the line. The last Strikeforce middleweight champion entered the UFC with lofty expectations in early 2013, and matchmakers put him right to work, throwing Rockhold and his impressive nine-fight winning streak into an immediate No. 1 contender fight against Vitor Belfort.

Of course, that excursion into Brazil didn't exactly pan out like Rockhold expected. Not only did Belfort send him home hurting with a ridiculous first-round spinning wheel kick, but the May tilt also proved to be the last time fight fans saw Rockhold, as a torn MCL kept the Californian out of competition throughout the end of 2013 -- forcing him to sit idly by and watch as his name drifted farther and farther out of title contention.

"It is was it is. People can forget," Rockhold said of his rough year on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour.

"People have short term memories in MMA, but I know what I'm capable of. Obviously I beat Jacare (Souza), I beat Tim Kennedy. (Gegard) Mousasi, he's a tough guy, but I put away (Keith) Jardine right after he couldn't put him away. There's a lot of things I've done in my career, but I need to refresh people's memories and I need to go have a good performance.

"If I go out there and do my job, people will wake up. I guarantee you that."

Rockhold finally looks to get back on track later this month when he collides against No. 10 ranked middleweight contender Costas Philippou in the main event of UFC Fight Night 35.

Like Rockhold, the 34-year-old Philippou hopes the opportunity serves as a springboard to bounce back from a rough 2013 -- a 12-month span that saw Philippou's five-fight win streak derailed by injury and inactivity, and ultimately come to an end in uninspired fashion at the hands of Francis Carmont.

Though Carmont was unable to mount much offense against Philippou, the New Yorker still allowed Carmont to complete all five of his takedown attempts and successfully advance his position a whopping 14 times throughout their 15-minute fight. It's a performance that, to put it lightly, did not impress Rockhold.

"He doesn't look the sharpest of course," Rockhold said of Philippou's ground game.

"He didn't get submitted (by Carmont) so his defense seems alright. I think he just sits around a little too much, and my ground game, I guarantee you it's above Carmont's. I'm just a different style. I'm not your average jiu-jitsu guy. I practice legit-su, and so it's going to be hell for him if it hits the ground. Trust me, it's not going to be a smotherfest. There's going to be a lot of fire on his face and submissions if he tries to turn away."

While Rockhold may be middleweight's forgotten man at the moment, a decisive win would undoubtedly do wonders to catapult him back into the conversation. With division stalwart Anderson Silva out indefinitely and Belfort tabbed as the next challenger for Chris Weidman, just three viable contenders remain perched above Rockhold's No. 6 ranking -- Souza, Lyoto Machida and Michael Bisping.

In Rockhold's eyes, with his opportunity ripe and his thirtieth birthday looming just over the horizon, the time is now to "stack some cash and try to build a retirement."

"I realize my window can close at any time in this sport," Rockhold said.

"This is a bad position for Philippou, just because I'm more motivated than I've ever been. Safe to say, I'm somewhat over [the Belfort loss]. But I don't think I'll be completely over it until I get my rematch and return the favor."

While a second chance against Belfort seems far-fetched at this p oint, chaos is basically the name of the game for the UFC's 185-pound division of late, so who's to say what could happen in the future. A year ago Silva was considered untouchable. Now it's unknown whether Silva will ever step foot inside the cage again, and a leg kick heavy gameplan suddenly seems a tad more daunting.

"I've always thought twice about throwing inside leg kicks, to tell you the truth," Rockhold admitted. "I don't like ‘em. Being a southpaw and throwing them on an orthodox fighter, it's so easy to turn your knee in and check.

"It sounds like ... [Silva] wants to come back, but at 38 years old, that was a bad break, so who knows. We'll see how fast he heals and how he feels when he gets back. He'll probably be out for at least a year and a half, maybe. A lot can change in that time, and who knows what he feels. But if I was him, I'd probably want to get back in and finish on a better note. Not that he has anything left to prove, of course, but I'd like to go out not shattering my leg."

Without Silva's brilliance effectively relegating the division to a one-man show, middleweight looks wide open for the first time in nearly seven years. But when it comes to the next championship pairing, Rockhold carries little doubt about Belfort's chances.

"I think Chris beats him," Rockhold said matter-of-factly.

"He'll get the takedown and I think he'll control [Belfort]. Chris is a smart guy and he sticks to the gameplan and he's a tough wrestler. You get that early takedown, it's a different world for Vitor. People just haven't really gotten to that point. I strayed from the gameplan and obviously I got caught with some crazy stuff, but I think Chris will stick to it and he'll be the one to break him -- especially, (the fight being held) in Vegas wouldn't hurt either, with a little more strict conditions."

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