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Luke Rockhold's title win just the beginning of reaching his goals

As Luke Rockhold sets to make his first defense of the UFC middleweight title, his goal is not just to be champion, but be a record-setting champion in the division where setting records is the most difficult.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

As Luke Rockhold sets to make his first defense of his UFC middleweight title at UFC 199 on June 4 in Los Angeles, it's clear that his title win was not the culmination of goals, but just the beginning.

"Everything I've done in my life has always been competitive," he told MMA Fighting. "I've always pushed myself. I've always wanted to take that leap of faith. I never wanted to live in my comfort zone. I always wanted to break every record I can. I've never been more passionate and more focused since I found this sport, or whatever you want to call it. It's as real as it gets. I love it. I don't understand anybody in any part of life if their goal is to be average. What's the point of living? If you're passionate about something, do it to be good. Do it to be great,. Do it to be special. Do it to be something more. You want to leave your mark. Nobody wants to be forgotten. I don't understand any other way of living my life. I want to break every record and realize my potential and I don't think I'm there. I'm entering my athletic prime. I have five or six years. I have so much technically and athletically I can get better in."

Rockhold (15-2) faces late replacement Michael Bisping (28-7) in his first defense of a title that was made famous and became the belt that's history includes most of the key UFC records. That's due to Anderson Silva, the consensus all-time greatest fighter in the division's history, and arguably the sport's history. So any talk of being the best in the history of the division carries a lot higher standard when talking middleweights.

Perhaps Rockhold's biggest test when it comes to Bisping, who he finished early in the second round on November 8, 2014, is not to focus on how one-sided that fight was. Between that, and Bisping taking the fight on short notice, it would be easy to take this win for granted.

"With Luke, it doesn't matter," said his trainer, Javier Mendez, about any problems of overconfidence. "He's got the motivation. He knows why he's here. This is one individual who does everything he's supposed to do. He eats, he sleeps, he trains property. He's not a guy who blows it on things he shouldn't be doing. If you want the formula to follow to be a true champion, Luke Rockhold is that example. Nutrition, sleep, rehabilitation,, training, technique, visualization, studying your opponent. He does everything. You don't have to worry about him not doing his homework."

If homework was the issue, Rockhold had been working on a term paper one on subject, only to have to start from scratch with a new subject just before finishing.

"I wasn't surprised Weidman would fall out," said Rockhold. "He's always been a brittle character. Yeah, and with New York on the table, I thought he had a lot of things to pull him away from this fight."

Rockhold was quick to note he didn't think Weidman pulled out over something minor.

"What he had it looks like he couldn't push through from what it sounds like" Rockhold said. "It's an unfortunate situation. I wish him the best to heal up. I don't want anyone to get injured on that level."

"If you look at the division there were two obvious names (of replacements), Jacare (Souza) and Bisping," Rockhold said. "Everyone else is a joke. At this point I haven't seen anyone tear themselves from the pack. I think it was pretty obvious (who he was facing) when Jacare committed to having surgery. It was a pretty obvious choice, and Bisping wanted it. I respect Bisping for stepping up. He's a courageous motherf******."

"Yeah, I beat him handily," Rockhold said about the first fight. "But I'm going to beat everyone else handily. It's the same result for all of them. Weidman comes in and overexposes himself. Bisping will be a little more reserved, a little more annoying. I'll wait. I'll find my timing. Weidman would expose himself real early. It'll be a similar time frame, but a little different approach.

Rockhold, whose father played pro basketball, is also excited about headlining the first UFC show at the Forum, the home court of the Los Angeles Lakers between 1967 and 1999, including six championship teams.

"It excites me," he said. "Being in California excites me. Inglewood, the first fight at The Forum. It's going to be a fun event. I checked it out. There's a lot of history in that building, NBA history, musical history, it's a legendary concert hall. I'm looking to leave my mark at The Forum--on Bisping's face."

"He's taking it late, but Bisping's a gamer," said Rockhold. "He's always coming to fight. Conditioning won't be a factor. If he's in the best shape of his life, or not, I'm too relaxed and too focused to let anyone push me to the limit. A guy like Weidman will wrestle and wrestle. If I don't encounter a staph infection, there's nobody that's going to outwork me, outdo me. Some guys can only fight going forward like Weidman. They're control freaks and it starts zapping their energy if they lose position. With me, I don't care where the fight goes. I'll be comfortable, relaxed, and flow through those moments and keep my gas tank. The last fight, I had a bad cellulitis infection, and was on antibiotics for two weeks. I was able to get through four rounds with the best fighter in the world (Weidman) and beat his ass and proved myself."

