Luke Rockhold on ‘mafia’ UFC: ‘When you lose your leverage, these people try to step on you’

Luke Rockhold isn’t pulling his punches with the UFC or its president, Dana White.

This weekend, Rockhold makes his return to the octagon after a three-year layoff, facing Paulo Costa in the co-main event of UFC 278. While the former middleweight champ is focused on his upcoming fight, he is still talking about another battle he’s facing: the UFC’s promotional machine.

“After losing the title, you get disrespected,” Rockhold told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “This is a mafia, the UFC. … There’s no rhyme or reason in this game, and when you lose your leverage, these people try to step on you, and then you just fight back, and it’s a constant fight. It’s annoying. It’s f****** sick, it’s disgusting. It needs change, and I’m not scared to say it. …

“Everything I’m saying is right, everything I’m saying is true. I’m not going to bite my lip and not tell it like it is because [I should] wait until I get power and position. F*** off. This is exactly how it is, and it turned me sour in the game.”

During his absence from fighting, Rockhold has been highly critical of the UFC for their business practices and recently called out the promotion for their stagnant bonus structure. Rockhold explained that his issues with the company track all the way back to his promotional debut in 2013.

“I think it happened the moment I came in the UFC,” Rockhold said. “I came in and I was disrespected right off the bat. I had to go f****** fight Vitor Belfort while they knew they were protecting him, so he could do all the steroids in the world and be their Brazilian f****** super hero and push the needle down there. … Yeah, that was disrespect right off the bat, the moment I walked into the UFC.

“I started to gain that respect back. When you earn leverage and you win and you start to gain the momentum, it comes. Life is a game of leverage, and it’s not just the UFC, it’s everywhere. In business, in life, it’s understanding your leverage, understanding your worth. And if you don’t, people are always going to f****** belittle you and play hardball. The rich get richer, and it’s always a battle of suppressing one and building another. So it’s not just the UFC, it’s not just Dana, it’s really everywhere. There’s not a lot of fairness, not a lot of real, true people in this world.

“In Strikeforce it was different. There was a hierarchy, and there was a way to get up, but there was a lot more fairness and a lot more fun back then.”

It’s not just his issues with the negotiations or bonuses that bothers Rockhold, though. The UFC has come under fire in recent years on issues of fighter pay and medical care, and though Dana White has repeatedly defended the UFC’s practices, count Rockhold among those who are getting increasingly frustrated by the situation.

“The health protection – everything,” Rockhold said. “We’re putting our lives on the lines, and these guys are out there trying to act like they’re doing the best for us. The business is changing. Growth. And Dana White’s out there just trying to follow Conor McGregor, putting his things and giving more degenerate lifestyle kids f****** – what did he gift that kid, someone told me he gifted that Full Send kid $250,000 for no reason? And then he’s out there saying we get what we deserve.

“Come on, Dana. Shut up. What are you doing? Nothing’s right.”

Rockhold’s outspoken stance on hot-button issues with the UFC raises the question of how his return to the cage will go this weekend when he inevitably runs into Dana White. But he isn’t concerned.

“It’s fine – it’s business,” Rockhold said. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m cool with Dana but I’m going to tell it like it is. He might not like the way I say it but come on, dog. You know I’m not saying anything that’s not real. Everything I’m saying is real. He might not like it but it’s f****** truthful, so whatever.”