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Why Luke Rockhold's pro BJJ debut this weekend is worth watching

Elias Cepeda
Yahoo Sports Contributor
Luke Rockhold (top) punches Chris Weidman in their middleweight title fight during UFC 194 at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Dec. 12, 2015 in Las Vegas. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold puts away the gloves this weekend and makes his professional Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu/submission grappling debut this weekend. I love the move.

Rockhold will jump into the deep end of pro grappling and take on 23-year-old phenom Nick Rodriguez in England on Saturday’s Polaris 12 card. Since Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the base of MMA, it isn’t rare for fighters and retired fighters to keep competing in sport grappling events at high levels like this, and it’ll be fun to watch one of the best current grapplers in MMA try his hand at pro jiu-jitsu.

Rockhold has said recently that he doesn’t have any desire to fight MMA at this point in his life. That isn’t some incomprehensible line of thinking.

Rockhold has had a long MMA career, and has accomplished just about everything there is to accomplish in that world. He’s 35, seems to have to battle with the promotion each time out for the past several years and has had some rough outings in recent bouts.

Beyond that, the fighter is also a successful international model, and has long maintained that outside investments mean he doesn’t fight out of financial necessity. He fought for the love of it.

When that burning love for a particular thing, and a dangerous thing no-less, flames out, walking away or at least taking a break makes sense. Fighters losing desire is not uncommon, but most of them fight on regardless.

That’s a dangerous but often financially necessary decision for many of those without other known ways to make ends meet. Most fighters don’t have a lot to fall back on, career-wise, and are still young men and women by the time they become old fighters.

So, they fight on. Partially out of inertia, partially because their identity is so wrapped up in the practice, and in large part because they and their families need to eat and food costs money.

If Rockhold — one of the most exciting and well-rounded MMA fighters in recent history — doesn’t rely on MMA to keep the lights on, and if his desire to fight in the cage is drying up after well over a decade, I’m glad he’s trying something else. The athlete still loves competition, and trying the increasingly economically viable path of professional jiu-jitsu is a way to satiate that love without taking blows to the head.

So, Rockhold getting a competitive outlet outside of MMA is one reason I’m looking forward to his Polaris match. Another is how Rockhold is biting off so much to chew in his pro jiu-jitsu debut.

Sure, Rockhold has many more years of training experience over his opponent Rodriguez, but the East Coast grappler is much larger, over a decade younger, and focuses all of his time and energy on grappling. If Rockhold can even look competitive against the larger, younger ADCC silver medalist, he’ll prove that he belongs among the elite of sport submission grapplers, and many more opportunities will open up for him in that world.

That leads me to the next reason I’m happy about this move — Rockhold is fun to watch grapple. The fighter’s best MMA performances have seen him dominate phenomenal opposition with mat work, and training partners have long raved about his elite submission skills.

With a year or so of his training focused exclusively on grappling, without having to put in hours into striking and other necessary elements of MMA, Rockhold probably has the skill to take on world champions in jiu-jitsu. If that’s the case, he’ll not only have an outlet for fun one-off types of exhibitions, but he could give himself new high-level athletic goals, which might very well make the transition away from fighting MMA easier and more fulfilling.

There are worse ways to spend a weekend morning than getting to watch a great fighter get to do something much safer than getting hit, that also happens to be exciting, high-level and an activity they have a renewed passion for. Hopefully a few other fans also tune in and see what Rockhold can do.

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