FIGHT CLUB WEEKLY 2.5.2018 - LUKE ROCKHOLD AND THE MIDDLEWEIGHT PROBLEM
After dropping the UFC Middleweight title to Michael Bisping back in 2016, Luke Rockhold appears to be on the path to rectifying the subsequent chaos that ensued. Rockhold defeated Chris Weidman in UFC 194 and the two were scheduled to rematch at UFC 199 but Weidman dropped out due to injury. Bisping, the perennial bridesmaid-never-the-bride when it coms to UFC title fights, stepped in. They had met once before in 2014 where Rockhold submitted Bisping.
There was something poignant about Bisping’s reign as middleweight champ. He is definitely a polarizing character in the rich tapestry of MMA personalities, but despite all of the press histrionics, he is a veteran fighter that always seemed to be one or two fights away from a title shot; he was always in contention but frequently lost the critical fights that would have put him in line for the title.
There was a certain beauty to him rolling in on later notice, as a replacement and knocking out the cocky Rockhold in the first round. You could tell by the over-confident body language that Rockhold had as he entered the octagon that he didn’t take Bisping seriously, that he was expecting the fight to go the way their first meeting had gone. It’s a testament to the sport of MMA, that anything can happen and you have to pay attention at all times or pay the consequences.
For the entire year of 2017, the middleweight division was in chaos. Bisping’s first title defense was his rematch with Dan Henderson who, at the time, was not even ranked in the top 10. It was consistent with the new, entertainment-based philosophy that the UFC had adopted, but it was alienating to most of the hardcore fans that had been following the sport.
Then there was the GSP thing. After years of rumors that George Saint-Pierre was returning to competition, opportunity presented itself. The former legendary welterweight champ selected his comeback to be against Michael Bisping in a middleweight title fight; a weight class that he had never competed in. The argument could be made that if Rockhold had defeated Bisping and held onto his title, that GSP might not have come back. His odds of defeating Welterweight champ Tyron Woodley were slimmer; it would have been a much more dangerous fight for him than against the aging Bisping.
After his loss, Rockhold vanished. There were reports of him signing modeling deals with major fashion brands, but he was conspicuously absent from the octagon. Almost a year would pass before he returned and defeated David Branch at UFC Fight Night in Pittsburg in the fall of 2017.
It was de rigeur for the UFC; chaos, obvious money grabs, desperation. Similar to the featherweight division, very little made sense in the middleweight division. Suddenly, we had a welterweight as champ, another interim belt and no real adherence to the standards of competition.
When Saint-Pierre vacated the title and Robert Whittaker was promoted to undisputed champ, albeit without actually fighting a unification bout, it appeared that a semblance or order was being instilled on the Wild West of the middleweights. It could all be blamed on Rockhold; if only he had respected Bisping when he went into that fight back in 2016, all of this chicanery could have been avoided.
Whittaker versus Rockhold would have been a great fight, but unfortubately Whittaker was forced to withdraw due to a serious, life-threatening Staph infection. Instead we have yet another interim title fight between Rockhold and Romero. It’s a tough fight but I think we’ve all had enough of the Interim Title Game.
Romero offers a compelling challenge for Rockhold. The 40-year-old Romero is an impressive physical specimen of athleticism. He’s one of the top five wrestlers in the promotion and has knockout power. Rockhold will have the reach advantage which will complement his striking-heavy game. He also has a sneaky ground game and is dangerous off of his back. My money is on Rockhold for this one by decision or submission.
On a side note, Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida won his first fight since 2014. The former light heavy weight champion has been on a losing streak for the past three years in addition to his PED controversies. He defeated Eryk Anders, the game rising star, via split decision. It appears that the brutal losses have begun to take their toll. Though Machida got the W, he’s a few steps slower, he looked like a shadow of himself.
Machida has nothing more to prove; he is a legend in the sport, former champion and most likely has a place in the Hall of Fame. I would like to see him retire on this fight instead of becoming a name that the young bucks can use to make their career.
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