Rockhold says UFC can use some new faces

LAS VEGAS -- When Luke Rockhold heard his first Strikeforce middleweight title defense would come against Keith Jardine on Jan. 7, he had the same reaction plenty others had. He was confused.

No disrespect to Jardine, but the champion had hoped his first opponent in 2012 would be a little more, well, deserving. Jardine (17-9-2) was released by the UFC in 2010 after losing four straight. Since then, he’s 0-1-1 in Strikeforce.

And, oh yes, one more thing -- he’s never even fought at middleweight.

“I was definitely dumbfounded,” Rockhold said, on when the fight was announced. “It didn’t make much sense. I started thinking outside the box. He has a big name, so it will bring eyes and ears to the card.

“Beating him will show me to the rest of the public -- I guess.”

The unfortunate reality here is the public should already know him.

Rockhold (8-1) is the full package. He’s a powerful kickboxer and solid grappler, offensively and defensively. His frame and athleticism have allowed him to control where virtually every one of his fights has gone.

And yet, when Rockhold defeated Ronaldo Souza for the Strikeforce title in September, the poorly attended Showtime event it aired on produced fairly miserable ratings, drawing less than 275,000 viewers.

Despite holding the Strikeforce belt, Rockhold admits he doesn’t feel like much of a champion fighting on that type of stage. His teammate and fellow Strikeforce fighter Muhammed Lawal was especially critical of the Cincinnati-based show.

“When he was fighting [Souza], I thought it was the perfect time to promote this fight so the world can see the talent we have at Strikeforce,” Lawal said. “When I saw the arena, I said, ‘Man, this is a joke.’

“I was kind of mad. I knew Luke was going to win. It was a great fight and I wanted people to see what he went through.”

Regardless of who’s watching, the American Kickboxing Academy product would like to put together a big year in 2012.

Depending on what happens Saturday against Jardine in Las Vegas, Rockhold could be in line for a highly anticipated fight against Tim Kennedy as well as a potential rematch with Souza.

Beyond that, he’d like to see a contender from the UFC thrown into the mix at Strikeforce within 12 months. Ultimately, his goal is the same as it would be if he were fighting in the UFC -- build a case that puts him in the Octagon with Anderson Silva.

“You definitely don’t want to get distracted from what you’re doing,” Rockhold said. “But I’ve got to build those fights and let people know we’re legit. I think the UFC needs fresh faces. I feel like they’re running people around and putting on old fights.

“Vitor [Belfort] lost. Chael [Sonnen] lost. Everyone who could fight Anderson has already lost to him. I want to see a top contender come to Strikeforce. Then we can legitimize the sport.”

Until Rockhold does get his shot at UFC gold, it’s likely his name won’t stray far from the headlining status in Strikeforce. Regarding those who don’t consider him a true champion yet because of the name on the belt, Rockhold tries not to concern himself too much.

If he continues to take advantage of the opportunities given to him, that has to change eventually.

“I think I get overlooked a lot but that doesn’t really bother me. I’m going to keep beating people,” Rockhold said.

“I believe I can compete and beat anybody in the world, and that goes for Anderson. I’m not scared of anybody. I want a chance to prove it. Keep winning and catch Dana [White’s] eye and get some publicity.”