When Luke Rockhold decided to make his return to the UFC, he had no interest in facing lesser competition or getting some sort of warm up for his first fight back in three years.
Instead, the one-time middleweight champion asked the promotion for one of the most dangerous fighters in the division in Paulo Costa, who is well known for his granite chin and remarkable knockout power. Calling for that kind of opponent might seem dangerous, especially for somebody coming back after such a long layoff, but Rockhold wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s always been that for me,” Rockhold told MMA Fighting. “The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. If you aren’t trying to die, you ain’t living. That’s the way I operate.”
Beyond Costa’s considerable skills and standing in the division, Rockhold also called for the fight knowing the drama that has often times followed the Brazilian standout. Ahead of his most recent fight with Marvin Vettori in October 2021, Costa showed up 25 pounds over the middleweight limit before negotiating a deal to move the matchup to light heavyweight. Then Costa agreed to the fight with Rockhold for a card in July but the bout was eventually delayed to Aug. 20 instead at UFC 278.
That might give some fighters pause about taking the fight with Costa but Rockhold was repeatedly assured by the UFC that the matchup was moving ahead as scheduled — at middleweight.
“I’m not here to fight the guy at 205,” Rockhold said. “I’m here to fight at middleweight and show that I can compete at the top of the game and make weight. That’s the name of the game. That’s the f****** rules. That’s what is in play.
“We don’t have a 195-pound weight class. We don’t have these in between weight classes. We stick with what we have and that’s what we do. That’s the f****** contract. That’s the thing.”
While Rockhold has been steadfast about Costa actually getting down to 186 pounds — the limit for a non-title middleweight bout — he also concedes that he’s put everything into getting ready for this fight on this date regardless of what happens on the scale. Rockhold set aside lucrative business opportunities and put his entire life on hold to get ready for his return to the UFC and he’s counting on Costa to do his part ahead of Friday’s weigh-ins.
“I’m fighting this motherf******* but it’s got to be realistic,” Rockhold said. “There’s got to be to a point. I think 190, maybe even 195 but I’ve got my mind set on this dude and I’m going to f****** wax that ass.”
As far as his own return to action, Rockhold admits that getting ready for Costa and UFC 278 has been unlike any of his other recent appearances because he’s been fully committed from the jump.
Rockhold confessed that he wasn’t putting everything into his prior run with the UFC, especially after he climbed to the top of the mountain and became champion in 2015.
“You can’t be half in, half out and I’ve been that way over the last five years,” Rockhold said. “Ever since getting the title, I haven’t been there. I’m in now. I’m f****** ready. I’m solely here for this.”
Of course, Rockhold has also undergone multiple surgeries during his time away and that takes a serious toll on the body. Thankfully the extended break gave him the necessary time to recover, which in turn gave Rockhold a new lease on his athletic life.
“I feel f****** unbelievable,” Rockhold said. “I feel better than I’ve ever felt in my life. Literally, I’ve devoted every last second, every last minute to training and recovery and just furthering myself to being the best I can be.
“I don’t go out. I don’t drink. I haven’t drank in over four months. I haven’t had a f****** drink of alcohol. Not saying I had a problem but I just don’t have the urge to go out and do these things. I’m single-track focused to doing whatever the f*** I need to do to be better every f****** day.”
Rockhold is also realistic enough to know that time waits for no one and the sand in the hourglass was starting to run thin for him to make another run at becoming UFC champion again. That’s why he returned fully focused and realistic about the future as Rockhold looks to scratch and claw his way back to the top again.
“Now being 37, knowing my window is closing, it kind of provokes me to want this more,” Rockhold said. “[It makes me] put every f****** last second of myself into it.”