During Strikeforce middleweight champ Luke Rockhold’s post-fight victory speech this past weekend he pled publicly for an opportunity to face a “Top 10” opponent, referring to the roster of talented 185ers who currently call the UFC home rather than request any of his actual promotional peers. While Rockhold’s aspirations are commendable the reality is the UFC may not actually have as many realistic options to offer up as he thinks. Without question the type of adversaries he wants are there – dangerous, well-known competitors who could easily hold gold if not for a pesky Brazilian by the name of Anderson Silva. They just all happen to be busy, on the cusp of contendership, or in some cases coming off a loss.
Vitor Belfort has TUF Brasil beyond his bout with Anthony Johnson at UFC 142, while Michael Bisping-Demian Maia and Mark Munoz-Chael Sonnen are all tied up for UFC on FOX 2 with the taste of a UFC title-shot in 2012 likely for at least three out of the four potential winners. However, there is hope for Rockhold, as I’ve created a list of three candidates who fit the bill as far as availability in the near future and providing the level of challenge the American Kickboxing Academy star wants.
Yushin Okami – If he beats Tim Boetsch at UFC 144, as he should, the 26-6 Okami would be a great test for Rockhold. He would have the momentum of being 4-1 in his last five fights with the only loss coming in a title-fight against Silva and some solid wins in the bunch. He’d also be at least two or three more victories away from getting another crack at a UFC belt so a temporary absence from the Octagon to fight Rockhold wouldn’t necessarily have a major impact on the UFC’s plans for 2012. Match-up wise Okami is a big, strong grappler with good boxing and absolutely a legitimate threat to Rockhold’s reign.
Alan Belcher – The Roufusport product is sort of a forgotten man based on the amount of time he was out for an eye injury but Belcher has won his last three fights (and five of six). Since he has no real steam in the UFC he would be a nice barometer for Rockhold’s progression in addition to a fighter who, similarly to Okami, wouldn’t be missed for a year while in Strikeforce.
Tim Kennedy – The notion Kennedy isn’t deserving of a crack at Rockhold’s championship is poppycock, I say! Poppycock! He’s never been finished, come away with his hand raised five of the last six times he competed minus a hard-fought decision to Souza, and beaten Melvin Manhoef/Robbie Lawler in consecutive outings. If Rockhold can take out Kennedy he can claim to have cleaned out his division but until then Rockhold needs to show some respect.
Ronaldo Jacare Souza – If he had a significant win under his belt since losing his big shiny beltbuckle to Rockhold he might have made me turn this into a list of five names worth considering but, as close as their original bout was there is no need for an immediate rematch between the two.
Gegard Mousasi – “The Dreamcatcher” can make 185 and has said he would do it for a fight against Silva. Why not facilitate the process by slimming down to fight Rockhold, taking the Strikeforce strap, defending it once, and then coming into UFC as champion? It makes too much sense for Mousasi not to do if he’s dedicated to being the best fighter possible (which I’m not sure he is). He would also easily be the best fighter Rockhold had faced to date.
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