COSTA MESA, Calif. – Luke Rockhold is seven weeks away from his highly anticipated return to the cage, which is plenty of time to think about his opponent.
So it gives Rockhold very little pause to spent a few moments thinking about Saturday’s UFC middleweight title fight and where he thinks he stands against the current champion.
Rockhold (16-5 MMA, 6-4 UFC), a former UFC and Strikeforce middleweight champ, is scheduled to return for his first fight since July 2019 when he takes on Paulo Costa (13-2 MMA, 5-2 UFC) on Aug. 20 at UFC 278 in Salt Lake City.
Middleweight titleholder Israel Adesanya (22-1 MMA, 11-1 UFC) puts his belt on the line against Jared Cannonier (15-5 MMA, 8-5 UFC) on Saturday at UFC 276 in Las Vegas. Adesanya is shooting for his fifth middleweight title defense in a little more than two years.
Rockhold’s most recent fight nearly three years ago was at light heavyweight, and he was knocked out by Jan Blachowicz in the second round on Blachowicz’s rise to eventual UFC 205-pound title.
Before that, Rockhold lost an interim middleweight title fight to Yoel Romero in Australia in a bout in which Romero missed weight. That leaves Rockhold with his lone win since he lost the 185-pound title more than six years ago to David Branch in September 2017.
Still, he thinks a win over Costa could put him right back in contention for a shot at Adesanya, whom he thinks will beat Cannonier on Saturday.
“I think Izzy’s a great champion. I think he’s a good character. I like Izzy – I’m not going to lie. I want to fight him, for sure,” Rockhold told MMA Junkie. “I think he wins this fight. I mean, Jared Cannonier throws hard. He could hit a leg in the wrong spot – you never know – or land something wild. But I think Izzy’s range and his dynamicness is going to be too much. Jared can try to take him down, but he doesn’t have enough solid top game to hold him.
“I think I’m the only one that can beat Izzy. Employ the right tactics, and I’ve got that fight.”
Dating back to April 2019, in title fights, Adesanya has wins over Kelvin Gastelum, Robert Whittaker twice, Romero, Costa and Marvin Vettori. He also has a non-title win over highly ranked Derek Brunson.
Lurking in the rankings are names like Sean Strickland, who fights on the UFC 276 main card Saturday, and Jack Hermansson, who is coming off a loss to Strickland. Given Rockhold’s history as a fan-friendly former champion, a title shot if he beats Costa might not be out of the question.
Check out Rockhold’s thoughts on Adesanya in the video above, and the full interview below.