Robert Whittaker is waiting in the wings of the UFC’s middleweight division as the interim champion. He should rightly face the winner of the title fight between champion Michael Bisping and Georges St-Pierre, which takes place in the main event of UFC 217 on Nov. 4.
Luke Rockhold, though, will believe it when he sees it.
Rockhold, the former middleweight champion, doesn’t think either Bisping or St-Pierre will unify the 185-pound title with Whittaker, he said Monday on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani. And that’s why he feels like the entire upper tier of the middleweight division is bankrupt from a merit point of view.
St-Pierre said on The MMA Hour recently that it’s in his contract that he must defend the middleweight title if he beats Bisping. But Rockhold is not buying it.
“I don’t believe Bisping will, either,” Rockhold said. “He’s ran this far. He’s finally gonna come up and get a payday. Either way, I don’t think either one fights any of us.”
Bisping filled in on short notice and knocked out Rockhold to win the middleweight title at UFC 199 in June 2016. That’s when Rockhold believes the division took a downward turn. Bisping’s first (and only title defense until November) was against Dan Henderson, who was not near the top of the rankings and Henderson retired afterward.
In Rockhold’s opinion, worthy fighters like himself, Whittaker, Yoel Romero and Ronaldo Souza have been left out in the cold. And now Bisping is fighting St-Pierre, the former welterweight champion who has never competed at 185 and has not fought in four years.
After beating David Branch two weeks ago at UFC Pittsburgh, Rockhold addressed GSP in his post-fight interview and said he should step aside at UFC 217. Rockhold wouldn’t even mention Bisping by name.
“He doesn’t deserve it,” Rockhold said of Bisping. “GSP, he’s overstepping his boundaries. He’s jumping into a world that he’s not ready for. I mean, even if he were to win this fight, he’s unprepared to fight any of us. That’s not gonna happen. It just doesn’t make any sense. And it’s annoying. It’s what we all worked for, is to get to that title. To have that thing held hostage is frustrating. The direction this company is going, just feeding the people this bullshit. I fight to get the title, I fight to be the best. There’s two of them out there and I’m trying to hunt one down. So, obviously Bisping is my first priority. If not, Whittaker is there.”
Rockhold, 32, said during his training camp for Branch that his coach Henri Hooft noticed Bisping looking at his Instagram stories. Rockhold believes that’s an indication that Bisping is looking over his shoulder and is worried.
“He’s nervous, he’s scared,” Rockhold said. “He knows his time is limited. He’s gonna have to run. I’m gonna be there. I’m gonna put myself on that stage, on that doorstep. He’s gonna have to make a choice.”
Last week on The MMA Hour, Bisping critiqued Rockhold’s performance against Branch, which was a bit shaky early in the first round. Branch clipped him multiple times coming in. Bisping said Rockhold struggles against those who have good boxing skills.
On Monday, Rockhold laughed that off.
“If he wants to think that I’m vulnerable in that realm or any of those realms, please,” Rockhold said. “Sign the contract. I’ll be ready to go. As a matter of fact, if Bisping were to sign to fight with me, I would promise you and the world, I would bet on it. I would not shoot for one takedown. This would purely be a stand up fight. I’d give him every opportunity to implement his boxing, get on the inside. … I f*cking guarantee you, I will finish you on the feet. With all the holes in my game, I will pick you apart.”
Rockhold said he might have broken his foot against Branch, so he might need some time off. But he’s still willing to jump in on short notice if a title opportunity opens up. That’s what Rockhold wants next — some kind of title shot. Whether it’s against Bisping or Whittaker. The belt, Rockhold said, is where the money is.
“I want money fights,” Rockhold said. “And of course that’s what I’m here for. I’m 33 next month. I’m not getting any younger. i want to set myself up. I’m not fighting for little change, I want the money.”