What a memorable night it was at UFC 278 in Salt Lake City, Utah on August 20th. But as exciting as it was to see Leon Edwards’s shocking knockout of Kamaru Usman for the UFC welterweight title in the main event, the night belonged to legendary fighter, 37-year old Luke Rockhold, who fought what would be his final fight on the event’s under card. In three grueling rounds, the former champion showed the heart of a champion in his unanimous decision loss to Paulo Costa. His gutsy, blood-sweat- and-tears, never-say-die performance captured the hearts of MMA fans from all over the world. His impassioned post-fight speech, in which he officially announced his retirement from the sport, had Vivint Arena’s 18,000-plus crowd on their feet, showing their appreciation through thunderous applause. It was a bittersweet moment for the legend, which saw him in tears as Joe Rogan echoed to him what everyone in the arena was thinking:
“You have heart and courage like no one else. That was an amazing display or perseverance… and guts and courage and a will to win… and it was awesome to watch. And if this is the last fight you have inside the octagon, thank you very much for an incredible career.”
An incredible career indeed. Rockhold fought professionally for over 15 years and had iconic victories over fellow MMA legends such as Chris Weidman, Lyoto Machida and Michael Bisping on his way to winning the UFC middle-weight title. But now that he’s officially hanging up his gloves, what’s next for the former champion?
During his career, he exhibited a charisma that some fighters perceived as cockiness. But, nevertheless, that same charisma – along with his good looks and impressive physique – earned him success outside of the octagon, which included a guest appearance on a Bravo reality TV show and budding career as a model for Ralph Lauren, becoming the face of their “Polo Blue” cologne. Naturally, it wouldn’t be hard to believe that perhaps the charismatic fighting legend just might have a future on the silver screen.
His only film credit thus far, at least according to IMDB, is in the 2020 feature film, “Cage Fighter” which stars professional wrestler Jonathan Good (also known as Dean Ambrose in WWE and currently Jon Moxley in AEW), award-nominated actress Gina Gershon, along with fellow MMA legend-turned- actor, Chuck Liddell (who’s no stranger to the movie screen). Rockhold’s role in the film wasn’t exactly a stretch – he plays a cage fighter named Tony Gunn. But Rockhold might have more range than people may think when it comes to being in front of the camera. We’ve all seen former fighters like Chuck Liddell, Cung Le, Randy Couture, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Gina Carana and Ronda Rousey – just to name a few – tackle roles in various films and television shows, mostly adrenaline- fueled action vehicles. And while it would be awesome to see Rockhold kick some serious butt on screen, it might be a surprise to many that Mr. Rockhold just might have deeper range than most of us may think… which brings us to why you’re reading this article here rather than on a sports website or on a mixed martial arts-centric web page.
You see, last year, we at Top Notch Cinema – a video marketing production company that specializes in creating video content for businesses and corporations – filmed a TV spot for a family-run chain of gyms in Long Island called Unique Fitness. This spot was filmed at the impressive 45,000 square foot
Holbrook location, which offers a multitude of fitness classes, memberships and personal training options. This location in particular even has a “Kids Klub” area that practically resembles a mini theme park right inside of the establishment. The gym offers everything you can possibly want in a gym for people of all fitness levels – while also keeping that family-type atmosphere that is missing from most corporate gyms you see ads for on a daily basis.
This client in particular hired us to create a few different types of videos, but in this 30-second TV spot, the concept and story followed a flirtatious development between a man and a woman who seemingly meet at the gym. The woman is seen taking her six-year old son to the gym with her and dropping him off at the “Kid’s Klub”, where he is seen having the time of his life. In the meantime we follow her workout routine. During her workout, she meets eyes with a man – played by Luke Rockhold himself – who returns the flirtatious glances while getting in a good workout of his own. But we soon find out that Rockhold and the woman are meeting eyes for a reason – they’re actually a married couple. And the boy? That’s their son. Of course, this is just in the commercial, not in real life. But it was convincing enough to believe that they could be.
