Luke Rockhold cut early in Polaris 12 headliner, loses decision to Nick Rodriguez

With his UFC career on a brief hiatus, Luke Rockhold turned his attention to the grappling world, though he came up short against young phenom Nick Rodriguez.

The 104.3-kilogram (230-pound) no-gi catchweight contest served as the 15-minute featured bout of Saturday’s Polaris 12 event, which streamed live on UFC Fight Pass from International Convention Centre Wales in Newport, Wales.

The physical power of both men was on display early, with collar ties and snapdown attempts dominating the opening sequences, but several restarts were needed as they stepped out of the competition area. The cost of the clinches was apparent early, with Rockhold suffering a cut over his right eye after a clash of heads.

With cuts not exactly a common occurrence in grappling competitions, it took a moment before Polaris officials were available to address the wound, but Rockhold made it clear he didn’t want the bout stopped.

“Somebody bring me some (expletive) Vaseline!” Rockhold yelled.

On the restart, Rockhold clearly offered up his leg, trying to bait Rodriguez into shooting forward on a takedown, but his opponent declined to oblige. As the match wore on, Rockhold began to drop his hands and actually lift his leg in the air, begging Rodriguez to take it.

With a little less than 10 minutes remaining, the bout was stopped for a second time to address Rockhold’s cut, but the action continued shortly after. On the restart, Rodriguez changed his strategy, opening from a low level and finally shooting forward, earning a takedown and slipping to the back. Rockhold was able to get his back to the floor, but that allowed Rodriguez to set up in mount, where he briefly looked for an Ezekiel choke before looking for other options.

Rockhold eventually was able to frame and bridge, throwing Rodriguez off and creating space to return to the feet. As they restarted, Rockhold’s frustration was evident as he leered intensely at his opponent.

Rockhold continued to look to press in from collar ties as the minutes ran off the clock, but Rodriguez’s power made that impossible. Rockhold tried to shoot inside late in the contest, but those weren’t there either.

The final minute was a wild scene, with Rockhold nearly thrown into a commentary table, but he could never quite get any offense going, and the 23-year-old Rodriguez, a Renzo Gracie purple belt who recently won a silver medal at the 2019 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championship, was awarded a unanimous decision.

Afterward, former UFC and Strikeforce middleweight champ Rockhold praised Rodriguez for doing his homework and sticking to a disciplined gameplan before saying he enjoyed the experience.

“Honestly, it’s just fun for me,” Rockhold said. “Obviously, competition is a part of my life, and this kind of lightens it up, takes me away from all the political (expletive) that you deal with in the UFC. There’s a lot ,ore to it. This is just fun, and it keeps that goal-orientated mindset.”

Rockhold also said he’d be open to a return to the Polaris mat but wouldn’t commit to it right away.

“We’ll go back, assess, and see what I want to do,” Rockhold said. “But (first) a little time off.”

Additionally, a few other MMA notables competed at Polaris 12, with UFC welterweight Gilbert Burns dropping a unanimous decision to Norwegian black belt Tommy Langaker and UFC and Bellator veteran Marcin Held dropping a split decision to 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu black belt PJ Barch.

Fight footage courtesy of UFC Fight Pass, the UFC’s official digital subscription service, which is currently offering a seven-day free trial. UFC Fight Pass gives fans access to exclusive live UFC events and fights, exclusive live MMA and combat sports events from around the world, exclusive original and behind the scenes content and unprecedented 24-7 access to the world’s biggest fight library.

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