source: Ben Fowlkes | mmafighting.com
CINCINNATI -- Heading into Saturday night's Strikeforce event, American Kickboxing Academy middleweight Luke Rockhold predicted a perfect 4-0 night for himself and his teammates. It was an ambitious prediction that ended up being accurate, but it also seemed at least somewhat like the kind of thing you say to boost everyone's confidence rather you really believe it or not.
But Rockhold, who took a close decision over Ronaldo Souza to claim the Strikeforce middleweight title, insisted he knew all along that his squad would end the night undefeated.
"I don't speak nonsense," he told reporters at the post-fight press conference. "I was just really confident in my team."
One of Rockhold's coaches -- AKA's Javier Mendez -- wasn't quite so sure, however.
"I was confident, honestly, with 3-1," Mendez told MMA Fighting. "I was hoping for four, but my concern was Mike Kyle."
As Mendez explained, it wasn't that he thought Kyle was outmatched against Marcos Rogerio de Lima on the prelim portion of the card. Instead, he was worried about whether Kyle had been healthy enough to adequately prepare for the fight.
"He just got through going through a broken hand. He didn't get to spar [in training]," Mendez said. "We didn't want him sparring because we were afraid he would re-break his hand. So I was concerned with him. I wasn't concerned with Mo [Lawal], wasn't concerned with Daniel [Cormier], but I was most confident in Luke."
As it turned out, Rockhold's fight was the biggest nail-biter of the night for the AKA crew. He and Souza went back and forth for five rounds, the outcome was difficult to call as they stood in the center of the cage awaiting the judges' decision.
"I felt good about it," Rockhold said afterward. "I might have got a little rocked, but I came back strong and I think I won some rounds."
Mendez was similarly confident, but even he couldn't justify giving all five rounds to Rockhold, as judge Bruce Snell did.
"I thought we had it for sure, based on the fifth round, how he came out and what he did. It was pretty close there, but when he came out and did the most damage, being the aggressor, I knew he had it," Mendez said. "But the score of 50-45 for Luke? Whoever that was, no. That was wrong. I thought it was 48-47 for Luke."
However you score it, the AKA squad went home unbeaten thanks to the decision wins for Rockhold and Kyle, and knockout victories by Lawal and Cormier. With that, the whole team returned to San Jose, Calif. with smiles on their faces and a renewed swagger in their step. Just ask the new Strikeforce middleweight champ.
"AKA," Rockhold grinned. "Watch out. Don't step on our turf."