FRIDAY NEWS DIGEST 3/24: Rockhold predicts GSP won’t defend against top Middlweights if he wins title, says “this isn’t WWE” (w/Keller’s Analysis)

By Wade Keller, MMATorch editor

Luke Rockhold (Photo credit Joe Camporeale © USA Today Sports)

Former UFC Middleweight Champion Luke Rockhold is not happy with the state of the division as it’s been sidetracked by a non-defending reigning champion and a challenger without a single win in the last three years, and none in the Middleweight Division.

“It’s chaos. I think they’re running down a slippery slope,” he said on FS1’s “UFC Tonight” this week. “Things could get out of hand. Georges isn’t going to fight anybody at the top of the division if he wins and Bisping could be in the same boat. I’m bummed they took this route. It’s taking away from the sport. It’s about the top guys fighting each other. This isn’t WWE. This is fighting. When you see it, it makes you question a lot of things.”

Rockhold wants to fight for the title, and he says he’ll fight top opponents if a belt is on the line. “I’ll see how it irons out,” he says. “A lot of guys are waiting. It just depends on what their thoughts are. Yoel is waiting. If they want to put a real belt on the line, I’d gladly fight Yoel for it. I’m not here to dance around, I’m here to fight for titles.”

First, he has to get healthy. “Injuries are tough. I tore my ACL 50 percent in my left leg. I can’t kick. I’m not going to fight without my left leg, which is my best weapon.” He says in the mean time, he’s been doing modeling. “I’ve been chasing some paychecks. Modeling. I don’t discriminate against paychecks. I’ve got to pay the bills.”

He isn’t impressed by current champ Michael Bisping. “Michael’s trying to distract from his own crap, all the controversy he’s bringing up. He’s avoiding all the fights. He’s avoiding Jacare and Romero.”

It’s Rockhold’s fault Bisping is champ, perhaps, because even he admits he didn’t take Bisping seriously as a challenge to his title. He has learned from that. He says he has learned “to not take anyone for granted. I went in there and wrote him off. I need to focus and relax and let the fight come to you. I’m so much better than Michael. If he ever man’s up and I get to fight him again, I’ll show that. But the way the division is going, I don’t know if I’ll get that chance.”

The fact is, he’s got to at least wait for the Bisping vs. GSP fight. He predicts a Bisping win. “He’s the bigger guy,” he said. “Georges won’t be able to take him down. Bisping can scramble and outbox him. I see Bisping winning the fight. We’ll see if he’s a man of his word and if he fights a true contender next, or if he runs off into the sunset.”

Keller’s Analysis: UFC is playing a dangerous game by discrediting their championships. Yes, there’s an economic argument to putting the big name fighters against each other and cashing in while they can on perceived “super fights,” and staying away from fights that involve top ranked fighters who the public doesn’t know as well. I get that. I also know there’s a real pride and validation MMA fans feel over the “sports league” aspect of UFC that frames these fights as being to find out who the best is at what they do in a given weight range.

If it just becomes watching charismatic big names selling super fights at high prices, UFC loses part of its soul and becomes more of a business and less of a sport. UFC, as a brand, should not undervalue the equity and goodwill gained when fans see them treating what they do as a sport first and a business second. Cashing in for a super fight as a policy instead of an occasional exception undercuts the core base’s belief in the organization as the caretaker of the sport of MMA.

If UFC protects the integrity of the belts and the system that decides who fights for them, the belts will carry value over time that doesn’t show up in a single big PPV butyrate, but sustains them through times when the superfights run dry. Building a sense that the best fighters feel hostile toward the UFC brand undercuts valuable goodwill UFC might need some day.

GSP fighting a non-title fight against a compelling non-champion could have drawn a big butyrate during the same timeframe that Bisping was forced to step up and stop making mockery of the Middleweight Title he held. The fact that Bisping is in no hurry to prove his detractors wrong might be in his best financial interest, but UFC should be playing long-ball and not playing into that. They should seem to care as much as fans (and Rockhold) that the current champion is not defending his title against the clearly top ranked and deserving contenders.


-Bellator will be holding a private media-only press conference for their MSG debut (headlined by Chael Sonnen vs. Wanderlei Silva and Fedor Emelianenko vs. Matt Mitrione)  on March 28 at 1 p.m. Scott Coker and Spike TV’s Senior V.P. Jon Slusser are scheduled to attend. Sonnen, Silva, Fedor, Mitrione, Lorenz Larkin, Michael Chandler, Brent Primus, and Douglas Lima are all scheduled to attend.

-TMZ published photos of Conor McGregor celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Check them out HERE you’re interested.

-UFC Fight Night 110 in New Zealand will include Joseph Benavidez vs. Ben Nguyen, UFC announced yesterday.

NOW CHECK OUT YESTERDAY’S UPDATE: THURSDAY NEWS DIGEST 3/23: Bellator’s Emmanuel Sanchez talks with MMATorch about his co-main event fight on King Mo vs. Rampage event (w/Hiscoe’s Analysis)

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