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Former Strikeforce Middleweight Champ Luke Rockhold Leads Promotional Invasion in UFC

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

This Saturday, Apr. 26, middleweight contender Luke Rockhold will square off against Tim Boetsch at UFC 172 in Baltimore. The former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion’s UFC career got off to a rocky start as he ran into a runaway freight train in Vitor Belfort in Brazil last May, but since that hiccup he has bounced back tremendously.

In his second outing under the UFC banner, Rockhold locked horns with heavy-hitting Serra-Longa product Costas Philippou, and this time the former Strikeforce title holder lived up to the hype, crushing Philippou with a vicious left kick to the body that crumpled his opponent to the canvas. What was supposed to be a close matchup looked lopsided from the start as Rockhold dropped Philippou early before sealing the deal later in the first round.

To add to his comeback, Rockhold’s victories during his reign as the Strikeforce Middleweight Champion have recently been further legitimized. Fellow Strikeforce middleweight transplants Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Tim Kennedy have made big splashes in the deep waters of the UFC middleweight division, and Rockhold will look to continue this trend.

As it stands in the Official UFC Middleweight Rankings, four of the top ten contenders at 185 pounds were acquisitions from Strikeforce, with Souza, Rockhold, Kennedy and Gegard Mousasi sitting at Nos. 4, 5, 6 and 10 respectively. Rockhold was victorious in bouts against “Jacare” and Kennedy, outpacing and out striking the decorated grapplers.

Rockhold will again look to implement his range and counter wrestle this grappling when he faces the heavy-handed former collegiate wrestler Boetsch this Saturday in Baltimore, and there is no reason to indicate that the former Strikeforce champ won’t be able to do so.

The pair were supposed to meet at UFC 166, but the bout was scrapped due to a knee injury and Rockhold was replaced by C.B. Dollaway. Boetsch took home a close decision in that bout, but overall he has looked subpar in his last three Octagon appearances — and this is forgetting the fact that his style plays into Rockhold’s strengths.

Rockhold should be able to stay away from Boetsch and land heavy shots from the outside as he pleases, all while wearing down the powerful wrestler. Rockhold will look good in this fight, and with his Strikeforce cohorts creating a ruckus at 185 as well, he should be in prime position to make a run at a title race that is wide open after the fall of Anderson Silva.

Other than superhuman Belfort landing ferocious wheel kicks in Brazil, Rockhold matches up well with just about everyone at 185, even champion Chris Weidman. He has a real chance to add UFC gold to his already impressive resume in the near future.

Graham Jones is an MMA writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @graymatter91, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google