Former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold has assessed the title picture ahead of his return and believes that contender Robert Whittaker would be a tougher test than divisional chief Israel Adesanya.
Rockhold, who held the 185-pound gold between December 2015 and June 2016, is gearing up for his first appearance inside the Octagon in over three years. Last time out, the Californian was knocked out by Jan Blachowicz in a failed move up to light heavyweight. That loss made it three KO setbacks in the space of four fights.
Now, after taking time away from the sport, Rockhold has claimed to be hungrier than ever and back on the title charge, something he’ll look to prove by dispatching top-five contender Paulo Costa next month at UFC 278.
While he’s ultimately got his sights set on Adesanya, the man who currently occupies top spot at 185 pounds, Rockhold actually believes that the biggest threat to his resurgence lies below “The Last Stylebender.”
Rockhold: Adesanya Is A “Straightforward Fight”
During a recent appearance on Submission Radio, Rockhold assessed his impending return and the championship picture he expects to rejoin come August 20.
While reflecting on the most recent title fight in the division, which saw Adesanya successfully defend his belt against Jared Cannonier, the 37-year-old expressed confidence in his ability to add the first blemish to the champ’s middleweight record down the line.
“I know how to fight Izzy. It’s a straightforward fight,” Rockhold said. “With the right game, that’s my fight. We were talking the other night and I think the hardest fight for me right now is Whittaker. But if I play the right game with any of these guys, then it’s my fight.”
When asked to elaborate on why he’s identified Whittaker, who’s lost twice to Adesanya, as a bigger challenge, Rockhold cited the Australian’s movement and wrestling defense as the reasons why.
“For me, it’s ’cause Israel’s a lot easier — he’s a lengthier body, so he’s easier to control. He’s not as much of a spark plug,” Rockhold said. “Whittaker’s got better wrestling defense. He’s harder to track down around the cage. He springs in and out. I don’t know, I think he seems a little bit tougher for me.”
Earlier this year, Whittaker and Adesanya met for the second time. While the Nigerian-New Zealander secured a knockout victory the first time around, he had to settle for a decision at UFC 271 after going the full five rounds with “The Reaper.”
Nevertheless, acknowledging that styles make fights, Rockhold clearly believes that his fellow former champ would present a tougher puzzle to crack inside the Octagon. Should he defeat “Borrachinha,” perhaps he’ll have the chance to test his theory against either man.
Do you agree with Luke Rockhold’s take on fights against Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker?