Luke Rockhold is only in the beginning stages of his move to 205 pounds, but he already knows he made the right decision.
After an 11-year run at middleweight that saw him capture titles in both Strikeforce and the UFC, Rockhold is slated to make his long-awaited light heavyweight debut against Jan Blachowicz on July 6 at UFC 239. And for the 34-year-old Californian, who was always a large middleweight with a rather significant weight cut, the difference in lifestyle at 205 pounds compared to 185 pounds has already been a revelation as he prepares to begin the next chapter of his MMA career.
“I’m happy about not cutting weight. I’m happy about eating. I’m happy about how it feels. I’ve never felt like this before, and it feels good,” Rockhold said Monday on The MMA Hour.
“It just got harder and harder [at 185 pounds], and depleting myself more and more as the years went on, and man, I just wasn’t recovering. I didn’t have the strength. You can kinda see it as I go along, it’s just a lack of not recovering and getting back to full strength. Even in training camp, I’d get down to a certain weight the last few years, and I would just, I’d feel weak and depleted. When I had a little extra girth, I was doing a lot better. I could handle just about anybody at any weight. And so now, actually lifting and eating right and not depriving myself, it’s a different world. I’m excited to get in there and show the world.”
The move to 205 pounds marks a pivotal crossroads for Rockhold’s career after a rocky stretch for the former champion. Due to a variety of injuries, Rockhold has only competed once per year in each of the past three years. He’s suffered knockout losses to Michael Bisping and Yoel Romero in two of those three contests, the worst run of his career.
But many of the injuries that have sidelined him have been suffered deep in the throes of training camps when he is trying to cut down 185 pounds, and Rockhold believes the move to light heavyweight — and the newfound weight-lifting regimen he is able to commit to at this division — will help ensure his body stays healthier until fight night.
“It’s a hell of a lot better, I’ll tell you that,” Rockhold said. “Obviously the extra muscle, it kinda keeps everything intact. And a lot of those injuries happen at the end of training camp, when I’m depleting myself and getting down to weight and your body fat gets low. Your body becomes brittle. So I’m far less injury prone [at 205 pounds] and I’m looking forward to getting f*cking swinging, swinging with weight and some muscle.
“Obviously I’m not happy with how I’ve been about my career lately, and I’ve rethought things,” he added, “and I’m coming, and this is the recipe, this is the answer. Light heavyweight and not compromising myself. When I let it go, I let it go, and I’ve never met a man in the gym that can outdo me. So I’m just going to go out there and let this thing happen at light heavyweight and you guys are going to see, it’s going to be fun.”
Rockhold will begin his journey at 205 pounds at UFC 239 against Blachowicz, the No. 6 ranked fighter in the UFC’s light heavyweight division. Blachowicz recently suffered a knockout loss to the division’s next title challenger, Thiago Santos, but before that the Polish contender was riding the best run of his Octagon career, having rattled off four consecutive wins, including big victories over Jimi Manuwa and Nikita Krylov.
“He’s well-rounded, he’s a tough guy,” Rockhold said of Blachowicz. “He’s got a black belt, he’s got decent wrestling when he wants, and he’s got effective striking. He was out-striking Gustafsson in their fight, so you’ve gotta expect a well-rounded guy, durable. The guy’s been in there, so have I, so I know where he is. He’s a big guy. I’m going to be faster than him, I’m going to beat him just about everywhere this fight goes. I’m going to go back to an old style that I implement and that’s just coming forward. Now that I have my strength back, there’s going to be a lot of forward movement.
“I’m [going to be] out there seeking, seeking to kill,” added Rockhold. “That was always my mentality before and now I’m not. I think I just danced around and played too much, I think in the later years, latter years. So I’m going out there for the kill and that’s all I’m thinking right now. I’m going forward and executing and I’m killing motherf*ckers, anybody who’s in front of me, and that’s the gameplan.”
For Rockhold, the ultimate goal of moving up to 205 pounds is a simple one. He said Monday that the “only reason” he is at light heavyweight is to fight Jon Jones, the division’s dominant champion who has an extensive and bitter history with one of Rockhold’s closest friends and former teammates, Daniel Cormier.
Rockhold said his goals at light heavyweight “first and foremost” begin with Jones, and he believes he can challenge the all-time great in a way that no 205-pounder has before.
“I don’t believe there’s a man in the world who can compete with me on the ground,” Rockhold said. “I don’t believe Jon is that polished on the feet. I think he adjusts, I think he’s tactical. I think I have the skills to beat him there, I have the skills to beat him on the ground, and I think the wrestling is pretty much nullified, I don’t really think it plays much of a factor.”
It is no secret that the UFC’s light heavyweight division is wide open right now. The last two title shots in the weight class went to former middleweights — Santos and Anthony Smith — who elevated themselves quickly within the division with a few exciting wins.
With his improved strength and fitness at 205 pounds, Rockhold believes he can replicate the same formula and earn an opportunity against Jones sooner rather than later.
“I don’t think it takes much,” Rockhold said. “It takes a good performance. It’s all about the performance of what we do and how you do it, so let’s just wait and see. Check me out July 6th, I’m going to go put this man away and then we can talk, then we can talk about what’s up.”