It must have been a hell of a long 15 months out of the game for mixed martial artist Luke Rockhold. Injuries, promotional problems and lack of credible opponents extended his absence from the octagon. A highly rated and extremely talented fighter he was missed by fans who are now glad to have him back. He has had a lot of time to mull over his knock-out defeat to Michael Bisping at UFC 199 in June last year. This was the second time the two fighters had gone toe to toe with Bisping tapping to a guillotine choke that Rockhold was able to lock in in the second round of their first encounter. Bisping is still the champion at 185 pounds but Rockhold called him out and told the Englishman’s next opponent Georges St-Pierre to back out before he embarrasses himself.
The idea of a trilogy between Rockhold and Bisping is exciting to say the least. However, it is important to focus on what the returning fighter did in his comeback fight at UFC Fight Night 116 against David Branch first of all.
Rockhold was able to secure a victory in the second round moving from top mount to back mount after Branch struggled to deal with Rockhold on top. Once taking the back the former middleweight champion was able to land big bombs from behind and force a stoppage due to Branch’s inability to defend himself.
The fuller story is completely different. In the first round Branch looked good. He was moving forward and walking Rockhold down. After questions were raised about the returning fighters chin after being knocked out by Bisping, who was not considered a big puncher at the time, Branch was able to land some clean shots. Rockhold took them well but the fact he took them still shows he can be hit easily. With his chin still up in the air the vulnerability is still present, the same vulnerability that Bisping exposed at UFC 199.
Branch also did a good job of getting in to a good range to negate Rockhold’s fantastic range of kicks. If given space Rockhold will launch devastating kicks to his opponents legs, body and head that can be the difference in the octagon. Weaknesses are present in the style of Rockhold due to his lack of defence and struggles against high intensity opponents but that is nothing new.
While there were obviously some issues he was still able to win the match up. He did this through calling on different strengths in his skill set. First of all when rampaging forward Branch would often find himself in control of a clinch with Rockhold finding his back against the cage. From this position Rockhold defended himself well and tied Branch up in the clinch stopping his opponent getting off good effective shots. At the end of the first round Rockhold was able to gain control of the clinch and score a take-down – probably his best moment of the opening round.
Perhaps sensing that he had a far greater ground game than Branch due to this exchange in the late part of the round, even though he had little time to hammer home the advantage at the end of the first, Rockhold looked for a take-down again in the second. Being out worked on his feet and believing he had a greater skill on the ground you can say that Rockhold worked out the issues he was facing and put it right. In turn you can argue he showed good fight IQ. Once he got Branch to the floor he looked far superior. Quickly transitioning into top mount before Branch gave up his back where Rockhold was able to finish the fight.
Now on to bigger business. Rockhold Bisping 3. It has to happen. There is too much history for it not to. Both fighters are proud men and true warriors. They will both want to put a line under the rivalry and attempt to claim the victory in the decider.
Bisping is defending his title against UFC legend GSP in November and will have to come through that holding onto his belt to keep the excitement of the trilogy fight up. No matter what Rockhold has to say on the competitiveness of the fight there is always danger stepping into the octagon. GSP could win the fight and it would take the shine off the third fight between Rockhold and Bisping as there would be no title on the line. Bisping has to focus on this fight before looking ahead to his next potential encounter. It is more than likely that Rockhold will fight again before any match up with Bisping so he has to keep his end of the bargain as well. However, both men seem to be focused on each other.
It definitely adds a buzz to the middleweight division having Luke Rockhold back in the mix. While he is not deserving of a title shot just yet another fight against a higher ranked opponent would certainly put him on the shortlist. Bisping wants the fight too and with title defences against Dan Henderson and GSP it would seem he fights who he likes not necessarily the guy who deserves it the most. The fight would be a great spectacle as both have great history in the sport and big fan bases. As fight fans can only hope this goes ahead and the rivalry is put to bed – in a war inside the octagon for the middleweight title.
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