This past weekend, Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker faced off in the main event of UFC 271 with Adesanya taking home a unanimous decision win. It was a competitive affair between the top two middleweights in the world and after watching it, a former champion is feeling antsy to get back inside the cage.
Luke Rockhold, a former UFC and Strikeforce middleweight champion, has had a rough go of late. One and three over his past four fights, Rockhold has battled injuries for several years and even took some time off from the sport to recuperate. But after watching Adesanya and Whittaker battle for 25 minutes, Rockhold says he’s getting excited about his return.
“I think [Whittaker] could have easily won the fight. Izzy could have won the fight. It could have gone either way,” Rockhold told Submission Radio. “But I think two champs going at it, and the boys are as good as they’ve come in the last decade. So, all the credit to both of them.
“It’s exciting. Obviously, you think about coming back and I’m getting that feel. So, it gets your blood pumping, makes you feel good. I like seeing the styles and how things are going in the sport. Those two guys get me — I think they’re the cream of the crop for sure. There’s not many other people that can contend. Obviously Vettori’s a tough guy. I don’t know if he’s as fun to watch. I like the creativeness of those two. And that’s the sh*t that gets me excited.”
Rockhold was expected to make his return to the octagon this past November at UFC 268 against Sean Strickland, however, a herniated disc sidelined the former champion. Now, Rockhold is targeting a return in June and he has a new name in mind: Paulo Costa. Costa has had his own rocky road recently, blaming his failed middleweight title bid on a hangover and then proving unable to make a catchweight limit of 195 pounds for his fight with Marvin Vettori, but “Borrachinha” remains one of the top middleweights in the world and so Rockhold is interested in that fight if Costa can get things in order.
“It’s an option, it’s a very viable option,” Rockhold said. “So, as long as terms are met, you know, we could have a dance. I’m not here to fight f*cking cheaters. So, if the weight is met, unless too much wine is consumed, you never know. Weight has to be met, weight has to be met. There’s too many f*cking weak-ass people trying to get advantages upon the game. And I’ve lost, I’ve killed myself to make weight and do things right. And can’t say the same for the rest of them.”
Rockhold has his own history with fighters failing to make weight. At UFC 221, Rockhold was scheduled to face Yoel Romero for an interim middleweight title, however, Romero ended up missing the mark by nearly three pounds. Rockhold went ahead with the fight but was brutally knocked out in the third round. It’s a mistake that Rockhold says he’ll never make again.
“I ain’t going to do that again,” Rockhold said. “I ain’t going to do that again and fight a guy that misses weight purposely to gain an advantage. F*ck no. There has to be fair play. We’re fighting. We’re not like playing anything else, we’re fighting. So, fair play is necessary. And at this stage of my career, I ain’t willing to f*cking risk anything but fair play. Because I do it right, I always have done it right, and it’s gotta be done right.”
But if Costa does clean things up and makes weight, Rockhold says he’s very interested in the fight because beating “Borrachinha” could put him in position to stand opposite Adesanya, instead of just watching him on television.
“It’s a guy that I don’t like, and I think disrespects the sport and motivates me to f*cking correct it,” Rockhold said. “It’s a guy that’s obviously top-ranked somehow, some way, when he can’t even make weight. So, typically if anything he should be ranked in the 205-pound division, right? I just don’t care for the guy. I tell you that, I don’t care for the guy. And I think it’s a fun fight. I think I can go show him the door...
“I don’t hate it, I don’t hate it. Obviously it’s about selling tickets. And if you can go out there and put a statement and a staple on the fight on a big top five fight, it speaks volumes. So, I like it. Going in there and making a statement can put me in a very nice little spot.”