Luke Rockhold is relocating to light heavyweight.
The former UFC middleweight champion is scheduled to face the ever-dangerous Jan Blachowicz at UFC 239 in a pivotal light heavyweight bout.
Rockhold hasn’t competed since February 2018, when he was knocked out by Yoel Romero in an interim middleweight title fight. The 34-year-old has been hinting at switching weight since that loss, and after watching fellow middleweights Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos find success at 205 pounds, he’s finally made the move.
The move to light heavyweight was inevitable for the former champion. Here’s why.
Moving to light heavyweight
Standing at 6-foot-2 and reportedly walking at around 225 pounds, Rockhold was always draining himself to make the 185-pound limit.
Luke Rockhold won the UFC Middleweight Championship at UFC 194 when he knocked out the undefeated Chris Weidman in the fourth round. Many believed the American would remain as the champion for years to come, however less than a year later, he lost the belt to British underdog Michael Bisping, in what is regarded as one of the biggest upsets in MMA history.
Nonetheless, he bounced back from the unexpected loss with a submission victory over David Branch in September 2017.
Speaking to Submission Radio last year, Rockhold spoke about the effects cutting weight has on his body.
“I’ve been killing myself for years trying to make that weight. It makes me less of a fighter, so I’m ready to move on and light these guys up.”
He also mentioned previous middleweights who have found success at 205 pounds whilst considering the division “open”.
“You got guys making waves at light heavyweight [who are] somewhat laughable. [A] couple of middleweight washouts reaching into the top 10 within a few fights. The division is open. I’m ready to feast.”
Its doesn’t take a detective to figure out that Rockhold’s speaking about #3 ranked Thiago Santos and the most recent light-heavyweight title contender Anthony Smith. The former champion has traded verbal blows with both men on multiple occasions, going as far as to call Santos “easy money.”
As for now, Rockhold will have to focus on the man Santos knocked out in February – Jan Blachowicz.
Jan Blachowicz is ranked #6 in the UFC light heavyweight rankings, and is a winner of four of his last five fights. The Polish fighter presents serious problems for the new light heavyweight, as Rockhold habitually of keeping his right hand low and his chin up high, leaving him open to a counter left. This is the shot Michael Bisping and Yoel Romero caught him with, which lead to the eventual knockout. Blachowicz frequently fires his counter left – a strike he used against Jimi Manuwa, startling him.
Coming after Jon Jones
There’s one man at light heavyweight who is miles ahead of all the competition.
Jon Jones, the three-time UFC light heavyweight champion, possesses an unparalleled skill set and holds wins over Alexander Gustafsson, Lyoto Machida, and Vitor Belfort, as well as being the only man to defeat the heavyweight champion, Daniel Cormier.
Earlier this year, Rockhold called out Jones in an interview with TMZ Sports, stating “I’m moving up to get after him. That’s what I’m here for.”
Aung La N Sang, a teammate of Rockhold’s, recently shared that he believes Rockhold is a legitimate threat to Jon Jones at light heavyweight, explaining “I do think he [Rockhold] has the skillset that will be a threat for Jon Jones. He’s got a high-level grappling game and he’s got a different dimension that a lot of 205-ers don’t have.”
“205 is a better weight class for Luke. He is so much stronger at 205. He walks around naturally at 225 so he’s a big, big guy.”
Steven is a Mixed Martial Arts journalist and analyst from the United Kingdom.