“I’ve grown to not liking the kid quite a bit, so that just adds a little more too it I think, more interest,” Rockhold said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I want to shut this kid down and shut his mouth and put him away for good. Put him where he belongs back in the trailer park.”
Rockhold, 36, is set to make his return to the cage after more than two years away. A former Strikeforce and UFC middleweight champion, Rockhold hasn’t competed since a second-round knockout loss in his unsuccessful light heavyweight debut against Jan Blachowicz in July 2019 at UFC 239.
The matchup against Strickland is one Rockhold settled on after months of frustration in failing to secure a bout that both intrigued Rockhold and could propel him back into instant title contention at 185 pounds. Strickland has rattled off five consecutive wins and is the No. 9-ranked middleweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings, so he fit the bill, especially after a one particular interaction between the two at California’s RVCA Training Center.
“I just don’t like him, man,” Rockhold said. “He’s got a bad attitude. He’s that guy in the gym who just no one likes him. The worst energy you’ve ever felt. Like, I didn’t like him at first but I was hung over. I think the first time he walked into the gym, I was hung over and I was beat up and was just watching the guy run around the gym bark and talk and just saying the dumbest sh*t, and just not really — [he’s] not a good person. Just kind of like just trying to put off everybody and just not care for anybody in the gym, so I got kind of frustrated just listening to him talk. I’m like, this kid’s a f*cking idiot.
“I was like, ‘Maybe I will — I’ll put the gloves on and I’ll go spar him,’ so I worked with him one time. So that’s the only encounter I really have with him.”
Rockhold said the sparring the session took place about six months ago.
He declined to go into specifics about who got the better of who, but said his opinion of Strickland has only lowered since that first run-in. Recent comments from Strickland about wanting to literally kill an opponent in a fight and threats of violence Strickland made against Rockhold haven’t exactly helped matters in that regard.
“Him saying that he wants to kill people in the ring, like, ‘It would be cool if I killed a guy’ — what the f*ck are you talking about, dude?” Rockhold said. “Those are the people who need to die themselves. Those are the people. And he wants to talk about coming in the parking lot and coming after me? I didn’t say anything really about you, but then you want to just come in the parking lot [and threaten me]? What did he say, a misdemeanor or some sh*t? Motherf*cker, you come at me, you touch me in the parking lot, I’ll be the one in jail, I promise you that, and you’ll be the one people will have to question if you’re f*cking alive.”
That being said, Rockhold made it clear that he’s not taking Strickland lightly. After losing three of his last four bouts via vicious knockouts, Rockhold knows he’ll need to perform like he did in his championship days if he wants to make the most out of his next UFC run.
“The kid’s got a good ranking and this is a big stage,” Rockhold said. “This is a real fight. The kid’s tough. There’s no build-ups [to move slowly up the ladder at middleweight]. This is it, this is now. Of course, I’m not here for one fight. I’m here to go for it. I’m here to go for f*cking Izzy [Adesanya], I’m here to go for the gold. And that’s what I want and that’s what I’m here for. So if Strickland is the f*cking path, let’s take this b*tch out.”