Luke Rockhold promises to make things 'nasty' on Karate Combat debut in Dubai

Former UFC middleweight champion says friendship counts for nothing when he takes on Joe Schilling at the DDF Tennis Stadium

Luke Rockhold celebrates defeating Lyoto Machida of Brazil at the UFC Fight Night event at Prudential Center on April 18, 2015, in Newark, New Jersey. Getty Images
Powered by automated translation

Former UFC champion Luke Rockhold puts friendship aside upon his Karate Combat debut in Dubai this weekend, promising he is going to make it a “nasty” night for his opponent.

Rockhold, a two-time world belt-holder who won the UFC middleweight title in late 2015, takes on former Glory Kickboxing champion Joe Schilling in the headline bout at Karate Combat 45, which takes place at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium on Saturday night.

Karate Combat is billed as the world’s premier full-contact professional striking league. The event, run in partnership with Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism and Dubai Sports Council, will be hosted by former UFC champions Georges St-Pierre and Bas Rutten, and Indian actor and film producer Salman Khan.

Rockhold, 39, has held mixed martial arts titles under the banner of Strikeforce and the UFC, and last competed in the latter in August 2022, when he lost by unanimous decision to Paulo Costa. His professional MMA record reads 16-6.

Speaking to The National ahead of his debut, Rockhold said: “Joe Schilling is a champion kickboxer, happens to be a friend of mine. You got to put it aside, though. I like Joe. And you're going to have to try to hurt him, and he's going to have to try to hurt you. It's just business, you know?

“I'm going to be coming for his liver, I'm going to be coming for his head. At 195 pounds, I have all my weight, all of my power. There’s another element of takedowns Joe can’t forget, because I’m going to make this a fight.

“I'm going to make it nasty. I'm not going to play his game; I'm going to play my game.”

Known in his prime for his supreme kicking ability and submission game, Rockhold has recorded notable wins against the likes of Chris Weidman, Lyoto Machida, Vitor Belfort and Michael Bisping.

“I’ve struck with the best guys in the world,” Rockhold said. “There is an element of takedowns [in Karate Combat] – I’m not going to let Joe forget that. I’m going to keep him on his toes, I’m going to keep him on his heels.

“I’m going to play my game, I’m not in there to play his. I like Joe, but I’m not here to be a nice guy. This is a fight. And let’s see who’s got the sharper metal.”

On Thursday, Rockhold and Schilling took part in the official pre-fight press conference at Dubai’s Museum of the Future before facing off on top of the Dubai Frame.

“Fighting in Dubai, I think, is special,” Rockhold said. “This just happened to be an opportunity here to fight in Dubai. It's this weekend. It's a great opportunity.”

Meanwhile, fellow American Schilling is a two-time national gold medallist in kickboxing and in 2011 became the WBC Muay Thai interim light-heavyweight champion. Known for his knockout power, he has competed in MMA promotion Bellator. His pro MMA record stands at 4-6.

“Luke Rockhold is a former UFC champion, he’s a bad [expletive] as far as I’m concerned,” Schilling said. “Whatever confidence he has is well-deserved.”

Asked how he envisioned the fight would go, Schilling replied: “First-round knockout.”

Karate Combat, which comprises “elite black belts” competing in eight different weight divisions for a Karate Combat World Championship, will kick off its latest event with a grappling match-up between the renowned Craig Jones and in-form UFC welterweight Rinat Fakhretdinov (21-1-1). The night also includes a team event between Pakistan and India before Luiz Rocha takes on Myrza-Bek TeBuev in a bantamweight title fight in the co-main. TeBuev, from Russia, is vying for a second championship belt.

Asim Zaidi, president of Karate Combat League, said: “It’s very much our goal to shock the combat sports world with every single event we do. And I have to say, our event in Dubai, we’re planning will absolutely break the internet.

“Nobody entertains like we do, and with the Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism and Dubai Sports Council’s support, we’re about to shake up the world of combat sports.”

Updated: April 19, 2024, 9:40 AM