Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012 | 1 a.m.
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Luke Rockhold wants what he can’t have.
Immediately after defending his Strikeforce middleweight title by defeating Keith Jardine on Saturday night at the Hard Rock, Rockhold requested a bout against one of the top 10 185-pound fighters in the UFC.
“Those are the guys I want,” Rockhold said. “I want to climb to the top and fight the best in the world. I think they should bring over some top contenders.”
This is the problem Strikeforce will deal with for as long as it continues to operate. Most of its top fighters are going to crave UFC competition.
But it’s unlikely to happen. Officials from both promotions have made it clear that UFC and Strikeforce will run as separate entities.
Strikeforce champions will naturally yearn for the opportunity to face their UFC counterparts, but it’s a feeling they must suppress. Fighters like Rockhold run the risk of downplaying their own Strikeforce bouts if all they do is discuss the UFC.
Perhaps Rockhold should follow the lead of teammate Mohammed ‘King Mo’ Lawal. After Lawal finished light heavyweight opponent Lorenz Larkin with a second-round TKO Saturday, he was realistic about his future.
“The fans that are asking about the UFC are stupid because I’m in Strikeforce,” Lawal said. “UFC has their own thing. Strikeforce has their own thing.”
Lawal believes his next opponent should be Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante. They are the two best 205-pound fighters left in Strikeforce and it’s an opportunity at vengeance for Lawal. The lone loss of Lawal’s career came a year and a half ago when Cavalcante took his championship belt with a second-round TKO.
But there’s an even more obvious Strikeforce matchup available for Rockhold. Tim Kennedy was supposed to get the first shot at Rockhold’s belt, but a training injury meant the chance fell to Jardine.
The Kennedy bout makes perfect sense for later this year, which is why Rockhold’s UFC comments had to catch people like Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker off guard.
“If that’s the plan, I’ll make the most of what we’ve got here,” Rockhold said. “Me and Tim Kennedy, the fight was supposed to happen quite a few times and didn’t come to happening. I always look to bigger and better things.”
Rockhold and Lawal showed Saturday that there aren’t many fighters in the world better than them. The American Kickboxing Academy sparring partners put on the two most impressive performances on the card.
Lawal controlled Larkin for the opening six minutes of the bout by taking the previously undefeated prospect down at will and keeping him on the mat. Lawal finished after that, winging ground-and-pound shots at Larkin until the referee called the fight to give Lawal a TKO victory at 1:48 of the second round.
Rockhold was quicker and stronger than the veteran Jardine from the moment their main event meeting started. The 27-year old Rockhold’s striking started clicking about three minutes into the fight. By 4:26 of the first round, the referee was pulling him off of a dazed Jardine for a TKO win of his own.
“It played out like I thought it would,” Rockhold said. “I thought I could time him with a right hook when he came forward. He’s a little slow with that overhand right and I started connecting. I got confident.”
Rockhold, and most others, never felt Jardine was an appropriate opponent. The 36-year old “Dean of Mean” has now only won two of his last nine bouts.
When Rockhold called out UFC opponents right after his fight ended, he did it out of frustration. He said all he really wanted was challenging matchups against high-caliber competition.
“I want to fight the guys that earn their spot and are top-ranked in my division,” Rockhold said. “I want to move up. I feel like I’m coming into my prime and I want to fight the best in the world.”