Luke Rockhold made his professional MMA debut in July 2007. On that night, the 23-year-old won via first-round submission. However, just months later Rockhold would lose in his second pro fight, and in the process would take away one of the most important lessons any fighter can learn: it’s not how you lose, it’s what you do after you lose that matters.
“First loss, that was scary. This was my dream coming into the sport. Losing right off the bat was a reality check on how real the sport is,” said Rockhold to Examiner.com as a guest on Majority Draw Radio. “Anything can happen. It made me focus more -- train harder. I learned from it.”
Rockhold isn’t kidding.
After losing on that night in October 2007, the Santa Cruz, Calif., native rattled off nine wins in a row over some of the toughest competition the middleweight division had to offer, with seven of those nine wins coming via first-round stoppage.
In Sept. 2011, Rockhold won the Strikeforce Middleweight Championship when he defeated perennial top-ten BJJ wizard, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in a unanimous decision, in what was largely considered Rockhold’s coming out party. It was a beautifully executed display that highlighted just how well rounded and dangerous the American Kickboxing Academy standout had become. He followed the Jacare win with a first-round annihilation of Keith Jardine, and concluded his Strikeforce career with a five-round decision victory over Tim Kennedy, solidifying his place as the last Strikeforce Middleweight Champion.
When Strikeforce was absorbed by the UFC, Rockhold was brought over to the bright lights of the Octagon, and was given a lofty test in his promotional debut when he met MMA legend and surefire future UFC Hall-of-Famer, ‘The Phenom’ Vitor Belfort at a UFC Fight Night in Jaraguá do Su, Brazil in May 2013.
The fight against Belfort was an opportunity to show the MMA world why he had become one of the most highly touted young prospects in the sport today.
Unfortunately for the then-28-year-old, Belfort had plans of his own, and he dispatched of Rockhold in the first-round with a devastating spinning back-kick that left the UFC newcomer deflated and looking for answers.
“I'm fighting the best guy in the world -- the no. 1 contender -- the guy put himself in a title shot,” stated Rockhold. “Anything can happen at this level in the game but I'm training harder, training smarter, I'm going to bounce back and be a better fighter because of it."
So what went wrong in the Vitor fight?
"I think, if anything, I let my emotions come into play too much in that fight,” recalled the 29-year-old. “Going to Brazil, fighting Vitor, everything that was surrounding that fight -- I took it upon myself too much to go out there and try to handle business. I took it personally.
“I was so worked up on Vitor Belfort -- hand speed and everything -- I didn't even take into consideration the kicking game. I don't think many people did to tell you the truth. My game plan was to come forward. I started seeing his punches -- realizing they weren't as fast as I thought -- I sat back and I got caught. Stay focused, stay on my game plan, [and] stay calm."
After the Belfort setback, Rockhold was scheduled to fight Tim Boetsch at UFC 166 in Oct., but suffered a knee injury and was forced to withdraw. Now, fully recovered, both mentally and physically, Rockhold sets his sights on top-ranked middleweight Costas Philippou when the two meet Jan. 15 as the main event of UFC Fight Night 35.
For Rockhold, this main event slot highlights the confidence that the UFC has in their blossoming star, and it puts the California-native right back in the contender-rich pecking order of the 185-pound division.
"It's an awesome opportunity. That's why I've trained so hard. I'm going to take advantage of it,” he said. “I'm not going to let this one slip through my fingers. I promise you that. I'm focused to go in there and whoop his ass."
Coming off the loss to Belfort in his UFC debut, this fight against Philippou is a chance at a fresh start – a career rewind of sorts – and for Rockhold, the typically laid back surfing connoisseur, this fight has him more motivated and focused than perhaps ever before.
"I've got nothing against Costas, he's a good guy, but he's stepping in the cage with the wrong guy at the wrong time. I'm ready to go in there and just do what I do. As long as I go out there and fight like I should, I don't see him being able to stay around long with me."
Up until this point, very few have been able to.
To listen to Luke's entire interview on Majority Draw Radio Episode 5, click HERE
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