Luke Rockhold targeting the early summer for his UFC middleweight return

Luke Rockhold

Former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold (16-5) is getting ready to make his return to fighting. Rockhold hasn’t competed since mid-2019 when he was knocked out by Jan Blachowicz at UFC 239.

The loss was the second straight knockout loss by Rockhold. Going back to his title loss at UFC 199 to Michael Bisping, the former champion is just 1-3 in his last four fights. Rockhold seemed to lose a little passion for the sport, however, he now appears more focused than ever.

In a recent interview with Submission Radio, Rockhold said that he was targeting an early summer return to the UFC. He said that he didn’t have one particular opponent in mind, but he wanted something ‘sexy’ that would motivate him.

Currently, there have been some behind the scenes conversations at the UFC about Rockhold’s first opponent back. There are a couple of middleweight matchups to watch in April that could produce Rockhold’s first opponent back. Rockhold made it clear that he wants to get right into the mix at 185.

Who could the UFC pair him against?

When asked about his motivation to return, Rockhold said that he wouldn’t be coming back if he didn’t have the motivation to once again be UFC champion. With that in mind, what options are there for Rockhold to get him right back in the mix?

The most obvious choice is the winner of the Chris Weidman – Uriah Hall fight which takes place at UFC 261. Rockhold has history with Weidman and either him or Hall would make for an excellent fight for Rockhold. Whoever wins will definitely be in the top ten at middleweight.

Another option for Rockhold would be the winner of the Darren Till – Marvin Vettori fight or the winner of the Kevin Holland – Derek Brunson fight. There are a lot of big matchups coming up in the UFC’s middleweight division and Rockhold has his eyes on all of them. The division has arguably never been better and Luke Rockhold’s return makes it even better.

State of the UFC’s middleweight division entering 2021

Last night, we learned that the UFC‘s middleweight champion is officially moving up in weight for his next fight. Israel Adesanya (20-0) is moving up to light heavyweight to fight Jan Blachowicz (27-8) for the light heavyweight title at UFC 259. 

Adesanya is trying to become just the fifth fighter in the promotion’s history to hold two belts at the same time. There have been a lot of questions surrounding Adesanya’s future at 185 with him moving up.

The UFC middleweight champion has been very vocal about his desire to potentially fight Jon Jones (26-1, 1 NC) in 2021. If the UFC makes that fight should Adesanya win the light heavyweight title, the middleweight strap would be on ice.

However, Adesanya has said that he will definitely return to the UFC’s middleweight division no matter what. He stated that 185 is his natural weight class and where he feels the best. This move is to just challenge himself and further his legacy.

In all honesty, the move is actually a good thing for the middleweight division. There are great fights inside the division, however, Adesanya has defeated most of the fighters that sit inside the top ten.

UFC’s middleweight division in 2021

The top contender in the middleweight division is former UFC champion, Robert Whittaker (22-5). Whittaker went on an incredible run to grab the middleweight title, but was easily defeated by Adesanya last October.

Since then, Whittaker took out two of the more compelling contenders in the division. He defeated Darren Till (18-3-1) and Jared Cannonier (13-5) by decision. Both of those fighters were guys Adesanya was interested in fighting.

However, Whittaker turned them away. With the way Adesanya defeated Whittaker last year, the champion isn’t motivated for the rematch at this time. The word is that the UFC is looking to book Whittaker against former title challenger, Paulo Costa (13-1).

Costa was just knocked out by Adesanya at UFC 253. Prior to that, many thought he was the most dangerous contender in the division. There is preliminary talk about that fight being for an interim title, but that’s far from confirmed.

The two fighters I have my eyes on entering 2021 is Marvin Vettori (16-4-1) and Kevin Holland (21-5). Vettori has busted through in 2021 on the heels of four straight wins to fifth in the middleweight rankings.

The Italian middleweight has already lost to Adesanya, but he lost by split decision. One big win for Vettori in 2021 could make him next in line. Kevin Holland was our breakout fighter of the year in 2020.

Holland has become a star after going 5-0 this year. The entertaining middleweight gets his first main event opportunity against Derek Brunson (21-7) in March. Should he win that, he could be just a win away from a title shot.

