Luke Rockhold's quest for UFC gold
Rockhol will enter the belly of the beast when he faces Belfort in Brazil this weeekend
Photo by Esther Lin/Forza LLC/Forza LLC via Getty Images
Strikeforce's most successful middleweight champion, Luke Rockhold is set to make his UFC debut this weekend against perennial title contender Vitor Belfort on enemy territory in Brazil. A win will thrust him into title contention, while a loss will send him crashing to the bottom of the ladder.
When you envision what a mixed martial artist looks like, you don't think of Rockhold. The 6'3" athletic surfer looks more like a ken doll fresh out of the cardboard box than a fighter but through hard work and dedication, Rockhold has shattered that perception and earned the respect of his peers.
Training out of American Kickboxing Academy with the likes of UFC heavyweight titlist Cain Velasquez and Strikeforce heavyweight tournament champ Daniel Cormier, Rockhold began with god-given athleticism and little else but has built on that base to become a world-class middleweight.
The Santa Cruz, California native got his foot in the door working with Strikeforce, the number two ranked organisation in the world at the time.
Starting at the bottom, Rockhold quickly got noticed and became one of the bright spots on the Strikeforce Challengers series, a group of smaller events to showcase the best up-and-coming talents that the San Jose-based organisation had to offer.
Eventually the hard work paid off when he snatched the Strikeforce middleweight crown from world-ranked submission ace Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza. In the dying days of the organisation, Rockhold was one of the few highlights as he defended the title twice before they closed their doors.
This weekend he finally plays with the big boys inside the Octagon, if Rockhold can get the victory against Belfort, one of the toughest competitors in MMA, he will be pushing for a shot at the other champion in town.
Currently the UFC middleweight title resides around the waist of Anderson Silva. The Brazilian wrecking machine has fended off all challengers thus far inside the UFC but has a stiff test ahead in unbeaten prodigy Chris Weidman.
Belfort, however, is no push over. The former UFC light heavyweight champ has been competing since he was a teenager and since re-emerging in the UFC several years ago he has not lost at 185 pounds (84kg).
Belfort threw his name back into the title mix last time the UFC visited Brazil with a vicious knockout of British poster boy Michael Bisping. Belfort landed a devastating left high kick which sent Bisping to the canvas before unloading with a series of strikes to finish his night.
This is the biggest test of Rockhold's career but he is out to prove he is among the cream of the middleweight crop.
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