Luke Rockhold pulled off the upset against “Jacare.”| Photo: Sherdog.com
On paper, he did not have a chance, but Luke Rockhold showed that the greatest weapon a fighter can have going for him is an unyielding belief in himself. That carried him through a difficult opening stanza en route to a stellar five-round decision win over Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza at Strikeforce “Barnett vs. Kharitonov” on Saturday in Cincinnati, earning him the promotion’s middleweight title.
Inactive for more than 18 months, Rockhold had not even fought past the first round in his eight-fight career and, yet, found himself challenging Souza for the middleweight crown. Fresh off a career-defining third-round whitewash of Robbie Lawler in his last defense, Souza’s game had never looked better. He used his suffocating grappling and evolving overall ability to eventually submit Lawler, who had never been positionally dominated nor spent so much time on his back in a fight.
The bout resembled a boy picking off the wings of an insect; obviously, Jacare’s game was coming along nicely. When Rockhold had to fight off Jacare’s opening-round ground assault, he was sucked into a dangerous threshing machine. The Brazilian’s grappling has an air of inevitability about it, as he wears down his opponent, constantly improves position and implements his will.
After surviving the first round, Rockhold had passed one of those unspoken tests through which a fighter’s confidence surges. He had been hit with Souza’s best stuff and survived, and, now, it was time to go to work. Outworking Souza and countering his grappling with increasing effectiveness over the next four rounds, he seized the momentum and never relented. Souza, meanwhile, did not possess the sharp attack and focus with which he had opened the bout. The shift in momentum goes both ways, and, as a result, Rockhold’s belief in himself ultimately proved the difference.
Jason Probst can be reached at Jason@jasonprobst.com or twitter.com/jasonprobst.