The last Strikeforce middleweight champion, Luke Rockhold, will be in for his toughest test as a professional MMA fighter when he faces Vitor Belfort at UFC on FX 8.
The two will headline the fight card which is set for May 18, at the Arena Jaraguá in Santa Catarina, Brazil, and it'll be Rockhold's UFC debut.
Belfort (22-10-2, 15 KOs) is coming off an impressive TKO victory against Michael Bisping, and prior to that bout, he nearly became the first man to legitimately defeat the Ultimate Fighting Championship's light-heavyweight champion, Jon "Bones" Jones, almost ending their UFC 152 encounter via armbar during the first round.
To makes things even harder for Rockhold (10-1-0, 6 submissions), he'll also have to deal with what will be a heavily pro Vitor crowd and their typical "Uh, vai morrer!" chants (translation: you're gonna die!). Heck, he even looks a bit like Chael Sonnen, and we all know that's not a good thing when you're going to be in Brazil.
As impressive as Rockhold has been inside the cage, he has never faced anyone on Vitor's level, meaning he'll have his work cut out for him at UFC on FX 8. However, Rockhold doesn't seem the slightest bit nervous about their upcoming clash, and he's confident his skills will lead him to victory when he steps inside the UFC's Octagon for the first time.
"[Belfort] is using more kicks, but being a southpaw vs. southpaw [matchup], it's going to nullify a lot of the kicks for him," Rockhold said during an interview with MMAjunkie.com Radio. "He's really heavy with the left high kick. I think I have more diversity in my kicks, and I'm going to use that to my advantage. … I definitely want to keep it exciting and high-paced and keep a lot of pressure on Vitor. I feel like I can beat him anywhere and I have to employ my range and my kickboxing. I'm not going to just straight box with Vitor. That would be stupid."
Obviously, going toe-to-toe with Belfort would be idiotic, considering the fact "The Phenom" is a dangerous striker, with decent setups and knockout power. Luke certainly doesn't want to find himself on the receiving end of one of Vitor's blitzes.
Rockhold won't hesitate to turn to his wrestling if things aren't going his way standing, and he's confident his grappling skills are good enough to keep him safe from Belfort's submissions.
"If it goes to the ground, I think it's my world," Rockhold added. "I know he's a longtime black belt, but black belts don't mean [expletive] to me."
As well-rounded as Vitor is as an MMA fighter, his takedown defense has been suspect at times in the past, and Luke would be wise to exploit that. Even an out of shape Anthony Johnson was able to repeatedly take Belfort down during their UFC 142 bout, and things would have probably played out differently (Johnson ended up getting submitted after getting rocked during the final seconds of the first round) if referee Dan Miragliotta didn't keep giving Vitor breaks by repetitively standing up the fight even though "Rumble" was active on top.
If Rockhold aggressively mixes things up inside the Octagon at UFC on FX 8 and doesn't get sloppy with his defense, he should walk away the victor. A win against "The Phenom" would qualify him for a title shot, so motivation won't be a problem in any way.