This is number seventy-three in Jack’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature top UFC middleweight and former Strikeforce middleweight champion, Luke Rockhold. This interview took place just days before Rockhold’s next matchup was announced. Rockhold is now scheduled to face fellow top middleweight, Tim Boetsch, at UFC 166, in Houston, on October 19th. Rockhold discusses a possible matchup with Boetsch, an eventual fight with Michael Bisping, his reaction to the crowning of a new UFC middleweight champion, and much more. Please enjoy the conversation below.
Jack Brown: What was your first experience with martial arts/combat sports, and how did it become more than just a hobby for you?
Luke Rockhold: I was like five years old and my good friend’s dad was a Judo instructor. He brought me into Judo class and I kind of fell in love with it. I was always into competition and I started competing. That one-on-one kind of competition just captured my attention at the time. It wasn’t like a team sport. It was so rewarding. I just liked the physical combat. Something about it just appealed to me.
JB: As it became apparent that you would be fighting competitively, how did your friends and family react?
LR: Everyone had mixed opinions, but I think I convinced people that I was tough. I had a reputation around town. I was getting in a few fights so everyone knew that I was tough. My parents, I eased them in through Jiu-Jitsu. They saw me compete and win and beat some real tough guys in the Jiu-jitsu world. Obviously, I also did wrestling throughout junior high and high school. This was definitely the next level and they foresaw it coming. Everyone was supportive, and nervous as hell, but I convinced them over time that this was my route for life.
JB: The renowned American Kickboxing Academy, in San Jose, California, is where you train. How did you first connect with AKA and who there has really impacted your development as a mixed martial artist?
LR: AKA was a half an hour right over the hill from my hometown where I grew up training. I had won the US Open. I won the absolute division. I beat this huge ex-professional football player. It was a big deal for me winning that. I had just come back from Brazil and was just realizing how good I was getting in Jiu-Jitsu. I was kind of doing general ed. in college and didn’t have a real direction of where I wanted to go. I got fired up after that US Open win. I wanted to test the waters in MMA and see how tough I was. I’d heard about AKA through some friends and I went over the hill one day with one of my buddies and showed up on the doorstep. I went in and talked to Javier Mendez and said I was tough, and I’d done this and that, and wanted to try to fight. Basically, he was like, “You got a mouthpiece?” I was like, “No.” And he said, “Well go get one.” I ran down the street to Play It Again Sports and grabbed a little mouthpiece, then went to a sushi joint and threw some hot water together. And the next thing I knew, I was in the ring with some of the best guys that AKA had and I did really well. I went in there and kicked one of the guys in the head. He tried to take me down and I ended up choking him out. Then I went with a couple other guys like Mike Swick and Bobby Southworth, and then Javier was really excited about it. Basically, right off the bat, he just wanted to recruit me for the team. He said that he wanted to have me on the team and thought that I could go really far in the sport. Hearing that from Javier, that I had potential and could do a lot, was really motivating. So I just tried to change my life from then on to make MMA work.
JB: What do you recall about your first professional MMA fight, and how prepared do you feel that you were at the time?
LR: I obviously had a lot of nerves with my first time fighting. But I had been in some scraps and I was prepared and ready. It always helps being with a team like AKA and seeing all these guys on the big stage doing so well. And I was doing well with them in the gym so I had a lot of confidence through those guys.
JB: Your first loss was in your second fight. How did you react to the loss and how did it affect you moving forward in your career?
LR: That loss had a lot to do with my career and how far I’ve gotten. It was an eye-opener. Because of the guys I had in the gym and that I was doing so well, I really didn’t believe that anybody could touch me at that point in my career. I don’t know if I took it as seriously as I should have at the time. The guy I was supposed to fight at 185 dropped out on a Sunday night before and I was freaking out because I had no money and I needed a fight and I had trained hard for it. I took a last-minute fight and went up in weight to 205. I really knew nothing about him and just kind of went in there scrapping. I didn’t really put MMA together yet. When I was wrestling, I was wrestling. When I was doing Jiu-Jitsu, I was doing Jiu-Jitsu. When I was striking, I was trying to strike. I just hadn’t put everything together yet. I got caught in the fight. It was a huge eye-opener. You can’t take anything for granted in MMA. You’ve got to train the best you can and do your homework on your opponent and go into every fight with no regrets really. It was scary at the time too. I loved fighting and I loved MMA. It kind of scared me a little bit because I was seeing this as a career for myself and losing a fight is a big deal in MMA. I wanted to make this work. So that next fight was the most tense I’ve ever been in my career for a fight.
JB: You had a brilliant 9-0 run in Strikeforce, winning the middleweight championship and defending it twice. Now that the promotion is gone, what are a few of your favorite memories from your time in the promotion?
