The story of Luke Rockhold pulling out of the January Strikeforce card and title defense against Lorenz Larkin has taken a strange turn over the past 24 hours as it turns out that Luke never actually agreed to the fight to begin with. Our good friends at Fight Hub caught up with Luke last night and got clarification on the situation.
From their interview:
"I never saw a bout agreement, nothing came over to me and I did not sign anything for that fight in January… I think Strikeforce got a little excited over there and starting promoting something that was never even signed on," said Rockhold this afternoon over the phone to us.
"I don’t know what is going on over there (at Strikeforce)… I have not spoken to Scott Coker or anyone else about this but I found it odd to hear about a fight I am supposed to be defending my belt in without signing a contract for it."
Luke talked more about it later:
Knowing that the marquee lights Dana White boasts could lure a fighter to get over quick, Rockhold firmly attested again he was not holding for a free ride over. "Would fights in the UFC be great right now? Of course! But right now, I am not worried about that, I am focused on what I have right now – an injured wrist that needs to heal properly so I can train."
"I tried to train in my cast and I could feel it moving and knew it would not work; when I got the cast removed and just doing things like driving my car it was hurting. So why am I going to train for a fight, defending my title, one-handed? As soon as I heard this online about January, I knew I would not be ready for it and tried calling Zuffa and Strikeforce to notify them and you have seen what happens online – people believe the rumors they want but that is all they are – Rumors. I am telling you why I am not fighting in January."
That quote is actually what makes the whole situation most interesting. Rockhold was never in a position where it seemed like he'd have accepted a fight in January due to his injury. Yet Strikeforce announced the fight anyway, including it in their press release on November 8:
STRIKEFORCE® heads to the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Okla., on Saturday, Jan. 12 with three championship fights, plus the return of Oklahoma State University star Daniel Cormier, all televised live on SHOWTIME®. With a collection of some of the best fighters in the world today, STRIKEFORCE has put together a memorable and historic card for the fans in the Sooner State.
The action-packed night includes the following bouts:
- Gilbert "El Niño" Melendez (champion) vs. Pat Healy for the STRIKEFORCE lightweight title
- Luke Rockhold (champion) vs. Lorenz Larkin for the STRIKEFORCE middleweight title
- Nate Marquardt (champion) vs. Tarec Saffiedine for the STRIKEFORCE welterweight title
- Daniel Cormier (Grand Prix champion, OSU All-American) vs. Dion Staring
"We’ve built an absolutely stacked card for Oklahoma City and the SHOWTIME viewers," STRIKEFORCE CEO Scott Coker said. "We have three awesome title fights featuring some of the best fighters to ever grace the STRIKEFORCE cage. Plus, we have Daniel Cormier, one of the fastest-rising heavyweight stars today, returning to his roots in Oklahoma to fight Dion Staring. January 12 is going to be a really special night."
I'm trying to wrap my head around exactly why this would be done by Zuffa.
There are a number of reasons you don't put out official releases stating that fights that haven't been agreed to have been signed. They've put one of their top potential superstars of the future on the defensive as people are taking shots at him for pulling out of a bout he was never ready to sign.
Now it's Rockhold who has to defend himself as not a part of the now hated "new generation" of fighters who don't take fights regardless of readiness. The kind of nonsense Larkin and DaMarques Johnson joined in on:
Also, Zuffa has to have come close to burning bridges with CBS and Showtime. That might not matter right now with things still rosy between the UFC and Fox, but CBS is a company that gave MMA chances before it was hip to do so. Somewhere down the road things might not work out with Fox. Either because ratings decline of management changes and looks to refocus sports money elsewhere or any number of other reasons.
Things behind the scenes have been ugly between Sho/CBS and Zuffa for a long time now. Publicly they might have said otherwise, but the last deal wasn't exactly reached by two sides happily negotiating with the same goal. If this card falls apart any more it'll be three in a row that had to be cancelled and one of the big reasons this time will be the initial inclusion of a title fight that never was.
Note by Brent Brookhouse: I should clarify that Rockhold has said that he "verbally agreed" to the fight. But verbal agreements aren't something you advertise. You have to have the deal inked before you start promoting.
I realize this doesn't matter to a lot of you and that verbally agreeing is good enough. It's not a fight contract unless it's signed though.