Chris Weidman appeared to have momentum on his side until he threw a spinning kick in the direction of Luke Rockhold in the third round of their middleweight title fight at UFC 194.
That proved to be the turning point of the fight, as Rockhold caught the kick, took Weidman down and nearly forced a stoppage with brutal punches and elbows from above before the frame expired. That barrage drained Weidman’s resolve, and Rockhold finished the contest with relative ease in round four.
However, Rockhold could have been forgiven if Weidman’s ill-advised kick in the previous frame had caused a flashback to perhaps the darkest time in the American Kickboxing Academy product’s UFC tenure. After all, it was a spinning heel kick from a TRT-infused Vitor Belfort that knocked out Rockhold more than two years ago, a loss that slowed the Californian’s path to the 185-pound championship.
“I’m blessed that happened. That changed me and matured me and turned me into a different fighter,” Rockhold said at Saturday’s post-fight press conference. “I embrace that. Of course I want revenge. But I don’t think that was the exact turning point [in the Weidman fight]. It definitely had a role. I rocked him earlier in the fight, too. I felt good. I felt like I had the upper hand even with the setback I had. I wish I would have had a little more energy to put it on him and beat him. I’ll be better next time, no doubt.”
Rockhold attributes his lack of energy to a foot ailment that hindered him in the weeks leading up to his showdown with Weidman. That didn’t stop him from handing Weidman, one of the sport’s top pound-for-pound talents, the first defeat of his professional career.
“I’ve never been that exhausted before in my life. I’ve been on antibiotics the last two weeks straight. I stopped taking them today because it was fight day,” he said. “My foot was starting to swell up a little bit, especially at the weigh-ins. I didn’t take them that day. I was on my foot, and I was so depleted.
“My foot was swelling up and tightening up last night. I’ve got cellulitis; it’s like staph, I guess. It takes over your whole foot and it’s just been draining my body and it’s been affecting me. I had to fight through it and make it happen.”
Like many observers, Rockhold was surprised that referee Herb Dean did not halt the bout as he overwhelmed Weidman from top position in the third round. According to FightMetric.com, Rockhold outlanded Weidman 68 to 21 in significant strikes in that frame, with 55 of those blows coming on the ground.
“I definitely thought the fight should have been stopped. I actually thought it was stopped. I was in between [thinking] whether the round was over or the fight was stopped,” Rockhold said. “I was hoping they would stop the fight. I had nothing left in me. It was quite the adrenaline dump realizing he was coming back after me in the fourth.
Rockhold also understood the desire to give the reigning champion every opportunity to remain in the fight.
“I’m the same guy. I’m gonna go out on my shield too,” he said. “I want to be [completely] done, finished. He took a lot of damage. It’s not my job. It’s not my call.”
One bout prior to Rockhold’s coronation, Yoel Romero eked out a split-decision triumph over Ronaldo Souza in what could have been a title eliminator bout. Still, Rockhold has a strong desire to erase the memory of the Belfort loss, even if he knows a meeting with Romero is inevitable.
“Vitor Belfort on a silver platter would be a beautiful thing. I would love it,” Rockhold said. “Yoel’s a tough dude. I’ll let the boss choose. That fight will happen. Me and Yoel have to fight. We know this is coming.”