clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Luke Rockhold takes his game over the top Down Under

Mark Kolbe

Luke Rockhold was so relaxed during his main event bout with Michael Bisping that the chaos of fighting almost felt leisurely. He was so tranquil and patient after all those miles of travel and trash talk that, even while ceding the first round to Bisping on the scorecards, it played out like an act of absentmindedness…he just left his thermos sitting on the counter as he headed off to work was all. When he collided heads with Bisping while throwing a right hook, it was almost like he peeled open an eye from an afternoon slumber just to see what time it was. Between rounds he repeated his corner’s instructions word-for-word before going back out and forcing Bisping to tap.

It was the first time Bisping has tapped in 32 professional fights; nobody makes Bisping say uncle.

Rockhold, wearing a beard and an attitude of touristy bemusement, made the whole thing look entirely too easy at UFC Fight Night 55. In fact, he could have finished Bisping via strikes after whapping a shin across his chops, but instead he very coolly -- very methodically, very casually -- snatched the neck for a guillotine. Even if he’s not likely to admit it, Rockhold was poring over his selection of outcomes in a moment most fighters go a little crazy with the scent of blood in the water.

That’s the kind of night it was. Rockhold fought as if he were picking up the mood from the nearby Opera House. It wasn’t just against Bisping that he looked this way, either -- this fight was a continuation of something that Rockhold has discovered. He takes his own damn sweet time. He sees the fight unfolding in front of him at half-speed. It’s a trait he shares with some of the game’s best. It’s a fine-tuning that makes him look that much more...I want to say exclusive.

And with middleweight champion Chris Weidman in the crowd in Sydney, Australia, Rockhold basically arranged a future play date. "See you soon, pal," his performance all but declared. At some point, Weidman and Rockhold, who are terrific admirers of one another, are destined to square off down the road. Weidman has to take care of Vitor Belfort in late-February, first, and more than likely Rockhold will have to take another fight in the meantime, but the idea of them coming together has a little more sheen than it did before the events at Allphones.

You’ve got to love the fight game’s careless handling of fates. It’s eye-popping fun (wow, look at that, Rockhold is for real!) even at its cruelest (wow, look at that, Bisping lives in a world where Joe Soto can for a title and yet he never will).

Right now the top of the UFC’s middleweight division is compelling with so many intersecting plot lines and back stories. Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza would appear to be the next in line for a title shot, but now it’s a three-legged race with Rockhold, who defeated him under the Strikeforce banner back in 2011 for the middleweight belt. That rematch is out there for the taking, if the UFC opts to book it. Rockhold, as he made clear in the post-fight interview, isn’t opposed to fighting the swamp thing again.

Jacare, one would presume, might want to avenge that loss.

You know what, though? Anything matchmaker Joe Silva opts to do at this point will look good. Jacare-Rockhold II, Rockhold-Yoel Romero, Rockhold-Lyoto Machida, Machida-Romero, Romero-Tim Kennedy II, Jacare-Romero -- make your pick. If Belfort loses at UFC 184, there is a long line of guys (including Rockhold) mashing their knuckles in their palms waiting for that fight. Don’t forget that Anderson Silva is coming back in early-2015, too, and Gegard Mousasi still exists. C.B. Dollaway, who is the Great Unsung in this crop of gnarly beasts, could insert himself with a win over Machida in December.

In late-201, the middleweight division is alive with possibility.

And on Friday night (for American viewers anyway), Rockhold added to it by taking care of business. He walked out to Johnny Horton’s "The Battle of New Orleans" in a measured jab at the British, and then just as deliberately beat England’s most famous mixed martial artist with sedative ease. The surf-born Adonis made all the trash talk feel sort of silly in the end. It was the kind of performance that made his UFC debut against Belfort feel like eons ago, while rendering a future clash with Weidman inevitable.

In other words, not a bad showing.