ByDanny Acosta, writer at
Danny Acosta

American Kickboxing Academy head coach Javier Mendez has come around to Luke Rockhold’s self-belief. Rockhold, the UFC middleweight champ, essentially runs his own program, under the supervision of Mendez and AKA’s coaches. It’s a combination of athletic ability and fight acumen that allows AKA’s coaching staff to step aside and let Rockhold run wild.

Run wild is what his team expects Rockhold to do versus Michael Bisping in the main event of UFC 199 on Saturday night for the middleweight championship.

“The reason why you accept the fight is Luke has had a three-month camp,” Mendez said, sitting inside the front lobby at AKA in San Jose. “He needs to unload on somebody. He needs to get it out. He needs the payday. He needs to be out in the limelight. It happened to be the right opponent.”

The opponent change from Chris Weidman to a different rematch in Bisping didn’t impact Rockhold’s training camp. The game plan is no different. Mendez assessed Bisping is more dangerous because he has nothing to lose and everything to gain, while the opposite is true for Rockhold. Still, AKA is confident Rockhold will succeed in his first title defense.

“The one thing we don’t have to fear as much is the standup,” Mendez said of the opponent change. “Michael’s a little quicker, doesn’t hit as hard as Chris, he’s quicker and more elusive in the standup … Bisping isn’t going to be stupid enough to try and take Luke down. First of all, he’s not a takedown artist … No. 2, I don’t think that’s an area anyone would want to go with Luke unless you’re Jacare.”

Mendez stated there is no disrespect on AKA’s part for Bisping’s place in the fight. It’s not an easy win because Bisping’s resilient reputation and tireless in-ring work precedes him. Especially after Bisping’s performance in February, a career-defining decision against former UFC middleweight titleholder Anderson Silva.

“He fought a really incredible fight with Anderson Silva,” Mendez said. “Anderson Silva to me is not washed up and [Bisping] was able to win that fight.”

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Bisping is entering the title fight versus Rockhold on short notice, declaring he’s been preparing for this moment his whole life, training camps be damned. Mendez related the fight game is a “mental beast,” thus he understands Bisping’s reasoning. He doesn’t doubt Bisping’s preparation in ideal or strenuous circumstances.

“If you’re already in physical shape, it’s the mental aspect that takes over,” Mendez said. “I can see 100-percent both sides of it. I can see you coming in, no notice, no nothing, taking a fight and winning, but I can also see you get beat up because you didn’t properly prepare for that individual.”

As long as Rockhold stays healthy, Mendez believes he can keep the title through most of his 30s. Already the champion, it’s about maintenance. Mendez revealed the key to Rockhold’s success has been his craftsmanship in the gym and his ability to walk away from it when necessary.

“We’re talking weeks off, a month off, if he has no fight in sight,” Mendez said. “He’ll take off a month and enjoy himself, travel the world and enjoy his life. I think that’s the way you do it and he does it right.”

Mendez has faith Rockhold will become America’s most notable mixed martial artist. There was a time Mendez and his fellow coaches at AKA had to calm Rockhold down, convince him maybe it’s not the time to shoot for the stars. That time is gone now that Rockhold reached the stars as a middleweight champion in two organizations and is an emerging UFC star.

Holding the UFC belt has rendered Rockhold more relaxed and therefore more dangerous, according to Mendez. Rockhold’s confident athlete persona is starting to catch on with fans that are either taking to it or rejecting it. Mendez settled that’s exactly how it should be.

“Don’t like him, fine, but watch him. Guess what? He’s going to amaze you,” Mendez said. “All the people who don’t like him? Who cares? [Floyd] Mayweather didn’t have many fans either, but look what he became.”

Part of Rockhold’s star rising beyond a win against Bisping is what would round out his 2016. The coveted first ever Madison Square Garden event for the UFC breaking ground in New York City is where Mendez wants Rockhold’s title journey to take him next. New York’s Chris Weidman, the man originally slated versus Rockhold at UFC 199, is who Mendez tagged the logical choice for the event. Mendez said, point blank, Weidman deserves the middleweight title shot.

“I don’t think Weidman wants to fight anyone but Luke,” Mendez said, “So I would like to see Luke defend it against Weidman, Nov. 12.”


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