Rockhold says ‘Good riddance’ to GSP, Romero has ‘limitations’

The UFC middleweight division has gone a little bit off the rails within the last few months. And at UFC 221 on Sunday, for the second time since July, a vacant interim middleweight title will be up for grabs when Luke Rockhold (16-3) faces Yoel Romero inside Perth Arena in Perth, Australia.

But how did we get to this point?

Rockhold, 33, was originally supposed to face Robert Whitaker for the strap, but the current middleweight champion was forced to withdraw due to injury, and Romero was then tapped as his replacement.

In case you need a quick refresher on what’s happened in the last seven months: Whitaker defeated Romero at UFC 213 to become interim champion. Georges St-Pierre came out of retirement and defeated Michael Bisping at UFC 217 to become middleweight champion. St-Pierre gave up the belt due to health reasons, which led to the UFC promoting Whitaker from interim champion to actual champion.

All set?

Since dropping the title to Bisping at UFC 199, Rockhold sort of became the odd man out. Bisping was holding out for the big fight vs. “GSP,” which resulted in the interim title fight between Whitaker and Romero. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, and the St-Pierre’s return combined with the interim title has certainly muddied the waters, but Rockhold says he’s always known where he stands among the others.

“I’ve always known my place,” Rockhold told FIGHT SPORTS. “It’s just the general public got mislead for awhile. I’ve always known where the division stands. Now everyone is trying to figure it out. Whitaker has been the man. He’s proven himself. He’s beaten Jacare [Souza] and Yoel, and the time he did it, it was a statement.

“Yoel is a gangster in the division. He’s a guy you have to really watch out for. And there’s a reason why he and Whitaker fought to a five-round division, going 2-2 into the fifth. That’s the top-tier guys, the cream of the crop. You beat either of these two guys you are a champion. As for the rest of them: good riddance.”

Wait a minute. The rest of them as in St-Pierre and Bisping?

“Good riddance ‘GSP’ and Bisping,” he said. “They just didn’t belong.”

Now the No.2-ranked UFC middleweight, Rockhold gave the impression he’s quite salty in regards to what’s transpired inside the division in recent months. Does he feel he’s been somewhat forgotten in recent months?

“I mean, I took a little hiatus and people have short memories in this sport,” said Rockhold, who defeated David Branch by TKO at UFC Fight Night 116 in September. “The best guy doesn’t always win. I slipped against Bisping and I f***ed up, but I’ve done a lot in this sport. I don’t need to mention everything I’ve done, but I’ve done more than anybody. You can put my Strikeforce and UFC together and I think I’ve got more records than just about anybody.”

Romero replaced Whitaker just a few weeks ago, which can often be tough on a fighter who has been spent his entire camp up to that point preparing for somebody else. “It’s as much of a strain as you let it be,” said the 10-year veteran. He’s faced the best of the best throughout his career, and remains confident in his abilities no matter who the opponent is.

Watch: UFC 221 Romero vs. Rockhold Preview

“I’ve got the skill set to fight anybody at anytime,” he said. “They are both explosive strikers. I don’t have to change my … Of course, Yoel has his crazy wrestling, but I just don’t believe it changes it that much. I don’t believe anybody wants to tangle with me on the ground.”

Romero is known for his wrestling prowess, competing in the Olympics in 2000 and 2004, winning a silver medal in the former. But Rockhold, a dangerous Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blackbelt himself, feels he’s the one who has the advantage should the fight hit the ground.

“I feel that with anybody, from any individual in this division, including Jacare.”

He added: “Once he gets rocked, then I will find my positions and find my way on top and put him in a position of panic. I expect an explosive striking match, gotta be quick, gotta be smart, gotta be patient.”

Romero is as explosive an athlete as they come. A truly unique talent with a wide array of skills, who comes out of the gate fast, and has several highlight-reel knockouts on his resume. However, he is also known to fade later on in fights, as evidenced by his performance in his last fight, a five-rounder with Whitaker.

“His body has limitations,” Rockhold said. “He can’t carry that much muscle and that much explosion throughout the fight. His style, his body, he explodes, and that’s part of being dangerous. You can only explode that so much. You can only hold that much muscle. It only lasts so long. His mind tells him to go. When that fifth round came, he f***ing came forward and tried to go for it. He knew it was 2-2 and he needed to win that fifth. The man is a warrior. There is no questioning that, but his body has limitations. That’s why I need to potentially take him in deep.”

Aside from fighting, Rockhold continues to keep himself busy working as a model in his off time, where he began after signing with Soul Artist Management in 2016.

“I’ve got some big things coming, and going, and moving and shaking,” said Rockhold, who mentioned having a very healthy relationship with the iconic fashion brand Ralph Lauren. “I don’t discriminate against paychecks, like I always say: I train to fight  and in the process take a couple pictures. Rather than do them for stupid MMA publications, I get them for fashion publications and get paid handsomely for being handsome.

He added: “Any money is always welcome money. I work my ass off for my paychecks for a long, long time. I’m reaping the benefits and enjoying the fruits of my labor. That side of it is welcomed with open arms.”

Does he enjoy it?

“It’s not fulfilling by any means, but it’s fun and it’s easy,” he said. “You go out and take pictures with Victoria Secret models, and travel to remote destinations, and it’s pretty funny. It’s funny to think that … You laugh when you get the pay checks. It’s f****ng good money. It’s a laughable situation and it’s fun. It’s always interesting to travel and meet new people and realms and new things. I get to travel to cool locations and shoot pictures with beautiful women.”

But before he can start cashing more modeling checks, Rockhold has a date in The Land Down Under to focus on first. He’s set on capturing the interim belt and earning a future date vs. Whitaker to unify the two titles. But the most important thing to him–which was the impression given from speaking to him, and something he seems dead set on doing–is reminding everyone that he’s still one of the best middleweights on the planet.

“I think going out there and making a statement against Yoel will tell everybody and make it clear who’s who in this world. I just need to focus on the task at hand. Whitaker beat Yoel to be the interim champion and then was declared the champion. It’s not different from my position. If I go out there and have a better performance … These fights are in close proximity. These men have not changed. And I think it’s going to be a case of who did it better? Who is the real champion?”

 

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