So, why would a 30-second TV spot convince us that Rockhold just might have some serious range as an actor? For one… acting is harder than you’d think. MUCH harder. Especially for film and television. Our production crew did get a chance to work with the female actor in another video we filmed for Unique Fitness just days before and we had a chance to talk about the 30-second TV spot with her. But we didn’t get a chance to meet Luke Rockhold until the actual day of the shoot. And we didn’t exactly have a lot of time to go over the script with him in advance. For many production shoots, time constraints can make things a little tight, especially with how sophisticated these shoots for Unique Fitness were. There’s a lot of things to consider, especially with getting the perfect lighting in between shots, setting up cameras, sound equipment, etc. This especially can be difficult and stressful for an inexperienced actor. But Luke – I guess we can call him by his first name at this point – was completely game and, on top of that, an absolute pleasure to work with.
There was no dialogue in this TV spot, but acting isn’t JUST about dialogue. It can be difficult to make the right facial expressions and make it believable in such a short amount of time. And that’s not just in the final cut of the commercial, but DURING filming on set with tight time constraints and little rehearsal time. Most inexperienced actors would struggle with this. Some might even get a little agitated with all the takes that must be filmed to get what is needed for the final cut. But Luke was a complete professional and absolutely NAILED IT.
What was most surprising about working with Luke was how pleasant he was to work with. When you think of an MMA fighter, warm and pleasant isn’t exactly the first thing you think of. Especially when you think specifically of Luke Rockhold, the FIGHTER. Charismatic? Yes. Braggadocios? Of course. Ferocious in the octagon? No question. But warm and pleasant? No way.
But despite all the preconceived notions most people would have, Luke couldn’t be any friendlier. Not only did he work great with his female counterpart – who IS a professional actor – but he worked great with the child actor who acted opposite him in the commercial. What’s the famous W.C. Fields quote? Never work with children or animals? Well, Luke was amazing with the young actor and made him feel just as comfortable as he made us feel. He showed patience and warmth while exhibiting pure professionalism while on set. It was almost like he had done this many times before. And you see that warmth on the screen, which was EXTREMELY important because that’s exactly what the concept and story of the commercial required.
It wasn’t just that warmth as a devoted husband and father that he had to exude. This was a role that had a full character arc despite the shortness of the ad’s length. His natural charisma that we’ve already seen many times before over the past 15 years came into play at the beginning of the video. He had to play a suave and cool heartthrob without saying a word – and he played that perfectly. But this wasn’t a surprise because, as mentioned, we’ve all seen this before. The man’s dated some of the world’s most famous celebrities, was on a dating reality show and was the face of Ralph Lauren as a model for heaven’s sake! Of course he could play that role! But then to equally show warmheartedness by the end of the video and having that translate on screen to an audience – which he executed just as perfectly – was the true revelation. When you watch that TV spot, you practically forget that it’s Luke Rockhold, the fighter and UFC legend. You forget that you’re watching quite possibly the GREATEST middleweight fighter in UFC history. And that’s pretty darn impressive given that he’s been one of the most recognizable faces of mixed martial arts over the past 10-plus years.
Then again, when you see Luke’s heartfelt speech after his final battle in the octagon, his on-set presence might not be so surprising. When he tells Joe Rogan that he’s “too old” – which received a collective laugh from the 18,000-plus attending the vent – you get a sense for that humbleness and humility. You can see it on his face and in his tears. You can see it in the affection he shows Joe Rogan and the crowd at the end of the speech. You can hear it in his voice when he says, “Thank you”.
It was a bittersweet and memorable ending to a truly fantastic and memorable MMA career. But I promise you, it won’t be the last you see of Luke Rockhold. It just might be in a different “arena” that everyone has become so accustomed to seeing him in. Let’s just say the man has a very bright future ahead of him outside of the octagon… no matter what pursuit he decides to conquer next.