Luke Rockhold isn’t wasting time now that he’s fighting at light heavyweight.
The former UFC middleweight champion has been out of action for over a year, first dealing with a shin injury that required surgery and then an eventual move to 205 pounds where he makes his debut this weekend at UFC 239.
The shift to light heavyweight has been a long time coming for Rockhold, who suffered under a brutal cut to get down to 185 pounds in the past. Now healthier and happier than ever, the 34-year old is excited to jump start his new career at light heavyweight where he expects immediate results.
“I feel good. I feel strong. I feel fast,” Rockhold told MMA Fighting ahead of UFC 239. “I have a harder time with smaller guys than bigger guys, I always have. But these guys are slow, they’re not as technical. I’ll pick them apart and dominate them.
“You give me a little extra size, a little extra strength but I still have my speed, I still have my technique. I’m going out there and it’s not looking good for my opponents.”
For his debut in the division, Rockhold will face perennial top 10 contender Jan Blachowicz, who is 4-1 in his past five fights including wins over Jimi Manuwa and Nikita Krylov.
Rockhold didn’t really have a preference in who he faced in his first fight at 205 pounds as long as it was a ranked opponent who could get him closer to his ultimate goal to compete for the light heavyweight title.
“I thought he’s a decent guy,” Rockhold said about Blachowicz. “I’m faster, more technical, I’m better wherever this fight goes. It’s about just dictating the pace and put him away. I think he’s going to bring it. He thinks he’s a Muay Thai world champion, I think everybody’s a Muay Thai world champion. He thinks he’s a black belt. I think everybody’s a black belt.
“I’ve beaten the best strikers and I’ve beaten the best grapplers. I don’t see anything in this guy that’s going to be a problem.”
Because of the long layoff and a loss in his last fight against Yoel Romero last year, Rockhold knows how important a win over Blachowicz will be for his future endeavors in the division.
“Every fight is important. Obviously coming up, coming off the loss to Yoel for the interim title, it’s time to make a statement,” Rockhold said. “I don’t look to mess around.
“I don’t lose to people like Jan. I’m coming with everything I have.”
If all goes well on Saturday night, Rockhold has already started plotting his course towards an eventual collision with reigning champion Jon Jones.
Jones has largely run roughshod over every contender the division has thrown at him ever since arriving in UFC more than a decade ago. At UFC 239, Jones will face another former middleweight in Thiago Santos, who has gone undefeated since making his own move to 205 pounds.
The phrase ‘anything can happen in a fight’ applies with this particular matchup just like all the others but Rockhold doesn’t view Santos as a major threat to Jones or his title.
“Thiago Santos had his little streak with a couple of guys that don’t have the most well rounded games. This thing has been brief, it’s been on the feet and it’s been a bunch of brawlers,” Rockhold said. “Thiago Santos is unproven on the ground. I can’t recall much in his career at middleweight and Jon is a wrestler and a grappler that he probably hasn’t seen before.
“I don’t like his chances. Thiago Santos got submitted by Eric Spicely. It’s not looking good for him.”
As far as his own prospects, Rockhold has been preparing for Jones in one way or another for several years, especially after serving as a clone of the light heavyweight champion when helping his good friend Daniel Cormier get ready for him a few years ago.
Rockhold believes that the list of people who are a legitimate threat to Jones is very short, which is why he likes his chances to jump directly in line for a title shot after UFC 239 is finished.
“Jon is talented. I’ve envisioned fighting Jon for a long time,” Rockhold said. “I’ve studied him. I know what he’s capable of. I know how I would fair. I’m well prepared. I’ve broken Jon down many times with D.C. and without.
“He’s got a good mind for the sport and some good additives.”
Jones hasn’t addressed what he plans to do next if he gets past Santos on Saturday night but he has stated recently that he wants to continue clearing out contenders in the light heavyweight division now that the coffers are beginning to fill up again.
Cormier has definitely shown interest in a third fight against Jones but he’s got his hands full right now defending the heavyweight title against former champion Stipe Miocic in August.
That’s yet another reason why Rockhold believes he can absolutely jump the line with a dominant performance against Blachowicz this weekend.
“Look at the division, look at the people there. I’m fighting the No. 6 ranked guy in the world. Look what’s ahead of me. There aren’t that many options for Mr. Jon Jones and I’ve proven myself in this game. I’m not looking to f—king dance around. I’m looking to go straight through. Straight to Jon,” Rockhold said.
“D.C.’s got a fight coming up. He ain’t fighting that fight [against Jon Jones] any time soon. He’s got a heavyweight fight coming up. I’ll be prepared for what’s there. I’m going to go handle my business and we’re going to see where the lay of the land is. I’ll be proving myself July 6.”