When Luke Rockhold announced his retirement this past August, there were a myriad of factors that went into that decision. But being locked into a long-term UFC deal played at least some part into hanging up the gloves.
Ultimately, it was a short-lived break, because Rockhold eventually secured his release from the UFC. Then, he announced his plans to return to action in bare-knuckle competition with his first fight booked at BKFC 41 on Saturday.
Looking back, the 38-year-old veteran admits his reasons for briefly calling it career went beyond his relationship with the UFC. But that was also definitely a determining factor at the time.
“Being locked in with them, and what they were offering, and what was on the table, and having to work back through their ranks on their terms, I didn’t want to do that,” Rockhold said about the UFC on The Fighter vs. The Writer. “That’s not fun for me. I’ve already been there. I’ve been the UFC champion. I’ve been the Strikeforce champion. What’s f****** next?
“I want new goals. I want new challenges. You never know. As long as my body’s going in the direction it’s going now, anything can happen. I could go back there as long as it was on my terms. But conquering another world right now is what I’m looking for. More mountains to climb, more things to do. This is what I’m f****** here for. I like fighting. Fighting f****** gives me life.”
Once he hit free agency, Rockhold was able to seek out multiple suitors and make a decision based upon what he wanted. The terms in these deals were also much more aligned with what he’s always wanted – he felt like he retained power as the athlete instead of handing over his career to the UFC, where he felt like there was no other choice but to get locked into longer contracts.
With a chance for a fresh start, Rockhold expects his results in the ring will show just how rejuvenated he’s feeling now that he’s no longer under the UFC’s thumb.
“I was locked into a contract, many different contracts,” he said. “It’s just one contract to the next, but there’s always long-term deals, and it’s not always the best energy, the best setting when you’re fighting [and] when you’re at odds with each other. You’re fighting on their terms and their paycheck. So being a free agent, it’s a different story. Being your own promotion. Being able to fight on your own terms and pick your paychecks, pick your fights. Like it should be, like the fight game is.
“If you’re at the top of the game, you should be able to pick where you work together with a promoter to find the opponent, to find the paycheck that you want, that makes you happy, that makes you want to fight. Then you’re going to get the best fighters, the best fight from that fighter. That’s what fighting is. Not being f****** enslaved to a company and fighting on their terms, who they want, for what they want. F*** that. I’m thankful for [UFC Chief Business Officer] Hunter Campbell letting me go and doing my thing, but the structure, it’s not the best.”
While fighters testing free agency is nothing new, Rockhold is happy there are so many alternative outlets where athletes can turn to find better opportunities. He also praised former heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou for sticking to his guns in UFC negotiations when he asked for a shorter deal and various concessions for his contract. When the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement, he made the decision to walk away and leave the UFC.
“I’m f****** stoked for Francis,” Rockhold said. “Francis, he’s a real man with f****** balls and he can make a decision. There’s too many yes men in the world. The UFC is where it is today because all those motherf****** are yes men, and they’re just playing their game so the UFC is going to keep playing their game and keep controlling the fighters.
“If there wasn’t as many yes men, if there were more Francis Ngannous and Luke Rockholds and people that had a f****** pair of balls, we’d have an even f****** playing field, but there’s too many b****** in the world.”
Since leaving the UFC, Ngannou has flirted with several potential boxing matches that could end up as highly lucrative options.
Meanwhile, Rockhold was happy to receive an offer from the BKFC that he says was equal to the most sizable payday he ever received in the UFC.
“It’s right alongside [the biggest payday of my career] back when the UFC was being run by real businessmen and they took care of me quite well on the back end,” Rockhold said. “[Former UFC co-owners] Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, my guy, they definitely treat you well on the back end, and there’s none of that anymore since the Endeavor acquisition. I think they’ve run that company into the ground in fairness to the fighters and everybody else.
“Yeah, this is really good. This is on par with my world title fight when backroom Lorenzo Fertitta was the boss. I’m happy I’m here, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Rockhold is also getting the kind of matchup that has him excited to fight again with a showdown against Mike Perry scheduled in the BKFC 41 main event.
He may not always have the highest opinion of Perry, especially when addressing some of his transgressions outside the cage, but Rockhold knows this is the perfect dance partner for his bare-knuckle debut.
“Mike Perry has a level of entertainment,” Rockhold said. “He has a little something to him but he’s also a f****** idiot, too. To be able to do something like that, I don’t care how drunk you are, you don’t go f****** knock out a guy that old. I don’t care what the f****** circumstances are, so I think he’s a f****** idiot. I think he is entertaining in some sense. That’s about all I think about him.
“He brings it. The kid brings it to fight. I’ll give him that. He’s a game fighter. He’s going to come forward. He’s going to get hit, he’s going to keep getting up. He’s going to keep getting in your face and guess what? I’m that same motherf***** but I’m a lot bigger, I’m a long stronger and I hit a lot f****** harder.”