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Luke Rockhold: The Strikeforce King


Luke Rockhold was a king in Strikeforce. In the UFC however, many know him as the fighter defeated by Vitor Belfort. Spinning heel-hook kick to the dome for a highlight reel knockout.

It may have been forgotten that Rockhold was dictating the distance for the most part — pulling off techniques such as slick-high kicks, spinning back-kick, the right-hook, and a left-straight. While he pressured Vitor, he threw pesky low-kicks to draw him in, and properly defended the first spinning heel-hook kick. But perhaps the most outstanding was Rockhold’s graceful movement and footwork.

The spinning heel-hook is one of those techniques that’s particularly dangerous when it’s unexpected. Due to the advanced mechanics and timing required to land the blow, it’s generally not too dangerous if a competent fighter is cognizant of such weapon. You can bet that anyone Vitor fights is now prepared for it. There’s some precedent for this sentiment — no UFC fighter has replicated a spinning-heel hook kick knockout twice, despite their attempts.

Rockhold’s in-and-out movement along with his built in defensive posture protected him from most strikes — the spinning heel-hook kick was not one of them (particularly so because of Rockhold’s low rear-hand positioning). Obviously, this is not an excuse for his loss, but it’s nonetheless worth pointing out that Rockhold was doing well against a dangerous striker that’s best known for “explosive first round striking”.

Strikeforce Strikeforce Middleweight Champion

Rockhold was the last Strikeforce Middleweight Champion. He was undefeated in Strikeforce (9-0) with two successful title defences, winning the title against Ronaldo Souza (Rank #3 UFC), and defending it against Keith Jardine (defeated Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin) and Tim Kennedy (Rank #9 UFC).

As a grappler, he won the 2007 IBJJF World Jiu-Jitsu Championships in purple belt No-Gi division. More recently, he defeated the Abu Dhabi World Pro brown belt absolute champion, Kaue Damasceno, before being disqualified for an illegal move in the next round.


Rockhold came from an athletic background: his father was a professional European basketball player, he started judo at the age of 6 until 10, and wrestled throughout highschool. Rockhold was sweeping several BJJ tournaments, and began his MMA journey when he found American Kickboxing Academy — one of the premier MMA gyms and home to stars such as Daniel Cormier and Cain Velasquez.

Of his first 6 wins, all 6 were by the way of submission: 4 consecutive wins by rear-naked chokes, 1 by arm-bar, and 1 that submitted to punches. You can bet that he’s very dangerous when controlling someone’s back.

He TKOed Paul Bradley and Keith Jardine, and bested Ronald Souza and Tim Kennedy in decisions — a feat that ought to impress many.

Rockhold is passionate about competition:

“I want to go in there and show everyone that I’m better than my opponent. I want to beat him as fast as I can… It feels really good (to fight)… All the weight is off your shoulders… The hardest part is just getting to that moment. Once the cage door shuts it feels complete because you know that everything you have trained for is finally happening. There’s no rush like I get from wining a fight. Its amazing.. I can’t compare to anything I’ve ever done.” – Luke Rockhold Examiner.com 

Fightnomic Stats of Luke Rockhold vs. Costa Philippou:  

Fightnomics- Reed Kuhn

As highlighted by Mr. Kuhn, Rockhold is a clear favorite in terms of stats. Age, reach, size, and stance are all in favor of Rockhold: southpaws with significant reach advantage are generally successful in MMA striking.

Notice that Rockhold is not a particular jab-centric fighter, instead preferring rear-hand straight, lead right-hook and kicks. Not being jab-centric means Rockhold uses the lead-hand to negate his opponent’s lead-hand, as well as counter takedowns. These factors combined with his graceful footwork will make him very difficult to deal with against someone like Costa Philippou — an MMA “boxer”.

Also highlighted by Mr. Kuhn is that it’ll be a battle of volume (Rockhold) vs accuracy (Philippou), and both have a knockdown rate “well above-average, even for heavyweights”. Neither are known for takedowns but both are known for their takedown defence.


As always, thank you for reading. Stay tuned for a technique breakdown of some of Rockhold’s tricks. To stay updated on future articles simply follow me on Twitter or add me on Facebook, the links are located below.