If Holland can get a couple of wins, he’s probably the most compelling UFC challenger at 185 for Adesanya. There’s a little beef there already, and the fight’s buildup would be a lot of fun. Should be an interesting year at middleweight.

UFC books headliner between Kevin Holland and Derek Brunson

Kevin Holland

The UFC has booked the 2020 Breakout Fighter of the Year for his first fight in 2021. ESPN’s Brett Okamoto broke the news that the promotion is booking a headliner between Kevin Holland (21-5) and Derek Brunson (21-7).

The headliner will take place on March 20th. Holland became a breakout star for the UFC in 2020. His incredible year is why we named him the Breakout Fighter of the Year here at Empire Sports.

Holland entered 2020 coming off of a loss to Brendan Allen. However, he was getting ready to show the world how good he really is in 2020. Holland went an astonishing 5-0 with four finishes in 2020.

His last win came against Jacare Souza at UFC 256. Holland was taken down moments into the fight. I figured if the fight touched the ground, Holland would be in a lot of trouble. However, I was dead wrong.

Holland showed incredible skills on the ground. Then he whipped a right hand at the forehead of Jacare Souza which dazed him. Holland followed up with shots and ended up scoring the TKO victory.

In 2020, Holland went from an entertaining character to a serious contender. His year has put him tenth in the UFC‘s middleweight rankings. This headliner will be the first time he takes on someone in the top 10.

UFC’s Middleweight Gate Keeper?

Derek Brunson is going to enter the octagon on March 20th being looked at as the UFC‘s middleweight gate keeper. A title that Brunson is not really a fan of, however, it’s a title that’s fitting.

Brunson is on a three-fight winning streak. Two of those wins came against rising contenders that were looked at as the next big thing. Those contenders were Ian Heinisch and Edmen Shahbazyan.

I’ll admit it, I bought into the UFC hype of Shahbazyan. However, Brunson proved when they fought that there are levels to the game as Corey Anderson would say. Brunson dominated and finished Shahbazyan in the third round.

He’s currently ranked as the seventh best middleweight in the UFC. Brunson and Kevin Holland have been beefing over Twitter and both wanted this fight. Well, the UFC was happy to make it happen.

Given Holland’s desire to stay active, I’m a little surprised it’s booked so far out. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic matchup in the middleweight division. Whoever wins should be guaranteed a top five opponent in their next trip inside the octagon.

State of the middleweight division after UFC Vegas 16

This past Saturday at UFC Vegas 16, there was some movement in the middleweight division. Fourth ranked Jack Hermansson (21-6) took on thirteenth ranked, Marvin Vettori (16-4-1) in the main event.

Vettori was the third opponent that was scheduled to face Hermansson, but The Joker was ready no matter who he fought. However, it was evident from the opening bell that he might have bit off more than he could chew.

Vettori was incredibly impressive at UFC Vegas 16. He dropped and nearly finished Hermansson in the first round of their fight. The rest of the fight, outside of the third round, Vettori controlled the action. He seemed to take the third round off for rest.

In his first UFC main event, Vettori shined. After the win over the fourth ranked fighter in the division, you should expect to see Vettori jump into the top five when the rankings come out this week.

In other middleweight news, the fifth ranked middleweight in the UFC, Yoel Romero, was recently cut by the promotion. The four-time title challenger is just one of many big cuts coming from the UFC according to Dana White.

UFC Middleweight Division Outlook

The middleweight division is in an interesting spot right now. There is a clear number one contender and that’s Robert Whittaker. The former UFC middleweight champion has only lost one fight in the last six years.

That fight was to the current UFC champion, Israel Adesanya. A rematch between the two will happen eventually considering Whittaker is 2-0 since the lost and defeated both men Adesanya was interested in fighting.

However, Adesanya is moving up to light heavyweight for his next fight to challenge Jan Blachowicz. We don’t know when Adesanya will return to middleweight, but the UFC champion insists he’ll be back to 185 eventually.

After Whittaker, there are a couple of matchups which could really make an impact on the division. Vettori is likely going to face Derek Brunson or Paulo Costa next. Whoever wins those fights might be right behind Robert Whittaker.

