Luke Rockhold is preparing to fight the winner of Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira should he defeat Paulo Costa at UFC 278 on Saturday.
The former UFC middleweight champion returns to the Octagon for the first time in three years following a second-round KO loss to Jan Blachowicz at UFC 239 in his only light heavyweight appearance. The time away was needed for Rockhold as he ultimately opted against retirement and readied himself for one more championship opportunity in his original division.
Rockhold has a tough test ahead of him in Costa, the heavy-handed Brazilian who finished all but one of his opponents in his first 13 fights. The risk is worth the reward for the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) product, who told Helen Yee recently that he could find himself fighting for the championship soon with a win over Costa.
“Next,” said Rockhold on when he expects to fight for gold. “I’m not going to do anything else. If I don’t get it, they don’t get it.”
Should he win against Costa and secure a title shot, Rockhold would have to wait until Adesanya vs. Pereira is settled at UFC 281, the pay-per-view event scheduled for Nov. 12 at Madison Square Garden. Though 0-2 against ‘Po Atan’ in kickboxing, ‘The Last Stylebender’ has all but guaranteed a different outcome in MMA.
For Rockhold, a win for Adesanya happens if — and only if — the reigning champion does not allow his previous losses to Pereira to affect him going into this third fight.
“It just depends on how Israel fights, said Rockhold. “If Israel tries to fight him — because he’s in his head. Like I said before, if he’s in his head and you let guys get in your head — he lost to him in a close one and then he got clipped in the second one because he let him get in his head. He was in his head. You could see he was in his head, so if Israel lets him get in his head this time around, that’s interesting. Israel’s got to check himself and he’s got to fight MMA.
“We all know Alex Pereira sucks on the ground,” continued Rockhold. “Even Israel could probably f—king put him away on the ground. The kid’s dangerous as hell on the feet, so it all depends on Israel, what his head space is and how he fights it.”
UFC 278 goes down on Sat., Aug. 20, at the Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City. Costa vs. Rockhold serves as the co-headliner.