Oh what a difference 2.5 minutes can make.
For Luke Rockhold that's all it took to transform him from a UFC fighter on the rise to just another Middleweight at the back of the pack. The former Strikeforce champ made his UFC debut amidst big expectations. Dana White was talking a title shot. Fans were talking about UFC vs. Strikeforce. Rockhold was talking about the UFC's wack TRT policy.
After less than 3 minutes in the cage with Vitor Belfort, all of that is over.
Rockhold failed to execute his game plan, which essentially boiled down to 'survive the first round.' Now he's back to the drawing board.
Following the fight Rockhold was forthright at the post-fight presser:
"I mean it's hard to say what went wrong. I was feeling good. I was finding my timing. I felt like I was controlling things, and then he landed a spinning heel kick to my head. I felt good in this fight. I had a great camp. I felt good in the fight. I was focused. I don't know if I got overconfident or what exactly happened. I don't know. I thought I had it.
"I felt good. I saw his punches. I saw everything. I was landing some shots. I felt like I was starting to control things, and then I got caught. It happens. TRT had nothing to do with that kick." Rockhold said."It sucks right now. I don't know. I want to get back in there. I want to fight, obviously. Everyone says it, but what can you do at this point? I want to get in there. I want to fight. I want to redeem myself.
"I lost to one of the best guys in the world, and it was something pretty spectacular. I don't know what to really think about anything right now. I just want to get back and fight and beat someone up. That's what I'm focused on. Good job by Vitor. What can I say?"
Despite Rockhold's outward positivism, Josh Gross spins a scenario of more negative thoughts that may nag at Rockhold in the aftermath of losing to a man enjoying what Rockhold believed to be an unfair advantage:
The 28-year-old American ignored his distrust of various systems that are in place to keep fighters in Belfort's position honest. Rockhold accepted the score coming in. That may or may not prevent his apparent idealism from gnawing away at him. We'll see. As it is, a monstrous KO loss in your most important fight as a professional comes across as challenging enough. This is standard practice for fighters, though. It's a rough existence, full of sky highs and crater lows.
Yet if Rockhold is going to settle on a reality in which he was brutally stopped by a guy he's convinced possessed an unfair advantage, where does that leave him outside of having lots to digest.
Should Rockhold stay convinced that Belfort's TRT use isn't above board, how will he handle the "The Phenom" touting, as he has, recent "enhancements" coming from the inside; or newfound physical strength the likes of which he's never experienced; or an ability to push his limits and do things like spar seven seven-minute rounds against rotating partners?
Absent TRT, would Belfort be in position right now to throw KO-capable spinning wheel kicks?
This might be the kind of question that weighs on Rockhold, making bitter more likely than better in the months ahead.
For his sanity's sake, Luke Rockhold is going to need to put the TRT question behind him and focus on himself and his own career. The issues surrounding Vitor Belfort, the UFC's policy on TRT and the behavior of the various athletic commissions regulating the sport should be left to fans, media, the promoters and various state officials to chew through.
Luke Rockhold has plenty to occupy his mind just getting ready for his next fight and finding his place in the UFC pecking order.