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Ex-middleweight champion Luke Rockhold planning move to light heavyweight

Luke Rockhold, one of the most accomplished middleweights of the past decade, is planning a move to the light heavyweight division.

Rockhold (16-4) is two weeks removed from a TKO loss to Yoel Romero at UFC 221 in Perth, Australia. A win would have netted him an interim championship and set up a title unification bout against Robert Whittaker.

With that off the table, however, Rockhold doesn't see much left at 185 pounds. Outside of a trilogy bout with rival Michael Bisping, Rockhold's focus is already shifting to 205.

"I'm not too excited about making that weight cut again," Rockhold told ESPN. "I just don't feel nearly as strong, powerful, quick. It takes a lot out of me.

"Pretty much Bisping is the only reason I would torture myself to get back there. That's a loss that doesn't sit well with me. I know the UFC is very interested in that fight and will pursue it on their end. If he doesn't accept it, there's no reason for me to stay at 185."

Rockhold, 33, won the UFC championship in 2015, then surrendered it to Bisping (30-9) in a stunning knockout loss the next year. Their rivalry sits at one win apiece, but Bisping is considering retirement after back-to-back losses last year.

Rockhold believes it will be at least six months before his next fight, but one prominent light heavyweight, two-time title challenger Alexander Gustafsson (18-4), has already called him out on social media. Gustafsson's invitation did not go unnoticed.

"Mr. Gustafsson has reached out, opened his mouth, and that's a fight that interests me -- very much so," Rockhold said. "I like that matchup. I like every matchup at 205. There's a lot of interesting things there, and I'm not coming to play around."

Rockhold's entire career has taken place at middleweight, but the cut has never been an easy one. He says his natural weight is around 210 pounds.

The weight cut was compounded in this last fight, as the local athletic commission did not approve early morning weigh-ins, which were widely adopted in mid-2016.

Rockhold credited Romero for being "as tough as they come" in their fight, but admitted he was adversely affected by the weight cut procedures. Romero actually missed weight for the fight, coming in at 187.7 pounds.

"I knew what I was getting into when I took this fight, but I didn't exactly have the best weight cut," Rockhold said. "Credit to Yoel. I thought I could take advantage of certain things, and kicking his leg felt like f---ing cement. I ended up having to work around that, and he capitalized.

"That Perth commission doesn't understand the sport. The world has changed for the better. To have the athletes weigh in on a stage, televised, it makes no sense. Holding us at weight to run us through medicals and a staging process, it lengthens the time we're depleting ourselves. Then they're forcing us to do interviews, it's ridiculous."

A move to light heavyweight will eliminate those factors. And if a Bisping rubber match fails to materialize and Rockhold does head to 205, he says he'll do so with his head high.

"I did a lot at that weight class," Rockhold said. "People probably don't give me the credit I deserve for holding the Strikeforce title, but the people who do know, know.

"Compared to some other guys at 205, of course, I'll be a little small. But I've never tried to just physically go for it, bulk up, lift weights. Every time I'm in training mode, I've had to monitor what I'm eating. I'll break 210 and be around 215 pounds. I know what it takes to compete with the best guys at 205. I've trained with them."