LONG BEACH, Calif. — Following his loss to Vitor Belfort at UFC on FX 8, Luke Rockhold needed to find a place to regain his focus. The spinning heel kick that Belfort landed will be remembered by many for a long time, but Rockhold isn’t one to sit and get down on himself about it.
Instead, the former Strikeforce middleweight champion decided to go back to a place where he found success in previous years. Rockhold put away his MMA shorts for a weekend and threw on a black gi with a brown belt.
The 2013 Jiu-Jitsu World Championships gave the UFC fighter a chance to find what he was looking for.
“I’ve been wanting to do it for a while,” Rockhold told GRACIEMAG.com when asked about competing at the Jiu-Jitsu World Championships. “Losing to Vitor gave me the motivation to at least try it out.”
In 2007, Rockhold said, the fighter was a blue belt looking to compete for a gold medal in the Mundials. A presence at the podium and a gold medal later, Rockhold was the best blue belt in the world for his weight class. The win at the 2007 World Championships earned him his purple belt, as well, the fighter said.
He went on to compete in no-gi later on and earned his brown belt, but shortly after that he decided to focus on MMA. The transition was one that proved beneficial, as Rockhold now sits among the top 10 in most 185-pound MMA rankings.
At the 2013 Worlds, the UFC middleweight looked to repeat the success he had at blue belt in 2007, trying for a gold medal in his weight division. Bigger and more experienced, the American Kickboxing Academy standout competed in the heavyweight brown belt bracket.
After an opening-round defeat of World Pro champ Kaue Damasceno, Rockhold moved on to the second round of the tournament. But after doing an illegal maneuver, the UFC competitor was disqualified and his run in the heavyweight brown belt division was over.
“I went for a heel hook, crossed the knee over and got disqualified,” he said, following the loss. “I just didn’t understand the point system. I should have won my match. I could have done a lot better.”
Like his loss to Belfort in the UFC, Rockhold said he won’t look back on this disqualification as something to mope about. He came out, competed, got a win and a little exercise to top it all off.
The point system isn’t for Rockhold, the fighter explained, and being down in the tally led him to try and finish with the heel hook. Not being familiar with the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation’s rules had him disqualified when going for that submission, but there were no regrets in the end.
“For me, I like to finish. I don’t like the point game,” Rockhold said. “I like to get in there … I want to go for the finish as much as I can. I tried and went for it … but I’m not going to get too down on myself for it.”
The fighter recently revealed that he turned down his black belt so he can compete one more time at brown belt. He felt a win at the Worlds would earn him that coveted black strap, but it didn’t end up that way.
The fighter shrugged off the loss as if to say “oh well.”
Now comes the time when Rockhold waits for his next UFC fight. With the Belfort loss in the rearview mirror and some focused gained from his time at the Mundials, Octagon wins are all the fighter sees over the horizon.
“I’m going to win,” he said of his inevitable sophomore effort in the Octagon. “I feel really good about the future.”