Strikeforce middleweight champion Luke Rockhold handily defended his title for the first time last night, despatching Keith Jardine by TKO inside of a round.

That leaves the 27 year-old on an eight-fight winning streak, 9-1 for his career overall and with only one of his fights going the distance.

So what’s next for this emerging Strikeforce star in 2012?

Truth be told there isn’t a vast array of option available to him in the Strikeforce 185lb ranks, but there are a few potential challengers to keep him busy over the next 12 months.

At the top of the list is Tim Kennedy who he was originally expected to face last night before injury ruled him out. Since an unsuccessful title bid in August of 2010 against former champion ‘Jacare’, Kennedy has compiled a further two wins over Melvin Manhoef and Robbie Lawler and that’s good enough to single him out as the No.1 contender.

Another potential option is a rematch with Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza who he defeated last year to claim the title. The fight last September was close and competitive despite the unanimous decision ruling in Rockhold’s favor so there is a valid reason for ordering up a second helping.

Ideally you’d want Jacare to have at least one fight under his belt before that so it’d be best to hold off on this for now, though he would be a solid replacement if Kennedy is unable to take the title shot in the coming months.

Finally the outsider in this trio of options is Robbie Lawler who got back to winning ways in convincing fashion last night with at first round TKO win over Adlan Amagov.

Technically he shouldn’t be in the running for another title shot just yet given that he’s lost two of his last three fights, but when you consider that Keith Jardine was lined up against Rockhold last night, who’s recent record is littered with losses, anything’s possible.

Lawler is still a relatively big name as far as Strikeforce goes, always puts on exciting fights, and hasn’t faced Rockhold in the past so he can’t be completely ruled out, though ideally he should be considered a last resort if fights with the two others mentioned above fall through.

Overall Kennedy stands out as the obvious choice, and given that Rockhold emerged practically unscathed from last night’s encounter hopefully this well-matched fight should be on the cards sooner rather than later.

As for the longer term, Rockhold certainly has the ability to crossover to the UFC at some point, and that certainly seems to be his thinking as he has his sights set on a fight with their middleweight champ Anderson Silva.

He’s still a developing fighter though so while I’d like to see him in the UFC’s 185lb mix there’s no immediate rush and he’ll probably have to go through at least two out of the three guys mentioned above before that move will become a reality.

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