Since claiming the middleweight title from Ronaldo Souza in September 2011, Luke Rockhold has worn his Strikeforce belt proudly. He'll continue to do so Saturday night in Portland, Ore., against Tim Kennedy. It will be the second title defense for Rockhold and likely his last, if all goes according to plan.
Rockhold envisions making quick work of Kennedy then resuming his most important mixed martial arts projects outside the cage -- campaigning for fights against the sport’s best competitors. That includes a possible clash with UFC champion Anderson Silva.
“I’m definitely focused on Tim Kennedy,” Rockhold told ESPN.com. “But you only live once and I live to be the best, and Anderson Silva is the best in the world. So, to be the best, you have to beat the best.
“That’s what I need to do: fight Anderson Silva. That’s what I want.”
Rockhold knows that being in Strikeforce, and with several viable UFC 185-pound contenders positioning themselves for a title shot, his chances of landing a bout with Silva are slim. Still, he isn’t counting himself out of the Silva sweepstakes yet. He intends to use Saturday night’s title defense as a platform to showcase his skills -- and that means dominating Kennedy from pillar to post.
“I see a real tough guy, a smart fighter who knows how to fight to his strengths,” Rockhold said of Kennedy. “He has strengths, but his strengths are my strengths.
“I’m a more-rounded fighter. I have a lot more weapons on the feet, so I will be able to nullify his takedowns, his submission threats and impose my will in the standup. I’m going to make him fight at a very high pace. The pace that he’s going to have to fight at against me, he won’t be able to keep that up for five rounds.”
A dominating performance against Kennedy is certain to get the attention of the UFC front office, which might convince them to bring him over. It’s Rockhold’s best chance of getting into mixed martial arts' top promotion in the near future, and a match with Silva.
“If I fight Anderson Silva, I’ve got to fight him in the UFC,” Rockhold said. “There’s no other way of looking at it. They’re not going to want the Strikeforce champion to beat the UFC champion and come back to Strikeforce. I certainly hope they can work it out, but I might be here for a while. I don’t know. I hope things can be worked out and I can go over there and fight him.”
As much as Rockhold (9-1) would love to get his hands on Silva, that’s just one reason he is eager to land in UFC. In just eight Strikeforce bouts, Rockhold has established himself as the promotion’s best 185-pound fighter. And it doesn’t appear anyone is close to knocking him off his perch; he's pretty much out of options.
“I just want to fight the top guys,” Rockhold said. “It’s no secret that we’re running out of guys here in Strikeforce. There’s only one other matchup that makes sence after Tim Kennedy and that’s [Ronaldo] Jacare [Souza]. That fight needs closure and I can give it.”
Rockhold has no doubt that he will handle Souza in a rematch. His only reason for wanting a second encounter is to give Souza same treatment others have experienced. He has finished every one of his opponents in the first round. Souza is the only one to go the distance with him -- Rockhold won by unanimous decision in capturing the title.
His agenda is simple: destroy Kennedy (14-3) on Saturday, then settle matters quickly with Souza. After those two are put to bed, Rockhold will begin pushing harder for a spot on UFC’s middleweight roster and a possible fight with.
It’s a fight Rockhold is confident he will win.
“The recipe to beat Anderson Silva is a strong wrestler who can take him down,” Rockhold said. “Good jiu-jitsu and a good top game. And a guy who’s not afraid to strike with him, I think most people are.
“I can tell you right now that I’m not afraid to strike with Anderson Silva. But I’d obviously fight to my strengths. I’m well-rounded. I can do a lot of things that not many people can. Against a guy like Anderson Silva, I can fight him everywhere.”