Coinciding nicely with Saturday’s (July 22) UFC on Fox 25 main event between Chris Weidman and Kelvin Gastelum was the news that Luke Rockhold, the man who dethroned Weidman in December 2015, will make his highly-anticipated return to the Octagon on September 16 in Pittsburgh.
The former UFC middleweight champion, who has been out since last June, will fight former World Series of Fighting titleholder David Branch in a UFC Fight Night headliner set for five rounds.
The announcement has been a long time coming for Rockhold, a man blighted by injury, promotional disputes and plenty of rumours of late. There was talk he was going to fight Gegard Mousasi at one stage, before Mousasi upped and left for Bellator, and many, given the length of his absence, started to wonder if Rockhold even had plans to continue fighting.
At his best, of course, Rockhold, 15-3, remains one of the premier middleweights in the world. A former UFC and Strikeforce middleweight champion, the gifted 32-year-old has claimed the scalps of Weidman, current UFC champion Michael Bisping, Lyoto Machida and Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza along the way.
Thirty-five-year-old Branch, 22-3, has won every one of his last eleven fights and holds good wins over the likes of Yushin Okami, Paulo Filho, Jesse Taylor and Vinny Magalhães. During his first stint with the UFC, back in 2010 and 2011, he got the better of Tomasz Drwal and Rich Attonito, but found himself stopped by both Gerald Harris and Rousimar Palhares. This time, however, he goes again with two World Series of Fighting titles to his name (at middleweight and light-heavyweight), and last time out, in May, he scored a decision win against Krzysztof Jotko at UFC 211.
The UFC Fight Night event in Pittsburgh will also feature a bout between Hector Lombard and Mike Perry, as well as Kamaru Usman taking on Sergio Moraes, and Krzysztof Jotko battling Uriah Hall.