SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Luke Rockhold rolled his eyes. This was the talented 28-year-old middleweight, six weeks ago, being sheepish.
Apparently he wasn’t crazy about the world learning that his trainer, Javier Mendez, is under medical treatment for testosterone replacement therapy.
When Mendez's use was revealed, Rockhold thought it would be embarrassing. How come? Well, no one's slammed licensed hormone therapy harder than Rockhold, and now the man in charge of preparing him to fight turns out to be on the same stuff as the embodiment of all things evil in enhanced MMA, Vitor Belfort.
Of course, no one's going to care that Mendez is using TRT. He has been retired from fighting for years and lives in the target age demographic for this sort of stuff.
Belfort's use is something altogether different. Many people care, including Rockhold, a fact he said he'd love to move beyond. But it seems the Strikeforce middleweight champion is having a hard time doing so ahead of his UFC debut. At Thursday's news conference for Zuffa's latest Brazilian adventure in the southern city of Jaragua do Sul, Rockhold dressed down the veteran former champion.
"I haven't supplemented or taken anything in any way. I know I put in more work. I know I have a bigger heart. I know I have the will that will push me through in this fight," said Rockhold, a few seats from Belfort.
This is something he's spent a lot of time thinking about.
Six weeks ago, Rockhold was already aware of how any discussion of Belfort demanded a long tangent on TRT.
"Every time," he said.
It shouldn't be a wonder considering how sharp the Santa Cruz, Calif.-born surfer’s words have been toward Belfort.
“I don't necessarily trust him. And I don't necessarily trust the system. Do I think he's cheating? Yes I do, personally.”
The basis of Rockhold’s protest comes from “jibber jabber behind the scenes” about Belfort being above the normal range for testosterone.
“He definitely looks bigger than I've normally seen him,” Rockhold said. “If you see the comparisons versus back when he fought Anderson Silva to now [and] the Jones fight, he put on some serious muscle mass.
"It's pretty obvious to see. People don't transform like that naturally. I don't care how much weight you're lifting. Your veins and muscles don't just completely morph and change without some outside help. TRT ... is it really just TRT? I've seen guys on TRT working hard, and look nowhere near what Vitor looks like. I hate to make this the whole topic of this fight. It seems like it is. I'd like to move on beyond it, focus on the fight and what I gotta do to win.”
When he talks about it, the sense is he fully believes what he’s saying. This, however, didn’t stop him from agreeing to a fight with Belfort in Brazil, where a recently formed commission will oversee therapeutic use exemptions.
“I'd like to see him tested to see if he's under the normal limits because I don't think he is. I think he's far above, from what I hear,” Rockhold said.
He knows from Mendez that TRT, done modestly, significantly increases muscle endurance, decreases soreness, and simply helps a person train harder. And as a result Mendez believes he’s sending his fighter into a contest at a disadvantage.
“But again it's not his fault the way the rules are,” Mendez said in defense of Belfort. “You can't blame him for that. He's following the rules. He's by the book.”
Rockhold thinks differently, and because he’s stepping into the cage it’s his opinion that matters most. He attempted to set up random testing through the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association; thinking the process was free he instead found it to be “a stretch” because of several thousand dollars in fees and his belief that Belfort would never agree to be involved.
All of that is a distraction. No matter what Rockhold thinks of Belfort’s use, it can’t change the facts of the fight. TRT is there, like height, weight and reach on the tale of the tape. He knows this, and that’s why he wants to get beyond the TRT stuff. There are better things to focus on.
“It's a huge opportunity,” he said. “Vitor is a huge name. He's a legend of the sport. And he's a top contender in my division.”
Waiting in the wings is a title shot against the best fighter in MMA history, Anderson Silva, if the UFC middleweight champion handles Chris Weidman in July. Rockhold spoke reverentially about Silva, and said he’s excited by the champion mentioning him as a possible opponent.
“If everything works out, I'm going to beat Vitor -- I am going to beat Vitor,” he said. “And if Anderson beats Weidman then I think that fight needs to happen. There wouldn't be any reason not to make it happen. To win the belt from Anderson Silva would be the sweetest of all things. But maybe it's Weidman, but of course taking the belt from Anderson would mean a lot to me.”
Maybe even a bit more than teaching a lesson to Belfort, who Thursday spoke of his motivation and enhancement that comes from the inside, his passion for fighting, his experience of continual learning. He said when he steps in the Octagon with Rockhold it will feel like a “silent storm.”
"I've crushed all the grapes,” Belfort said, “and now I only just need to drink the wine."
This doesn’t register with Rockhold’s vision of the future. He sees himself being the best middleweight in MMA. Rather than being intimidated by the idea that Belfort might be more dangerous to his health on testosterone, Rockhold turned it into a perceived weakness.
"I believe people that need that extra push, the TRT, I think they're lacking something,” he said. “And I believe that will show in this fight. That will be a big factor."