LR: Strikeforce was awesome. Obviously going undefeated in Strikeforce was really cool. It was a family atmosphere. We were all tight with Scott Coker and everybody who worked at Strikeforce. I’m pretty tight with everybody at the UFC too, but to grow with Strikeforce was cool. I like the “Challenger” events. Those were fun. Winning the belt was amazing for me, and beating Jacare was my biggest fight.
JB: Your UFC debut, against Vitor Belfort in Brazil, did not go as planned. What did you learn from that fight and how do you regard it now that some time has passed?
LR: It sucks. It was my UFC debut, in Brazil, against Vitor, so there was a lot riding on it. It’s hard to take too much away from that. I don’t believe that I’ll ever get caught with a spinning heel-kick to the head again, just to put that out there. It’s hard to take. I did my homework pretty extensively on my opponent. I saw that he threw a wild spinning heel-kick once against Bisping. I didn’t really think he had that in his repertoire. I was more focused on his hands and his boxing. I don’t know. I was so focused on his hands that he caught me with a nice kick. I should have kept the pressure more. I relaxed too much. I tried to bait him in and started counterstriking when I should have kept him back. I made a mistake. But I’m excited about the future. It hasn’t changed my goal.
JB: You are still one of the top middleweights in the world. There have been some other top fighters in your division who have gotten matched up lately, like Munoz and Bisping. Who do you want to fight next?
LR: I want a top fighter, whatever makes sense. They like to match up guys coming off losses with other guys coming off losses. Tim Boetsch is a top-ten opponent coming off a loss. I can’t think of anyone else right now. Obviously there’s Belcher too, but I heard he’s going up to 205.
The Bisping fight is definitely something I want in the future. Bisping went out of his way to talk shit on national TV and say that he got the better of me in training. That’s obviously something that I want to clear up. I don’t know who talks about practice really. I went down there and trained with him one time when I was just cruising through LA. I asked a good friend of mine down there if anybody was training, and he said, “Well Bisping is here and sparring a lot.” So I ended up just showing up for a sparring day, and we went three rounds. He was in training camp for Brian Stann. I'm not going to go in-depth about what happened and this and that, but there are a lot of different circumstances in training. Everyone is entitled to their opinion on how these rounds go, but if he really thinks that he got the better of me, the guy is just delusional coming out and saying anything about it. A fight would go a little differently, I'm sure. I'm pretty positive about how our fight would go. I'd love to get that fight and do it for the fans. I think I could put on a great show for them.
I want to get back in there as soon as possible. October would be awesome, or November. I'm trying to talk to Joe and work something out soon. I definitely don't want to sit on this loss too long. I was at the fan expo, hearing all my fans like, "Sucks about that kick." I'm tired of hearing about that kick. I want to move on. I want to get to that next fight. I want to get that Vitor fight behind me. I'm excited to get in there.
JB: What was your reaction to the Silva-Weidman fight, and the way in which Silva lost?
LR: I don't know. I think Anderson went too far this time. He has clowned a lot in the past. At the top of the game, I don't care how good you are, you can't get out of control in there. Chris is a tough guy and he did what he had to do. I'm stoked for him. Chris is a friend of mine. It was pretty sweet. I'm not going to lie. It would have been a lot sweeter if I had got my bet in. I wasn't able to make my bet. I was hosting a party at a Fertitta casino and I tried to put in a $1500 sports bet, but I realized that a Fertitta casino doesn't take UFC bets there. I had $1500 on me, and I ran in there, and was like, "$1500 on Weidman." And they said, "We don't take UFC bets here." It was right before the Frankie Edgar fight. So I ran back and watched him win. I was bummed and stoked at the same time. I went out and met up with Chris and we had a good time afterward.
JB: Last question, Luke, and thanks for taking the time to do this. What does it mean to you to be a fighter and how much do you enjoy it?
LR: I'm just blessed to be able to do what I love to do. I've always loved competing, and there's something about fighting and the adrenaline rush that's unmatched in any other realm of life for me. It's the highest high you can possibly get. I'm just blessed to be able to do this. It's hard to put into words how I feel about it. I love what I'm doing and couldn't see myself doing anything else. I've done a lot of sports and a lot of jobs and I'm just happy to live the MMA life.
Thank you so much for reading and please follow @LukeRockhold and Jack Brown on Twitter.
Visit JackJohnBrownMMA on Facebook for links to all of Jack’s past interviews. Previous interviews include: Dan Hardy, Rose Namajunas, Joe Lauzon, War Machine, Tom Lawlor, Bas Rutten, Chris Leben, Phil Baroni, Julie Kedzie, Michael Bisping, Duane Ludwig, Sara McMann, Matt Lindland, Duke Roufus, Pat Miletich, Jens Pulver, Dan Severn, Nate Quarry, Ken Shamrock, Matt Serra, Jeremy Horn, and dozens more.
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