Former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold is giving it another go in combat sports, and he’s no longer under contract.
“Your man’s a free agent,” he said on Monday’s The MMA Hour. “Free and clear, and I’m ready and re-inspired to go out there and do something new.”
Rockhold explained his free agency came about through a good working relationship with UFC COO Hunter Campbell. He said he asked for his freedom to “do things elsewhere” and cited a long history of taking fights under less than optimal circumstances. The ex-champ said he had “a couple” of fights left on his UFC contract when he received his release.
“I’ve paid my dues, and [Campbell] granted me my wish,” he said.
UFC officials confirmed Rockhold’s release to MMA Fighting on Monday.
Rockhold said he’s training every day and can return immediately if he takes a boxing match. He said a recent ankle surgery had not gone as planned and had delayed his return to training, but he’d rebounded and felt better than ever. Along with a move back to California from Florida, where he previously trained, he felt rejuvenated and eager to try something new.
“I need a new setting,” Rockhold said. “I need a new challenge. … You get burned out in the game when you’ve done so much, and you need new obstacles.”
Rockhold said his return could involve boxing, an MMA return at PFL, Bellator, or ONE Championship, or another combat sports endeavor. He didn’t rule out a return to the UFC but repeatedly said he needed challenges that excited him.
“That door is always open, but I want to go and f*** some people up,” Rockhold said, later adding. “If you want bulls***, we can go box, beat up these YouTubers, too.”
Rockhold returned from a three-year layoff this past August to face Paulo Costa at UFC 278. The former champ struggled mightily as the fight went into deep waters, and at several points, he appeared seconds away from being finished. He made the final bell, however, and rubbed his blood on Costa in a last-second show of defiance.
Afterward, an exhausted and emotional Rockhold retired in the octagon, telling commentator Joe Rogan, “I f****** can’t do this s*** anymore. I gave it my all. … I’m f****** old.”
The UFC 278 fight was Rockhold’s fourth loss in five outings since he captured the UFC middleweight title with a TKO of Chris Weidman at UFC 194 in 2015. He was knocked out by Yoel Romero in a fight for the interim middleweight title at UFC 221 and then knocked out by Jan Blachowicz in a move to light heavyweight at UFC 239.
Rockhold said after his return from three-year layoff, he didn’t feel satisfied with where he left things and felt he had more to offer. Now that he’s free to compete wherever he wants, he believes the best is ahead.
“I feel like I’m just getting better,” he said, “I feel like I’m finding my tempo, and it feels good. … I’ve got mountains to climb.”