Luke Rockhold has chewed up and choked out his last three opponents with such force that there’s seemingly only one fighter left for him to get past to finally earn a shot at the middleweight championship.
Rockhold knows if he can soundly defeat Lyoto Machida in the main event Saturday at UFC Fight Night in New Jersey, then he should be next in line for a pay-per-view title shot in the 185-pound division.
Rockhold lost his UFC debut in 2013, then rebounded with wins over Costas Philippou, Tim Boetsch, Michael Bisping and positioned himself to take on the winner of UFC 187 next month between Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort.
“I’ve had my ups and downs in training camp but the challenges make me stronger and I’m happy to say that I’m over the camp and fight ready,” he said. “I had to work around a few injures but that’s behind me and I can’t wait to win on Saturday.”
The Rockhold-Machida bout headlines strong middleweight card at the Prudential Center. Jacare Souza fights Chris Camozzi in another middleweight bout.
Souza, who lost to Rockhold in the old Strikeforce days, hoped he could stake his claim as the No. 1 contender to Weidman’s title with a fight against Olympic silver medalist Yoel Romero. But when Romero was injured, Camozzi stepped in and will try and avenge a May 2013 loss to Souza.
“A win against Jacare puts me right up in the rankings and in title contention,” Camozzi said. “This will be my first rematch in my career and I’m excited.”
Souza is 4-0 in UFC and could stake his claim as the top contender with a dominant win and a Rockhold loss. Machida (22-5-0) lost a unanimous decision to Weidman at 175 in July.
That puts Rockhold (13-2-0) in the driver’s seat for one of the next potential blockbuster bouts. He has yet to fight for a UFC championship.
“Game plan is take control and make him fear my weapons,” Rockhold said. “I’m more well-rounded. He’s one dimensional, but I can hurt him in several ways.”
Rockhold would love a date with a New York native like Weidman in the Big Apple. But Rockhold has little say in another looming takedown - the possibility that, finally, MMA would become legal in New York.
The UFC will again stage its latest big show off-Broadway, running another stout card in New Jersey while mixed martial arts remained banned in New York. New Jersey has a stronghold on the east, though PPVs and Fight Nights have been held in Philadelphia and Boston over the last five years.
The Senate again approved a bill to legalize and regulate the combat sport that includes boxing, judo, wrestling and kickboxing. UFC remained hopeful that the assembly will finally approve the bill which would allow the promotion to stage a dream card at Madison Square Garden, perhaps in December.
“I think the fight being here is a great opportunity for the future of fighting in New York,” said the 36-year-old Machida, a former UFC light heavyweight champion.
New York is lone state that does not allow regulated MMA fights. And while UFC is the undisputed leader in MMA events, the bill would obviously let all promoters of the organized sport in, like Bellator and the World Series of Fighting.
In other bouts on Saturday’s main network-television card, Cub Swanson also fights featherweight Max Holloway in a 145-pound bout. Paige VanZant fights Felice Herrig in a 115-pound fight.
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