After more than a year away, Luke Rockhold returned to the Octagon in emphatic fashion this past Saturday, scoring a technical knockout of David Branch in the second round at UFC Fight Night 116.
It was a nice return to form for the American Kickboxing Academy standout, who in his previous outing had lost the middleweight title in shocking fashion to Michael Bisping via first round knockout at UFC 199 in June 2016.
“People have short memories and they only remember that,” Rockhold said Wednesday on UFC Tonight. “I’ve been through wars, a lot of them. I’ve taken my shots and I’ve withstood the test of time. Lucky stuff happens and the best man doesn’t always win. I’m coming back to regain my status.”
That process could take some time. Bisping is booked to face former welterweight king Georges St. Pierre at UFC 217 in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 4.
“I want GSP to get lost on his way down to Madison Square Garden and I stroll right in and finish that story,” Rockhold said. “Obviously that’d be an ideal situation for me.”
And if that doesn’t happen, Rockhold has other options in mind.
“That would be Robert Whittaker. The real champion,” he said. “The man who fights the guys. We’ll see what his timetable is. Obviously, our third option is Yoel Romero.”
Whittaker captured the interim 185-pound belt with a five-round verdict over Romero at UFC 213. However, the Australian has been shelved by a knee injury that was aggravated in the bout against Romero. Clearly, Rockhold is more impressed with Whittaker, whose current eight-fight winning streak includes victories over Romero, Ronaldo Souza and Derek Brunson, than he is with Bisping’s championship reign.
“I think it’s the worst in UFC history,” Rockhold said. “No one has ever gotten that treatment. No one’s avoided every top contender. He was supposed to fight Jacare. He avoided that. He was supposed to fight Yoel. He avoided that.
“And somehow he’s getting away from this fight with Whittaker. He found Dan Henderson, the No. 14 ranked at the time, and now he’s going for GSP,” he continued. “He hasn’t done anything. I fought a guy who’s four spots higher than the guy he fought his last title defense.”
After his victory over Branch, Rockhold hinted at an eventual move to 205 pounds. That plan is contingent upon the career timeline of teammate Daniel Cormier, who is champion in that division. For now, Rockhold would prefer to avenge his loss to Bisping.
“I’m gonna put myself in position. He’s gonna have a choice. Either he stands and fights like a man, or he runs,” Rockhold said. “We all know what he’s doing. He’s ran from the start and it looks like he’s gonna run to the finish.”