Jack Hermansson is still in the mix, but he needs to bounce back. A potential matchup for him could be the winner of the Chris Weidman – Uriah Hall fight in February. Or he could potentially fight Darren Till. Lots of moving parts, but exciting times in the UFC‘s middleweight division.

Marvin Vettori beats Jack Hermansson in a war at UFC Vegas 16

Tonight the UFC returned for their sixteenth fight night inside The Apex. In the main event of the evening was a battle between top middleweights, Jack Hermansson (21-5) and Marvin Vettori (15-4).

It’s been an interesting road on getting to UFC Vegas 16 for Jack Hermansson. Originally, Hermansson was scheduled to take on Darren Till in the main event. However, Till had to pull out of the fight with a knee injury. 

Following Till was Kevin Holland. Holland had been 4-0 in 2020 and the UFC rewarded him with the Hermansson fight. However, Holland would test positive for COVID-19 which cancelled the fight. That’s when the UFC turned to The Italian Dream.

Vettori was originally scheduled to fight at UFC 256, however, he couldn’t pass up a main event opportunity. Both of these two men were looking to take another step towards the middleweight title with a win tonight.

UFC Vegas 16 Main Event Recap

Round 1

As the first round of the UFC Vegas 16 main event got underway, Hermansson opened the striking with a leg kick. Both men were holding the center of the cage as Vettori landed two crisp left hands. Hermansson was very light on his feet, but Vettori was doing well at closing the distance.

Vettori landed a nice uppercut and followed it a straight left. Hermansson countered with a great body kick, however, Vettori was still landing cleaner shots. Vettori’s pressure and speed seemed to be bothering The Joker in the first.

Halfway through the round and Vettori floored Hermansson with a massive straight shot. Vettori followed with big shots, but Hermansson did a good job of grabbing ahold of Vettori. Hermansson was able to pull Vettori into his guard.

Vettori kept looking to land big shots on the ground as the round entered it’s final minute. In his first UFC main event, Marvin Vettori looked excellent in the first round. Dominant round one for The Italian Dream.

Round 2

To start the second round of the UFC Vegas 16 main event, Hermansson opened with a big hook and pressure. Hermansson looked like he was trying to get the first round back early on. Vettori looked very composed and landed another good straight shot.

Hermansson shot in for his takedown attempt, however, Vettori did a fantastic job of defending. Hermansson got him to the ground, however, Vettori hit a nice switch and ended up on top. Hermansson started to look for submissions when he was on his back.

Vettori settled in looking to just control Hermansson on the ground. With 90 seconds left in the round, Vettori backed away to get the fight back to the feet. Once on the feet, Hermansson started to pressure Vettori but nothing was landing.

Hermansson attempted another takedown, but couldn’t land it. Two rounds to nothing for Vettori in the UFC Vegas 16 main event.

Round 3

The third round of the UFC Vegas 16 main event saw Hermansson open again with pressure. After a couple of shots failed to land, Hermansson found himself on his back foot. Vettori started opening up his striking with a couple of crisp lefts up the middle.

Hermansson ducked under a shot and timed a takedown attempt beautifully. However, Vettori was able to keep the fight standing with better defense. Vettori seemed to be tiring a little in the third round and his pace was not as high on the feet.

Hermansson started throwing and landing some cleaner shots halfway through the round. Vettori definitely seemed to be tiring as the third round went on. Vettori landed a very clean left, but his shots were getting slower and slower.

Hermansson continued to pressure Vettori in the final two minutes of the round. Hermansson landed two very big right hands and Vettori had nothing to respond with. A much better third round for Hermansson who continued to land clean in the final minute. 2-1 after three in this UFC main event.

Round 4

The fourth round of the UFC Vegas 16 main event saw Hermansson once again open with pressure. However, Vettori seemed to have his legs a little more in the fourth. Almost looked like he took the third round off.

Vettori looked much more slick in the fourth round landing a couple of clean shots up the middle. However, Hermansson was continuing to walk Vettori down in the fourth. Vettori was doing some good work with his straight left in the fourth.

Halfway through the round and Vettori looks like he caught his second wind. He was really opening up his hands and landing clean in the fourth. Hermansson continued to pressure, but he was landing much less in the fourth.

