A two-time gold medalist at the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Championships, Luke Rockhold used his world-class grappling skills as a springboard to a successful mixed martial arts career. Rockhold has captured titles in Strikeforce and the Ultimate Fighting Championship, establishing himself as one of the premier middleweights in MMA. Victories over Lyoto Machida, Michael Bisping, Chris Weidman and Ronaldo Souza only strengthen his case at 185 pounds.
Rockhold will battle Yoel Romero for the interim middleweight championship in the UFC 221 main event on Saturday in Perth, Australia. Ahead of their five-round headliner, here are five moments that have come to define him:
1. A Force to be Reckoned With
Rockhold entered Strikeforce with a 1-1 record and proceeded to chop down every fighter in his path on the way to a shot at the middleweight championship against “Jacare” Souza on Sept. 10, 2011. Injuries had kept him out of action for 18 months -- a significant point of discussion prior to the fight. Souza, meanwhile, was flying high after submitting Robbie Lawler with a rear-naked choke in his first title defense and looked to capitalize on Rockhold’s layoff. Rockhold instead rose to the occasion at Strikeforce “Barnett vs. Kharitonov,” as he took a five-round unanimous decision from “Jacare.” It was the first signature victory for the California native and brought with it his first major title.
2. In Defense of the Throne
Following his win over “Jacare” Souza, Rockhold faced UFC veteran Keith Jardine in his first title defense as Strikeforce middleweight champion. Jardine was awarded the opportunity as an injury replacement for Tim Kennedy. Rockhold made the most of his chance to add “The Dean of Mean” to his list of victims on Jan. 7, 2012, as he recorded a first-round technical knockout. Kennedy was next in line. When they finally met on July 14, 2012, Rockhold called upon his endurance and all-around skills. A unanimous decision over Kennedy made it clear Rockhold was the best middleweight in Strikeforce. He joined the UFC roster less than a year later.
3. Down Under for ‘The Count’
Rockhold’s first trip to Australia saw him face Bisping in the UFC Fight Night 55 main event on Nov. 8, 2014 in Sydney, and once again, he proved to be a worthy attraction in a marquee bout. Rockhold used his jiu-jitsu skills to overcome Bisping, as he ended the fight with a guillotine choke in the second round and announced his arrival as a serious contender at 185 pounds. The decisive win pushed Rockhold towards a title shot and marked the start of a rivalry that led to a UFC 199 rematch with “The Count.”
4. Golden Moment
Continuing his climb on the middleweight ladder, Rockhold followed his win over Bisping with another submission victory, this time against Machida in the UFC on Fox 15 main event. It propelled him into a showdown with Weidman for the 185-pound championship. Rockhold was the underdog when the two men fought at UFC 194 on Dec. 12, 2015 and quickly proved he was up to the task. He outstruck Weidman, secured back mount late in the third round and closed the period by raining devastating strikes on the champion. Rockhold finished it soon after, when he stopped the bloodied “All-American” with punches in the fourth round. It was a career-defining performance against the man who had ended Anderson Silva’s historic reign atop the middleweight division.
5. The Upset No One Saw Coming
While Rockhold’s submission on Bisping elevated him to new heights, their rematch at UFC 199 on June 4, 2016 marked the low point of his stellar career to this point. He was originally slated to meet Weidman for a second time, but an injury to the Serra-Longo Fight Team star opened the door for Bisping. “The Count” stepped into his first UFC title fight as a prohibitive underdog. However, before Rockhold could get the fight to the floor to utilize his superior submission skills, Bisping connected with a knockout punch, authored one of biggest upsets in UFC history and captured the middleweight crown at the age of 37. It brought a stunning end to Rockhold’s reign, as he was felled by an unlikely challenger most felt was well past his prime.