Dec 9

Getting To Know ... Luke Rockhold

By: Brandon Brigman

Published: December 5, 2013

Luke Rockhold, 29, is a middleweight fighter in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Rockhold will face Costa Philippou at UFC Fight Night 35 on Jan. 15 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.

Rockhold graduated from Soquel High School in California in 2003 and is a former Strikeforce champion. He olds a 10-2 record in Mixed Martial Arts.

In this latest installment of “Getting To Know …,” Rockhold sat down with staff writer Brandon Brigman to talk about his upcoming fight, traveling with former Heisman Trophy winner and Georgia standout Hershel Walker and not following his father’s footsteps to the NBA.

BB: What do you know about your opponent Costa Philippou?

LR: He’s a tough guy, a real good boxer. He has polished boxing skills, good takedown defense. It seems like he’s decent everywhere. I’ve seen him get some takedowns and some jujitsu and I expect a top-notch fighter. The guy is tough. I don’t know how capable he is of going five rounds and I think that will be a big bonus for me. Unfortunately, I don’t like going five rounds, but I know I’m better in a five-round fight.

BB: Your UFC debut ended in a first-round knockout to Vitor Belfort. What’s going to be different this time?

LR: I’m going to be on the other side of the knockout. It was a rough debut. I got caught. It wasn’t like I got beat up. I got caught in a once in a lifetime type kick. It’s not going to happen again. This a different fighter and I’m a different fighter coming into this fight. I’m going to kick some (butt) and do what I do. I’ve never been a loser. I’ve always been a winner. I’m not going to be happy losing, I’ll promise you that.

BB: What’s the difference between fighting in the Strikeforce and the UFC?

LR: I wouldn’t say there’s too much of a difference. There’s a little bit more media and the lights might be a little brighter. It’s a octagon instead of a hexagon. My first fight was in Brazil against Vitor Belfor. It was kind of hostile to have a UFC debut. A fight is a fight to me. I’ve been on a big stage. I’ve fought some of the best guys in the world who have proven themselves in the UFC. I don’t think there’s much of a difference in the big picture.

BB: What tips have you picked up from training with UFC heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez?

LR: I picked up a lot from Cain. We’ve been teammates for about seven years now and have trained together. I picked up how to be tough. I learned to take my beatings, bounce back and give it back. Cain is just a determined individual. I try to learn as much as I can. We’ve both helped each other our whole careers. I help him where I can with jujitsu and he’s helped me with wrestling. It’s a good experience being around guys on that same level that have the same passion and hunger.

BB: Former UGA standout and Heisman trophy winner Hershel Walker trains at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose with you. Are you familiar with how big of a legend Hershel Walker is in Georgia?

LR: I am familiar with how much of a legend he is. I can tell you a funny story. We came out here for his daughter’s wedding. I came out with Hershel and I flew into the Georgia airport. We got to the bathroom and we’re at the stalls taking a piss. We’re sitting there and he’s a couple a stalls down and this dude looks over and yells ‘Hershel Walker’ in the middle of a big bathroom. There’s a lot of people in there. Everyone in the bathroom just B-lined it to him. I was like, “Oh, my God.” Before we can even make it to the sink, all of these people were coming off the stall sticking their right hand out. I’m like, “Really?” Everyone started shaking his hand. A couple of guys tried to follow us out of the bathroom. One guy’s baggage is on the the side of the airport in international and we’re going domestic. He followed us all the way and talked his ear off. It was hard getting out of there. In Georgia with Hershel is a different animal.

BB: What’s Hershel like in California?

LR: He’s good. He’s a star everywhere. He’s just a humble, nice dude. I’ve traveled with him and done PR trips with him to New York and all over the place. He’s always trying to carry your bags and jump in the back of the car and give you shotgun. He’s such a cool guy and down to earth. It’s nice to see people that have reached that peak and be that humble and that cool. Not a lot of people are like that from what I’ve experienced in life. He’s just a good dude.

BB: How did you get involved with MMA?

LR: I grew up doing martial arts — judo — as a young child. I wrestled in junior high and high school. Then I transitioned to jujitsu. I never wanted to pursue wrestling in college. There’s no professional outlet. I found jujitsu in high school. I transitioned to that and started choking people out. It was more satisfying. Soon as that got old and I needed to punch people, so I found MMA.

BB: Is Rockhold the perfect fighter name?

LR: Yeah, or porn name.

BB: Did you ever want to play in the NBA like your father Steve?

LR: Yeah, I did think about playing in the NBA for a long time. I grew up playing basketball as a young child and we actually won some AAU championships. In seventh or eighth grade the basketball coach threw a basketball at the back of my head because I wasn’t paying attention. The second time he actually threw it twice at me. The second time I threw it back at him. I threw my jersey at him and told him, “(expletive) off.” That was the end of basketball. The high school coach kept trying to talk me into it, but I was like nope. I wanted to surf, skate and do my own thing. My parents wanted me to choose one high school sport, so I chose wrestling. Thankfully, it worked out.

BB: If you could fight anyone, regardless of weight class or anything, who would it be?

LR: (pauses) Vitor Belfort

BB: Because you lost to him?

LR: Yeah and I lost in a way I don’t think really proved anything, I don’t think. I got caught. There was a lot of luck involved. I’m not saying it’s pure luck, but it was a fluke kick and it won’t happen again. I want a redemption.

BB: How long does it take to recover from a fight?

LR: It depends on how the fight goes. One fight I was swollen everywhere. I had edema in both my legs and it didn’t go away for a month and a half. That was a rough one. I broke my hand against Keith Jardine, so that took a while. It all depends. I’ve had fights where I was ready the next day. I’ve had a lot of first-round victories, so those were nice.

BB: Can you compare fighting to anything the average person might go through?

LR: I can’t. It’s tough. That’s why I like doing it so much, because there isn’t anything like it. I’m a thrill seeker and there’s no high like MMA. You train two or three months for one night. It could be one minute or 30 seconds or 25 minutes. You put so much time in for just one moment. To be able to set out this goal and achieve it and win it amongst a stage full of thousands and thousands of fans on national TV, it’s an amazing feeling you can’t replicate. It’s competition and I’m sure some people have experienced it on a smaller level, but this is it. There’s nothing else that can match it. That’s why I do it.

BB: What do you like to do when you’re not fighting or training?

LR: I like to golf. I like to surf. I like to (play) around and hangout with my friends. I like to travel a lot. That’s my goal. After this fight I want to travel and find a good surf spot. Usually when I travel I try to negotiate it with a good surfing area. I’m a very coastal guy.

BB: Do you see fighting as a long-term career or do you have other things you want to do?

LR: Right now I like to keep my focus on fighting. There’s definitely other avenues and things I could do and fall back on. I think if you’re going to be the best at something you have to put all of your energy and focus into it. Right now that’s my focus and that’s where all of my energy is going.