Former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold was looking for his acting debut when the script for Cagefighter fell on his doorstep. The role of Tony Gunn, a combat trainer helping a mixed-marriage artist prepare for an epic fight, may have been written for him.
“The fighting world is anything but alien to me, so I had a lot of experience,” Rockhold told Men’s Journal. In addition to putting in his fair share of showdowns, the fighter worked on the instructive side of the game to get started. The project also provided an opportunity to work with his old friend and MMA legend Chuck Liddell. “I just couldn’t say no.”
Rockhold is far from finished with his own career as a fighter, however, and plans to return to the UFC ring in early 2021. We spoke to the Strikeforce veteran about filming training montages, recovery methods, and his preparation for the Octagon.
Men’s Journal: Did the character of Tony Gunn remind you of someone you met during your career?
Luke Rockhold: I have come across quite a few boxing coaches in the world of MMA who believe they know everything. You have that kind of mood. They think boxing comes first before any other style of fighting, and they want to brush the rest aside. I don’t want to mention names, but I’ve definitely had a couple of run-ins with these guys so I got to pull from that. No question about it, the character is a bit fat so we had fun playing around with it too.
How was working with Chuck Liddell?
Chuck has had my back from day one. I had the same manager as him, so we were in the mix together. I’ve been training together since early childhood. It was a great time walking back and forth with him on set. When you work with Chuck, it’s easy to see that intensity on the screen. Lots of shocks go back and forth, not just the punches.
Did you train while filming?
I couldn’t do any sessions with Chuck as he was undergoing an operation. In the end, I saved up with director Jesse [Quinones]and one of the other actors, Alex [Montagenani]. They were pretty tough guys, knew how to hang out when it came to jiu-jitsu. I tore Jesse’s Achilles tendon while doing a roll! Apparently I wanted to make a real mark on the film crew … obviously a mistake that just happened during a transition. It was a hard day at work for him the next day on set. He hobbled around but pushed his way through.
Given your history with the sport, was the director open to hearing from you and Chuck about what fighting life really is like?
Jesse has been very receptive to my career and contributions, as well as Chuck’s. I think his goal was to make that feeling as real as possible, and he knew the best way to get there was by listening to people who have done it before. He listened to a few things we had to say and wanted to include them.
There are some great training Mondays out there. How was this process?
There were definitely some good, tough training scenes, and I wanted to make them as intense as possible. Since I play a character on the coaching side, I definitely wanted to be an extra kind of asshole. Jesse has been helping a lot to keep us all busy right now. I have to say there are few things more fun than just getting off your shoes and being a complete sucker.
How do you like being on the receiving end of the focus gloves?
I don’t think my elbows are enjoying taking too much of it. I don’t mind from time to time of course because I like to exercise, but I like directing fighters rather than holding the pads. I want to see the whole picture instead of just slapping my hands.
What’s your favorite as this is the fight against movies?
Bloodsport has always been my inspiration. That was the movie that really got me into mixed martial arts. When I watched Jean-Claude Van Damme kick his ass, I wanted to fight like him.
I know you recently had an operation to get back into fighting shape. How did it go?
The operation went well. I had to reconstruct my little toe, which I had neglected to some extent. It was an important procedure, but a difficult pill to swallow as I only had to lie down for a little toe. I did badly one day while exercising, and it only got worse from then on. I’m back on track now, everything is on the rise and I’ll be back to full health soon.
What recovery methods do you rely on these days?
There was a lot of physical therapy and a lot of sleep. I have to say, as you get older, you just find out how much you need that good night’s sleep. Lately I’ve really gotten into ice baths. I have found that they are key to extending my recovery time. The abuse that occurs on the body during a mixed martial arts fight is enormous. This hot and cold contrast has such an advantage, and I believe it did so much to help rejuvenate my body. Not only that, but it keeps the inflammation that comes with injury low and keeps blood circulation going. You can especially feel it in the lower parts of your body that are furthest from the heart. I got them once a week during my camp. But now I do up to three days a week – about three to five minutes.
Do you have an estimated date for your return to the octagon?
I originally thought I’d be back in the cage by the end of this year, but now it feels like it will be early next year. I just don’t want to fight in a compromised way. I’ve done this before and it just doesn’t do anyone justice. I want to fight to the best of my ability. That’s what makes me excited about competition, to do it without the pain or sprains holding me back. When I’m healthy, I can keep up with anyone.
Do you know what weight you will be competing with?
I think 185 pounds is a better choice for me. The process of weight loss has always taken its toll. I could also imagine going up to 205 pounds. I’ve been there before and I’ve seen what Jan Błachowicz can do in the ring and I know he’s beatable.
Cagefighter is now streamed on demand
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