Rockhold explains Branch matchup, says Bisping should be stripped of middleweight title

After more than a year outside the Octagon, marred by injuries and difficulties making a major fight happen, Luke Rockhold got fed up with waiting and took a UFC Fight Night main event in Pittsburgh against David Branch in September. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Luke Rockhold went big-game hunting this summer. He just came up empty.

A former middleweight champion, Rockhold (15-3) is scheduled to face David Branch on Sept. 16 in Pittsburgh. The 185-pound fight will headline UFC Fight Night inside PPG Paints Arena.

Branch (21-3) is deserving of a big fight. He's a former two-weight WSOF champion, and he's on an 11-fight win streak. He's not a big name himself though, and is ranked well below Rockhold, who hasn't fought since he lost the UFC title to Michael Bisping in June 2016.

So, if you're Rockhold, why take this fight? The San Jose native says it came down to a lack of options.

"I've been trying to fight since June," Rockhold told ESPN's Five Rounds podcast. "No one wants to step up and fight. They offered me the Anderson Silva fight on short notice [at UFC on June 3]. I was going to go to Brazil and fight the man on his home turf and he wouldn't accept. They offered him more money and he still wouldn't accept.

"Then they tried to get Gegard Mousasi on the July 8 card, couldn't sign him in time. Tried to get that fight on July 29, still couldn't sign him and he went to Bellator. I tried to get [heavyweight Fabricio] Werdum to fight. At a certain point, I couldn't take it anymore."

Rockhold said there was some discussion about fighting Yoel Romero (12-2), who is coming off a decision loss to Robert Whittaker for the interim title at UFC 213 on July 8.

But according to Rockhold, Romero wanted additional time between fights and was only willing to agree to a three-round bout.

"I tried waiting for the right fight, but September is the most logical main event spot," Rockhold said. "I'm a five-round fighter. That's what I fight. That's the true tell of a fighter. They wanted Yoel Romero, I said, 'Yeah, let's do Yoel Romero, September 16.' His camp tried to delay, said they needed three more weeks for a three-round fight specifically.

"I want to fight a five-round fight. That's what it is. Everyone knows Yoel has problems going the five. I don't. I'm not going to force a fight with a guy. I'm not going to leave it up to the judges. I'm going to be technical, I'm going to be solid and I'm going to fight a real man's fight. There's a reason championship fights are five rounds."

Rockhold, 32, has been publicly critical of the UFC's matchmaking in 2017 -- specifically a championship fight between Bisping and former welterweight king Georges St-Pierre.

He remains critical of the matchup, which is expected to take place on Nov. 4 in New York, but said he couldn't put his own career on hold any longer, after missing significant time due to a knee injury.

"Bisping has fought nobody in the top 10 for the last year-and-a-half and still isn't going to fight anybody in the top 10," Rockhold said. "Where does that put him? I think they should pull the title from guys like that who don't fight anybody at the top. They pulled the title from [Germaine de Randamie] because she wouldn't fight the No. 1 contender. Why is this any f---ing different?

"We'll see if Georges even makes it to the fight. The guy has been out for so long, who knows where his head or his body is at, or if he actually makes it to that date. I'm going to go out and do what I have to do and we'll see where everything is at that moment in time."