Luke Rockhold, the last Strikeforce middleweight champion, is set to make his UFC debut at UFC on FX 8. Rockhold has done his fair share of promoting for this fight and has the UFC middleweight title firmly in his sights. It’s a goal the Strikeforce champ could be a lot closer to than most fans would think.

Rockhold was the most successful Strikeforce middleweight competitor and has looked pretty dominant thus far into his career. He not only dispatched former UFC light heavyweight Keith Jardine in under five minutes, but also took unanimous decision victories over Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Tim Kennedy. The last two names may not mean much to the casual fan, but they’re definitely quality wins. It’s not easy to look good against a fighter like Kennedy, but Rockhold coasted to a decision. And Souza’s grappling skills are legitimately world class, yet Rockhold, after being out of the cage for over a year, took the title away from the Brazilian.

Now Rockhold will face another tough Brazilian in Vitor Belfort at UFC on FX 8. Belfort is one of the most recognizable names in MMA history and has been a perennial title challenger for the past few years. He is also coming off a surprising knockout of Michael Bisping. Belfort and the hard-hitting Dan Henderson are the only two people to have ever knocked out the Englishman. The win proved Belfort still has it. Thus, if Rockhold can defeat him, the Strikeforce champion should be placed in the mix.

Rockhold has called out UFC champion Anderson Silva in the past and it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s next in line for “The Spider,” assuming Silva can get past Chris Weidman this summer. If Weidman somehow pulls off the miraculous upset, however, it’s all but a given that the UFC will grant Silva an immediate rematch. But no matter who the champion is, Rockhold should be next in line for a title shot after a potential victory over Belfort.

One factor is that there is an extreme lack of marketable title challengers in the middleweight division. Bisping is coming off a good showing against Alan Belcher at UFC 159, but does the UFC really trust him enough to put him in another high-profile bout? Yushin Okami took home a split decision victory over former Bellator champ Hector Lombard, but I’ve seen more excitement on bingo night at the nursing home. Add in the fact that Okami was embarrassed by Silva before and it’s hard for anyone to be intrigued by Okami challenging for the title.

Another bargaining chip Rockhold will have in his favor if he can defeat Belfort is the fact he’s the last Strikeforce middleweight champion. A champion vs. champion match-up could prove to be very profitable for the UFC’s bank account if it can promote the bout the right way. Rockhold obviously doesn’t have a problem with speaking his mind to the media and would sport an impressive resume that rivals any top contender on the UFC’s roster.

Of course, all this hinges on Rockhold defeating Belfort, and that’s no easy task. Belfort is still one of the fastest, most powerful strikers in the sport and will be fighting in front of his countrymen. Rockhold will be going into enemy territory at UFC on FX 8, but with the chance at UFC gold on the line, the American Kickboxing Academy product will undoubtedly bring his A-game. He’ll definitely need it if he wants his hand raised at UFC on FX 8.

Photo: Luke Rockhold (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

About The Author

Kyle Symes
Staff Writer

Kyle is a recent graduate of Aurora University, where he obtained a Bachelor's in Communications. Kyle resides in Illinois, just outside of Chicago. He played baseball and football in both high school and college, but is now focusing on an amateur MMA career.