Luke Rockhold believes that far too much has been made of his presence in the training camp of Volkan Oezdemir ahead of the Swiss fighter’s clash with Rockhold’s longtime friend and training partner Daniel Cormier at UFC 220 in Boston this weekend.
Ahead of his fight with former two-weight WSOF champion David Branch last September, his first in fifteen months, Rockhold decided to base his training camp in Florida, under the watchful eye of famed coach Henri Hooft, rather than at his regular base of operations, the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California. He announced the change via Instagram, claiming that “the injuries and inactivity” of key AKA training partners had inspired him to make the switch. The accompanying photo, however, was one of Rockhold alongside AKA teammates Cormier, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Josh Thomson and Cain Velasquez, and the former UFC middleweight champion made sure to note that his loyalties hadn’t changed.
“American Kickboxing Academy will always be my home,” wrote Rockhold at the beginning of the post.
American Kickboxing Academy will always be my home. Due to the injuries and inactivity to our key guys. My team and I have decided it best I prepare for this fight in Florida. All the usual suspects will be in my corner with the addition of @henrihooft . I’d like to thank Henri, Kami Barzini, Greg Jones and all my teammates here in Florida for helping me prepare for this fight. September 16th we ride.
With an interim middleweight title fight against Yoel Romero coming up next though, Rockhold has remained with Hooft in Florida. There he happens to train alongside Oezdemir. As a result, speculation has been rampant. Is there drama between Rockhold and Cormier? Could Rockhold impact the UFC light-heavyweight title fight one way or another? These are the sort of questions that have been swirling around online in recent weeks.
The fighters involved have played down the talk, however.
Cormier said during a recent appearance on the Sammy And The Punk podcast that he totally understood and respected Rockhold’s decision. While during a recent online Q&A, the UFC light-heavyweight champion took a light-hearted jab at Rockhold.
“Luke training with my opponent? It doesn’t matter, Luke can’t really help him. Luke can’t beat me,” DC said with a chuckle. “What’s Luke going to teach him?”
During a recent episode of the UFC 220 Embedded vlog series, Rockhold made it clear that he has been and will be a non-factor in the upcoming fight. However, the fact that he was shown working out with Oezdemir in that very episode probably hurt his point somewhat.
Speaking to former AKA teammate Mike Swick on a recent edition of the Real Quick with Mike Swick podcast though, Rockhold reiterated his claim before adding that clips like the ones from Embedded are being used to create a false narrative around the fight that he feels the tinfoil hat brigade are lapping up.
“I completely step aside and I don’t play any factor in this fight,” Rockhold said. “I haven’t been training with Volkan. I’ve trained alongside him. A couple of clips… they always seemingly tag along when we are doing strength and conditioning alongside each other but I don’t train with the guy. I might have to train alongside him for some strength and conditioning but that’s it.”
“It’s funny how they plug every little second that we are in proximity of each other and they are trying to tie into this and all these tinfoil fans are getting involved, just manipulated by Conor McGregor and the snake bullshit,” he added, making reference to McGregor’s infamous “snake in the grass” comment about T.J. Dillashaw on The Ultimate Fighter 22 and the subsequent breakdown of Dillashaw’s relationship with Urijah Faber.
“It’s so pathetic at times.”
Asked for his opinion on the fight itself, Rockhold said that he expects Cormier to fight smart and stick to what he’s good at, before indicating that he believes DC and Oezdemir are actually levels apart.
“DC is a wrestler. He is coming off the first real hard loss that he’s ever had, so he’s going to revert back to his ways,” said Rockhold. “Everyone knows what he is capable of when he fights smart and he doesn’t get away from the plan. When he is fighting a pure striker like Volkan, he is going to go out there and do his thing. You know Volkan, Volkan is going to try and stuff the takedown and he’s going to try to knock [Cormier] out.
“DC has been in the game for a long time, he’s fought everyone in the game, he’s only lost to Jon [Jones] on a very close decision one time and he got caught the second time when I thought he was winning the fight. I just don’t think Volkan is on his level.”