However, Hermansson landed a beautiful combination just as the round entered the final minute. Vettori countered with pepping Hermansson with shots up the middle. Hermansson seemed to have no answer for those straight shots. 3-1 for Vettori in the UFC Vegas 16 main event.

Round 5

As we entered the final round of the UFC Vegas 16 main event, Hermansson knew he needed a finish. However, as soon as the round started, Vettori was landing some clean shots. Hermansson fired back trying to empty the tank and landed some good shots.

However, Vettori stayed composed and started firing back at The Joker. Both men seemed content with standing in the middle of the cage and trading big shots. Vettori once again landed a massive left straight, but Hermansson countered with a big right uppercut.

Hermansson continued to pressure, but again, Vettori was getting the better of the striking. Vettori landed a clean uppercut as the fight entered the final 90 seconds. Hermansson threw a big combination, but Vettori just ate it.

Vettori clinched Hermansson and pushed him into the fence as the fight entered the final 30 seconds. Hermansson rolled for a leglock in the final seconds, but couldn’t lock it in. Great UFC main event that I scored for Vettori 49-46.

Marvin Vettori def Jack Hermansson by Unanimous Decision (49-46, 49-46, 49-45)

BREAKING: The UFC and Yoel Romero have parted ways

One of the more prominent fighters in the UFC‘s middleweight division is no longer with the promotion. In a stunning report by ESPN’s Ariel Helwani, Yoel Romero is no longer a member of the UFC. His manager confirmed the news with Helwani.

This is a very stunning development that really came out of no where. Romero was scheduled for a UFC fight back in August against Uriah Hall. Romero had to pull out of the fight and the UFC pivoted to book Hall against Anderson Silva.

Since then, things have been very quiet on the Yoel Romero front. There had been no talk about the UFC getting him his next opponent. Many just assumed that Romero was taking his time. However, we now know that there might be more to the story.

There is still no word on why Romero and the UFC have parted ways. Helwani also reported that Romero had three fights left on his contract. As I’m writing this story, I’m still a little stunned by the news that Romero is no longer with the promotion.

Romero’s UFC legacy

With the news that Yoel Romero is no longer with the UFC, it’s time to reflect on his run inside the octagon. The promotion’s acquisition of Strikeforce brought Romero to the big stage. The Olympic Silver medalist was an instance force in the middleweight division.

He made his UFC debut back in April of 2013 where he won by a flying knee. Romero would go on to win his first eight fights before getting a shot against Robert Whittaker for the interim middleweight title.

Whittaker edged out Romero that night. Romero then bounced back to knock out Luke Rockhold with a devastating left hand. After that, Romero fought Whittaker again for the UFC middleweight title.

To this day, I believe that Romero won that fight. However, the judges gave a split decision to Whittaker. Following that matchup, Romero lost a very entertaining fight against Paulo Costa before fighting Israel Adesanya for the UFC middleweight title.

The fight failed to live up to expectations and Romero lost to Adesanya. In the end, Romero will finish his UFC career 1-4 in his last five contest. However, it was a fun ride while it lasted.

UFC Vegas 16 Preview: Jack Hermansson – Marvin Vettori

Tomorrow night in the main event of UFC Vegas 16, Jack Hermansson (21-5) will be taking on Marvin Vettori (15-4-1). Both of these top 15 middleweights will be looking to take another step towards UFC title contention.

Marvin Vettori is actually the third opponent for Jack Hermansson for this event. Originally, Hermansson was supposed to take on former title challenger, Darren Till. However, a knee injury forced Till of the UFC Vegas 16 card. 

After that, the UFC moved to Kevin Holland who has won four fights in 2020. However, Holland tested positive for COVID-19 last week which scrapped that fight. Now, we’ve finally landed on Hermansson taking on Marvin Vettori. 

Despite all the changes, Hermansson never wavered in his desire to fight. He said this week that his opponent simply didn’t matter. You have to love that attitude from The Joker. He’s looking to close out 2020 with his second straight win and his sixth in his last seven fights.

Back in July, Hermansson took on Kelvin Gastelum. It was expected to be a tough fight for Hermansson, but he was able to get the fight to the floor early and submit Gastelum quick. It was a major statement for the Joker.

