Luke Rockhold Surprised but Excited to be Challenging “Jacare” Souza
By Kelsey Mowatt
For a couple of years now, Luke Rockhold has been working his way up the Strikeforce middleweight rankings, affirming his status as one the promotion’s top prospects by winning six straight fights. While the American Kickboxing Academy fighter’s success has certainly turned heads throughout the sport, injuries have prevented Rockhold from competing since February, 2010, when he stopped Paul Bradley in the first round. Despite the extended layoff, however, Strikeforce has turned to the 26 year-old-fighter to have him challenge middleweight champion Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in September. The recent announcement may have surprised some, including Rockhold, but that shouldn’t diminish the importance of the fight. (Pictured: Rockhold hitting Paul Bradley)
“I’m definitely surprised but it was a glancing thought,” Rockhold told FCF while discussing his upcoming title shot. “It bounced through my head once and then I think it went straight out. I was thinking about the fact that all of the contenders have really beaten themselves out. “Mayhem” (Miller) has already gone to the UFC, Tim Kennedy lost, Robbie (Lawler) just lost; there wasn’t that many contenders and a lot of them lost. So, I was really the only one even though I was coming off a layoff. I didn’t really think it was a possibility but I was playing around with it in my head a little bit.”
There’s no question that the upcoming bout will be the biggest of Rockhold’s career to date, and with the recent Zuffa acquisition of Strikeforce, the opportunities that come with being a Strikeforce champion have likely never been greater.
“This could lead into a lot of big things,” said Rockhold while discussing the magnitude of his bout with “Jacare.” “We don’t really know what’s going to come from all of this so it means a lot, especially if at some point Strikeforce happens to close down…To jump into the UFC with the belt would mean a lot for me.”
“I’m just focused on beating Jacare,” Rockhold added. “I’ve been with Strikeforce for a while; I’ve always dreamed about being a champion and I always dreamed that I would be. So my dream is finally coming true and this is what I want. I’m really excited.”
Of course, another key reason Rockold’s next fight is of the utmost importance, is due to the fact he will be facing one of the world’s top middleweights in Souza. Since the renowned jiu-jitsu competitor has arrived in Strikeforce, Souza has defeated Matt Lindland, Joey Villasenor, Tim Kennedy and Robbie Lawler.
“I’ve been watching Jacare for so long,” Rockhold said. “I follow jiu-jitsu and I competed in jiu-jitsu for years. I followed Jacare way before he started fighting. I know him in and out and I know everything about him. He’s definitely a very dangerous grappler; he’s real strong, real explosive.”
“He’s definitely a real technical guy, but I think he’s gotten away in some of his fights in the past with his athleticism, his control and strength. I think he tends to use that a lot but I think in this fight that’s going to be a problem for him because I can match a lot of those attributes.”
Rockhold was scheduled to face Matt Lindland last October, but was forced to withdraw after injuring his shoulder. According to the AKA fighter, however, the injury will not play a factor in the upcoming title fight.
“It’s almost 100% but it’s not quite there,” said Rockhold. “With AC (acromioclavicular) separations it’s tough. I never had any surgery. I saw the doctor and had a series of cortisone shots to clear out the inflammation; initiate the healing process. I re-injured it, and had to go through it all again, but I feel near 100% finally…This last month it’s really turned the corner finally.”