Mendez said to throw Bisping's limited preparation time for the fight out the window, noting it's the same situation Nate Diaz faced as a late replacement against Conor McGregor.

"If we think we've got it, that's stupid," said Mendez "Bisping is a real fighter. He'll come in shape. He's done many main events. Going five rounds isn't going to be a problem for him. He's got no fear. He's got nothing to lose. He's had a long career and this is the one and only chance (at the title) he'll get. It makes him very dangerous. Do I think he'll win? Absolutely not. I think there's no fighter on the planet (at middleweight) who can beat Luke Rockhold. I think he's the best there is and the best there will be. I think he'll be the greatest ever in the middleweight division."

A lot of fighters with a few big wins have talked about Anderson Silva's key records, his ten consecutive title defenses, 16 consecutive UFC wins, and most impressive, his 2,457 days (six years and nine months) as champion. Talking about breaking those records has usually blown up in people's faces.

"If you look at the history, if you look at where Luke is and where Anderson was at the same age, Luke is ahead of Anderson," said Mendez. "Look at their accomplishments at the same age. The fire in him has gotten stronger as far as how he lives his life. He knows what he wants. He doesn't have to be pushed in the gym. When it's time to take off, he'll take off, but when it comes time to train, he's here, and you never have to worry about him."

If you compare the records at the same ages, Rockhold, now 31 1/2 years old, has a 15-2 record, his UFC champion, and has major wins over most of the top contenders, Chris Weidman, Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza, Lyoto Machida, Bisping and Tim Kennedy.

Silva, at the age same, would have been one month into his title reign, coming off his win over Rich Franklin. At the time, he was 19-4, but his victims list was not as impressive, with the biggest wins coming over Franklin, Chris Leben, Lee Murray, Hayato Sakurai, Jeremy Horn and Carlos Newton.

Rockhold sees this as a sport where you peak later than in most sports because he believes the mental game is as important, if not more so, than the physical game.

"There's so much to master," Rockhold said. "It's such a mental game. It's not just a mindless ball sport where it's so much about athleticism. This is a mental game, a technical game. Athletics help, but by no means does it dictate what happens in a fight. You don't have the super athletes dominating like you have in other sports. You have guys like me who are athletes, but mentally, I'm stronger than anyone in this game. I'm more technical pound-for-pound. There's nobody who can touch me. I don't care if it's Jon Jones. I've got too many techniques mastered.

Rockhold is quick to note that doesn't mean his goal is to face Jones, noting Jones is teammate Daniel Cormier's business and he's staying in his weight class.

He credits a great deal of his growth as a fighter to his loss to Vitor Belfort three years ago. Since then, he's won five in a row, finishing everyone. Weidman was the only opponent since then to get out of the second round, and one could argue that fight should have been stopped sooner.

"I really think that Vitor Belfort fight turned me around," he said. "That kick made me reflect and analyze my game. I took such a mental leap after that fight. It shows in every fight I've had since I've always been tough, gritty and worked hard, and that got me by. Technically I was pretty good. But you reach another level when you learn relaxation. Relaxation allows you to use your technique and relax and let go of everything. It allowed me to elevate my game to the next dimension."

Ever since that loss, Rockhold has been clamoring for a fight with Belfort, but after Belfort's loss to Souza, it's something he's let go of.

"That (Souza fight) spoke volumes about who Vitor is and where he is right now," he said. "As much as I'd have loved to get that fight for a reason, the marketability of the sell, and it would be a lot of money in my pocket and of course beating Vitor, I know exactly what would happen in that fight. It's done. Who cares? I'm the champ. Whose the chump?

"Jacare's a tough guy and it was exactly what I expected," he said. "Jacare, Weidman, Bisping, (Tim) Kennedy, whatever rematch they want, they're all going to get beat again. Weidman did the same thing to Vitor and look at what I did to Weidman. And I'd do the same thing to Weidman. And I'll do the same thing to Jacare."

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