Hermansson has only lost twice since 2017 to Thiago Santos and Jared Cannonier. Those two massive power punches caught Hermansson and finished him. Outside of them, The Joker has used his superior grappling to run through the division.

UFC Vegas 16 Prediction

One thing to know about UFC Vegas 16’s Marvin Vettori is that he’s not afraid of anything from Jack Hermansson. The Italian Dream is supremely confident and believes that this fight will carry him into title contention.

Since 2017, Vettori has only lost one fight and that was to Israel Adesanya. Outside of that, he’s looked really good in his UFC fights. He’s on three fights in a row including a dominant submission win over Karl Roberson back in June.

Vettori has a very solid overall game, but will likely need to keep it standing to get the win tomorrow. Vettori has good striking, but he doesn’t possess incredible amounts of power. He’s a good grappler, but he will be overmatched by Jack Hermansson on the ground.

When it comes to UFC Vegas 16, I think there’s a much clearer path to victory for Jack Hermansson. He’s superior on the ground and I don’t think Vettori possesses enough power in his hands to stop Hermansson. Incredible power has been the only thing to stop Hermansson so far.

When these two get in the cage tomorrow, I think it’ll be evident early on that Hermansson is the superior grappler. I think Vettori will have his moments, but over the course of five rounds, I think Hermansson’s skills will be too much.

Prediction: Jack Hermansson by Unanimous Decision

Is Israel Adesanya done with the UFC’s middleweight division?

This past weekend, Dana White announced that UFC middleweight champion, Israel Adesanya, would be moving up for his next fight. Instead of defending his crown next, he’ll be moving up to challenge Jan Blachowicz for the UFC light heavyweight title. 

This move comes on the heels of Adesanya’s dominant performance at UFC 253 where he defeated Paulo Costa. White’s preference was for Adesanya to defend his title in a rematch with Robert Whittaker, however, Whittaker needs more time.

With Adesanya wanting to stay active, the logical move was for him to move up. He will try to become just the fourth fighter in UFC history to hold two belts at the same time. However, Jan Blachowicz is far from a pushover.

For the purpose of this article, let’s say that Adesanya is able to move up and capture the UFC light heavyweight championship. Will he ever return to the middleweight division? Or will he be like Conor McGregor who never returned to featherweight after he won the title.

What will the UFC star do?

Adesanya said that he has very clear plans for 2021. The middleweight champion said to Submission Radio that he plans on capturing the UFC light heavyweight title then he plans on fighting Jon Jones in a stadium.

The Jon Jones fight is the one that all UFC fans want to see. It’s easily the biggest fight that the promotion could make right now. The two men do not like each other and have been talking about fighting for some time now.

With Adesanya moving up to light heavyweight, we appear a step closer to that matchup. Jon Jones is currently focused on his move to heavyweight, however, I feel that he would relish the chance to drop back down to fight Adesanya.

A fun scenario to imagine is if Adesanya captures the UFC‘s light heavyweight title while Jones captures the heavyweight title. Imagine Jones and Adesanya fighting when they control three titles. The fight would be one of the biggest fights of all time.

All this is to say that if Adesanya wins the light heavyweight title, it might be a long time before we see him return to 185 pounds. In fact, we might have already seen the last time Israel Adesanya competes in the middleweight division.

However, Adesanya did tell MMA Fighting that he wants to come back to middleweight eventually. Adesanya said, “No, middleweight’s mine. Middleweight is my perfect weight class. So when I do 205, I’ll just hold up that division once in a while that’s all. I’ll defend my belt when it’s time.”

Robert Whittaker defeats Jared Cannonier at UFC 254

In the co-main event of UFC 254, there was a contest between the top two contenders in the middleweight division. Former world champion, Robert Whittaker (21-5), took on Jared Cannonier (13-4). Both were looking to establish themselves as the top contender.

Cannonier was a focus heading into this one after UFC champion, Israel Adesanya, called him out. If Cannonier was to defeat Whittaker, he would get the next shot. Bobby Knuckles was looking for his second straight victory after dropping the title to Adesanya at UFC 243.

