Rockhold (16-5 MMA, 6-4 UFC) is a sizable underdog in Saturday’s UFC 278 co-main event against Costa (13-2 MMA, 5-2 UFC) at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ABC/ESPN and early prelims on ESPN+.
The former UFC middleweight champion hasn’t competed since July 2019, and all his career losses have come by knockout. But Smith thinks Rockhold is more skilled than Costa and just has to tighten up defensively in order to avoid the Brazilian’s power shots.
“I think that Luke is absolutely the better fighter, but I’ve said that about the last couple of guys that Luke has fought,” Smith said in an interview with James Lynch. “Luke Rockhold’s problem is not that he is not good enough to be at the top of the division, because he is – and that same goes for 185 and 205. He is that good. His issue has always been his defense and pulling out of shots with his chin up.
“I hope that he’s fixed that because if he has, he can avoid taking anything big. I don’t see where Paulo Costa wins this fight. I don’t see how. Luke’s too good on his feet. I’ve said this time and time again. I’ve heard the horror stories of Luke Rockhold grappling. That guy is goddamn good from what I hear. … If he can avoid taking a big shot from Paulo Costa, honestly, as silly as it sounds, he might make it look easy.”
Since losing the middleweight title in a big upset to Michael Bisping in June 2016, Rockhold has lost three of his past four. The 37-year-old currently is on a two-fight skid with back-to-back knockout losses to Yoel Romero and ex-light heavyweight champ Jan Blachowicz at UFC 239.
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 278.