Luke Rockhold's past year in Strikeforce included a pair of canceled fights and great uncertainty.
But when he signed with the Ultimate Fighting Championship earlier this year, his immediate career path became clearer. Saturday night, the final Strikeforce middleweight champion will put his nine-fight winning streak on the line in his UFC debut when he faces 17-year MMA veteran Vitor Belfort in the main event of UFC on FX 8. The event, held at the Arena Jaragua in Jaragua do Sul, Brazil, will be shown live at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.
"The last year or so in Strikeforce wasn't very exciting," Rockhold said. "I lost a lot of interest in Strikeforce and started looking to fight for the UFC. Growing up as a kid, I always watched the UFC. The UFC was the first show I watched, and that's where I wanted to be ... I couldn't be in a better situation. I'm excited about my future in the UFC."
Rockhold's UFC start will not be easy. Belfort, 22-10, is 8-2 in his last 10 fights, with both losses coming in title fights -- against UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva in 2011 and UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones last year.
Belfort, a 36-year-old Brazilian, won the UFC heavyweight tournament at UFC 12 in 1997 and won the UFC's light heavyweight title in 2004.
"[A win over Belfort] would do huge things for my career," said Rockhold, 10-1. "I don't think my name is as big as it could possibly be at this time in the sport. Coming in, pretty much a champion, and getting a main event fight against a huge name like Vitor Belfort ... It would give me more credit for doing what I did and just boost me into that next level where I want to
be and hopefully give me a title shot in the UFC."
Rockhold, a 28-year-old California native, said he believes he and Belfort have similar skills and fighting styles, which should contribute to a potential fight of the night.
"I expect us to feel each other out," Rockhold said. "I think we both like to get after it. I think we'll clash somewhere or another in the first round, and fireworks should start. I don't think they'll stop until the fight ends. I'm going to stay in his face. I'm going to try to put him away from start to finish."
Rockhold hopes to build on the success of previously imported Strikeforce combatants, many of whom found instant success in the Octagon. The success of fighters such as Daniel Cormier, Pat Healy and Ronda Rousey proved the legitimacy of competition in Strikeforce and answered the doubts of Strikeforce's most vocal proponents.
"I hope it does," Rockhold said. "If it hasn't already, then I think people are just blind. Our guys were just as good. It's been that way for a long time. Now people have a chance to see that. I have an opportunity to add to that. That's what I plan on doing. I think we're bringing new life to the UFC ... I feel like it's been a changing of the guards. Now I just have to claim my territory."