Fight Recap

As the co-main event of UFC 254 got underway, Cannonier opened with a massive leg kick. Cannonier looked extremely composed and patient to start. Whittaker was light on his feet looking for his openings. Cannonier dropped Whittaker with a leg kick in the opening minute.

Whittaker kept looking for shots up top, but nothing was landing. Cannonier continued to smash leg kicks as the first continued. Whittaker stung Cannonier with a straight right and really started to find his rhythm as the first round continued.

Whittaker’s speed was really bothering Cannonier as the first round ended. The former UFC champion opened the second round with a couple of crisp counters. Cannonier seemed to be a step behind Whittaker in the second round.

Cannonier started throwing leg kicks again, however, Whittaker was still doing good work up top. Both men were doing damage, but they had very different strategies. Damage was being added to Cannonier’s head while Whittaker’s legs were getting beat up.

Whittaker shot in for a takedown and briefly landed in with a minute left. Cannonier got right back up and started picking up the pace in the final minute. However, Whittaker was able to land a clean 1-2 just before the round came to a close.

The former UFC champ was bouncing looking for the 1-2 to open the final round. A stiff jab from Whittaker opened the striking. Bobby Knuckles landed a massive kick that sent Cannonier spinning. Whittaker followed up looking for the finish.

Cannonier defended well, but Whittaker landed in half guard. Whittaker was able to work his way to the mount position halfway through the round. Cannonier was able to scramble, but Whittaker was able to get his back.

Cannonier was able to fight his way back up to his feet. He looked very hurt when the two men separated. Whittaker continued to hurt Cannonier with jabs, however, Cannonier hurt Whittaker bad in the final minute. Whittaker was able to fight off Cannonier as the fight ended.

Results and next steps after UFC 254

After an entertaining co-main event at UFC 254, the judges gave the fight unanimously to Robert Whittaker (29-28, 29-28, 29-28). Outside of getting hurt in the final minute of the fight, it was a brilliant performance from the former champion.

Darren Till and Cannonier were being built up as popular contenders in the UFC‘s middleweight division. Adesanya voiced interest in fighting both, however, Whittaker defeated both of them in 2020. I know Adesanya defeated him last year, but Whittaker deserves another shot.

For Cannonier, he’s not done in the middleweight division. However, tonight showed some areas that he still needs to improve. He was just a step behind most of the night and that allowed Whittaker to pull away and ultimately get the decision victory.

Jared Cannonier is completely focused on his UFC title aspirations

This weekend at UFC 254, The Killa Gorilla Jared Cannonier (13-4) will face the biggest test of his fighting career. He’s going to be standing across the cage from former world champion, Robert Whittaker (21-5). Both men want to earn a crack at the UFC middleweight title.

Cannonier has had an interesting journey to get to this point. When he first broke into the UFC, Cannonier fought at heavyweight. He wasn’t concerned about his diet or nutrition, he just wanted to fight. Cannonier carried knockout power at heavyweight, but he was pretty small.

He then decided to move down to the UFC‘s light heavyweight division. While this division better suited Cannonier, he still wasn’t clicking on all cylinders. His body still didn’t look like it was in peak condition, and his performances reflected that.

That’s when Cannonier decided to drop to his third UFC weight class. The middleweight division, and that is where his career completely turned. Cannonier has looked like a destroyer at middleweight going 3-0 with three knockouts.

Cannonier has been so impressive that UFC champion Israel Adesanya called him out after UFC 253. However, Cannonier made it clear today that he’s not focused on who’s the champion, he just wants a piece of that UFC middleweight title.

Future UFC champion?

“My journey is to get to the title. Whoever holds the title is going to have that target on his back,” Cannonier told reporters at the UFC 254 media day. Cannonier made it clear that his only goal is to become champion and he’s not focused on whoever he has to fight to get there.

Whittaker is a massive test for Cannonier. The former UFC middleweight champion had a similar story to the beginning of his career. Whittaker started at welterweight, but moved to middleweight because he felt his body would perform better.

He has gone 10-1 in eleven fights at middleweight which includes him capturing the UFC middleweight title. Whittaker is very well-rounded and he poses big problems for Cannonier. Whoever rises above the other on Saturday night will have clearly staked their claim as the number one contender.