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Rockhold: I’d ‘torture myself,’ stay at middleweight only for Bisping trilogy

Luke Rockhold has only one fight in mind at 185 pounds. Otherwise, the former middleweight champ is headed up in weight.

MMA: UFC 221-Rockhold vs Romero Stewart Allen-USA TODAY Sports

Luke Rockhold’s next fight will almost certainly be up a weight class.

Two weeks removed from a third-round knockout loss to Yoel Romero, the former UFC middleweight champion told ESPN he is planning a move to the light heavyweight division.

Rockhold is 1-2 in his last three Octagon appearances and doesn’t have many options at 185 pounds, he said. The only fight that would make him stick around is a trilogy against ex-champ Michael Bisping.

Before his brief title reign, Rockhold beat Bisping via second-round submission in late 2014. After winning the championship against Chris Weidman a year later, he defended the belt for the first time against Bisping in a rematch. “The Count” knocked him out in the first round in a major upset.

With Bisping on a skid and no longer the middleweight champion, that’s a fight that makes sense to Rockhold. It simply comes down to Bisping, who likely will fight one more time before retiring, accepting it or not.

“I’m not too excited about making that weight cut again,” Rockhold said. “I just don’t feel nearly as strong, powerful, quick. It takes a lot out of me.

”Pretty much Bisping is the only reason I would torture myself to get back there. That’s a loss that doesn’t sit well with me. I know the UFC is very interested in that fight and will pursue it on their end. If he doesn’t accept it, there’s no reason for me to stay at 185.”

Rockhold made his intentions of eventually moving up to 205 pounds first public before the Romero bout at UFC 221 in Perth, Australia earlier this month. Immediately after falling to “The Solider of God,” two-time title challenger Alexander Gustafsson called him out on social media. That’s a fight that caught Rockhold’s attention.

“Mr. Gustafsson has reached out, opened his mouth, and that’s a fight that interests me — very much so,” Rockhold said. “I like that matchup. I like every matchup at 205. There’s a lot of interesting things there, and I’m not coming to play around.”

Rockhold has always been considered a large middleweight. He said he usually walks around at 210 pounds. The American Kickboxing Academy product said his weight cut was more difficult than usual ahead of UFC 221 because Perth’s athletic commission did not allow early weigh-ins, which have been standard procedure for nearly two years.

He admitted that the tough weight cut affected his performance versus Romero, who missed weight by 2.7 pounds for the interim title fight.

“To have the athletes weigh in on a stage, televised, it makes no sense,” Rockhold said. “Holding us at weight to run us through medicals and a staging process, it lengthens the time we’re depleting ourselves. Then they’re forcing us to do interviews, it’s ridiculous.”

Rockhold doesn’t expect a size disadvantage at light heavyweight will be much of an issue. He’s trained for years with bigger fighters — UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier and former heavyweight king Cain Velasquez.

”Compared to some other guys at 205, of course, I’ll be a little small,” Rockhold said. “But I’ve never tried to just physically go for it, bulk up, lift weights. Every time I’m in training mode, I’ve had to monitor what I’m eating. I’ll break 210 and be around 215 pounds. I know what it takes to compete with the best guys at 205. I’ve trained with them.”

Rockhold failed to defend his middleweight title after capturing it in December 2015, but his résumé at 185 pounds is still second to none. Rockhold said if he were to stick around the division, there’s not much more for him to accomplish.

“I did a lot at that weight class,” Rockhold said. “People probably don’t give me the credit I deserve for holding the Strikeforce title, but the people who do know, know.”

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