Luke Rockhold has gotten better at keeping his cool during fights. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The last time Luke Rockhold let emotions get the best of him in a fight, he found himself looking up at the lights inside the Arena Jaragua in Brazil.
More than a year has passed since Rockhold’s UFC debut ended with him on the receiving end of a Vitor Belfort spinning heel kick at UFC on FX 8. Looking back, the former Strikeforce champion feels that he was nowhere near the right frame of mind to hang with “The Phenom” that night.
“It’s fighting Vitor Belfort in Brazil, my debut. I had a lot on my shoulders. I wanted to beat him for myself and a lot of reasons. It definitely was an emotional time,” Rockhold said. “The Brazilian crowd is very passionate, and everyone gets on your back in the whole buildup. The whole circumstance, fighting Vitor…there was a lot on the line there.”
That’s why, no matter how heated dialogue got during the conference call he recently shared with Michael Bisping – and it got plenty heated – Rockhold plans on keeping his cool when he looks across the cage at the Englishman at UFC Fight Night in Sydney on Nov. 8.
“If you want to see me emotional, go back and watch my Belfort leadup,” Rockhold said. “I was pissed; I was emotionally defeated. That’s never going to happen again. I’m never going to let my emotions get the better of me.”
Rockhold has rebounded to establish himself as one of the middleweight division’s top contenders since that defeat, posting first-round finishes of Costas Philippou and Tim Boetsch in his last two outings.
It might seem strange that a former Strikeforce titlist who earned notable victories over Ronaldo Souza and Tim Kennedy in what was then the world’s second-largest MMA promotion might struggle with his mental preparation, but Rockhold says the UFC jitters were very real.
“All the pressure of performing in the UFC, you question yourself a lot in your head,” he admitted.
Instead of relaxing and being clinical in the cage, Rockhold’s motivation to fight Belfort was fueled by anger.
“I was staring at him, just mean mugging him the whole time. It was a crazy experience being in Brazil – psyching myself up in the wrong way instead of just relaxing and seeing things,” Rockhold said. “My eyes were just pure red, and I was coming after him like a crazy man when I should have just relaxed and saw everything coming. It clouds your vision when you act like that.”
Eventually, Rockhold says he realized his flaw in sparring. If he got angry and aggressive in practice, it would affect his performance. The same held true when records were on the line.
“I’m being a lot more confident in myself, letting things be, letting it go,” he said. “Taking a loss like that is a humbling experience, and you can’t go much further down….I learned when I relax and when I wait I’m a lot more dangerous and a lot more precise.”
So yes, while it may appear that Rockhold is agitated by his exchanges with Bisping, it’s all in the name of promotion. On fight night, all the talk with be in the rearview mirror.
“It’s a fight. People love the talk,” Rockhold said. “People love a genuine feud, and that is what they’re getting. I’m a competitive person; whether we’re talking or whether we’re fighting. I’m selling the fight; he’s selling the fight.
“The pre-fight hype is nothing compared to what you’re gonna see on Nov. 8.”