3 potential opponents for Luke Rockhold’s return to the UFC

Former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold has not set foot inside the octagon since his July 2019 loss to Jan Blachowicz. However, a recent interview suggests he’s almost ready to return.

With Luke Rockhold demanding an exciting opponent for his return to the UFC, the big question is, who should the promotion match him with?

Luke Rockhold is capable of fighting at either 185lbs or 205lbs, meaning there are plenty of options out there for him. Since he’s demanding nothing less than a high-level opponent, it means that the UFC will need to find something special for him.

So, with this considered, here are three potential opponents for Luke Rockhold’s UFC return.


#3. Luke Rockhold vs. Marvin Vettori

Marvin Vettori is coming off a loss to Israel Adesanya, but is still highly ranked
Marvin Vettori is coming off a loss to Israel Adesanya, but is still highly ranked

One fascinating opponent for Luke Rockhold to face in his UFC return would be Marvin Vettori. ‘The Italian Dream’ recently went the distance with UFC middleweight champ Israel Adesanya in a failed title shot.

Currently ranked at #4 in the division, Vettori would certainly fulfill the request of Luke Rockhold to face a high-level opponent in his return to the octagon. ‘The Italian Dream’ is currently considered one of the best 185lbers on the planet, with wins over Kevin Holland and Jack Hermansson under his belt.

Vettori isn’t the biggest trash-talker in the UFC, but he definitely knows how to build a fight up. He has been involved in Twitter spats with the likes of Adesanya and Darren Till, meaning he’d be willing to engage Rockhold prior to a clash too.

More importantly, Rockhold will surely be looking to come out on top in his big return fight, especially as he hasn’t actually won a bout since September 2017. While Vettori is an excellent and highly-ranked fighter, he isn’t unbeatable.

In fact, ‘The Italian Dream’ largely lacks finishing skills, particularly in terms of his striking. This means he wouldn’t be quite as much of a threat to Rockhold, whose lack of durability is legendary in the UFC.

Therefore, this would be an attractive – and more importantly, winnable – fight for the former UFC middleweight kingpin.


#2. Luke Rockhold vs. Edmen Shahbazyan

Despite two recent losses, Edmen Shahbazyan is still one of the UFC Despite two recent losses, Edmen Shahbazyan is still one of the UFC
Despite two recent losses, Edmen Shahbazyan is still one of the UFC’s best prospects at 185lbs

Still only 23 years old, Edmen Shahbazyan is coming off the first two losses of his MMA career. However, he’s still one of the best prospects in the UFC’s middleweight division.

A product of the Glendale Fighting Club – the team that produced former UFC bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey – Shahbazyan burst into the UFC in 2018. He reeled off four straight victories, impressing everyone with his violent knockout of Brad Tavares in particular.

‘The Golden Boy’ has since suffered losses to Derek Brunson and Jack Hermansson, but there’s no shame in a loss to either man. He remains ranked as the #10 middleweight in the UFC.

So why should Luke Rockhold fight Shahbazyan? There are a number of reasons. Firstly, ‘The Golden Boy’ fits the bill of a high-end opponent, as he’s ranked in the top ten and has already headlined a UFC show.

Secondly, while he’s got explosive offense, judging by his fights with Brunson and Hermansson he’s a little shakier when it comes to defense. His gas tank also leaves a lot to be desired. This means that while he’s capable of beating Luke Rockhold, he’d also be a beatable opponent.

Thirdly, Rockhold is now 36 years old and, in all honesty, it should be part of his job to fight up-and-coming prospects like Shahbazyan. Similar to what fighters like Keith Jardine and Tim Kennedy did when he was climbing the ladder a decade ago.

Overall, this would probably be a fun fight to watch and would definitely be worth booking.


#1. Luke Rockhold vs. Paulo Costa

A fight with Paulo Costa could be dangerous for Luke Rockhold, but could headline a UFC show A fight with Paulo Costa could be dangerous for Luke Rockhold, but could headline a UFC show
A fight with Paulo Costa could be dangerous for Luke Rockhold, but could headline a UFC show

If Luke Rockhold is serious about facing a high-level contender in his UFC return – as well as a big name – then the fighter he ought to square off with is probably Paulo Costa.

‘The Eraser’ has not fought since his title fight loss to Israel Adesanya at UFC 253 last year – the first of his professional MMA career. While he has been booked in fights, he’s been forced out due to injuries and issues with the UFC.

But the Brazilian remains one of the most dangerous middleweights on the planet right now. He knocked out Uriah Hall in 2018, and is arguably the only fighter to go toe-to-toe with Yoel Romero and come out on top as he picked up a win over the Cuban in 2019.

Costa would not only provide a huge challenge for Luke Rockhold, but the UFC could book a fight between the two as the headliner of an ESPN+ Fight Night. This would give the former champion the spotlight he seems to be craving.

Add in the fact that the two men are similar in a lot of ways – they’re better on offense than defense and moonlight as models when they’re not competing inside the octagon – and this would be a truly excellent fight to book. However, it would alos be a highly dangerous one for Rockhold to return with.

Edited by Jack Cunningham

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