Don’t expect Vicente Luque to approach this weekend’s fight with Belal Muhammad any differently than he has any of the dozen fights since their first meeting at UFC 205 just because it’s a five-round, main event matchup.
“There is no way I’m going to pace myself,” he said when asked about preparing for a potential 25-minute fight for the first time in his career. “I’m not going to take away from my style to fight five rounds, so I’ve got to be ready to fight five rounds in the same rhythm that I fight three rounds.
“If I have to have a Bryan Barberena fight, but make it a five-rounder, I have to be ready for that.”
The combination of Saturday’s contest being the headlining act and a rematch have Luque buzzing just a few days prior to stepping into the Octagon.
Vicente Luque Builds His Legacy
Vicente Luque Builds His Legacy
“I think the biggest motivation is that I’m fighting a guy that I know wants revenge; that I know is going to go in there looking to beat me any way he can,” he said of Muhammad, whom he defeated by first-round knockout in just 79 seconds when they clashed in November 2016 inside Madison Square Garden. “I had a rematch before with Niko Price and the second fight was much harder than the first, which was a great lesson that I learned.
“He knows me, we have a lot of material to watch on each other, and he’s a very strategic guy,” he said of Muhammad, who enters on a seven-fight unbeaten streak and having gone 10-1 with one no contest result since their initial encounter. “I know how tough he is. I know how much he has improved. I know how much he wants revenge over me and to go after the title, but that’s the same for me — I want to go after the title, too.
“And we’re going to go five rounds. It’s my first five-rounder; my first main event and that’s even more motivation.”
In addition to being a strong motivator through a grueling camp, being tabbed to headline this weekend’s return to the UFC APEX feels like an acknowledgement of what the streaking Brazilian finisher has accomplished over the last several years.
“For me, this is having my work recognized, to be in the main event,” said Luque, who has earned four straight victories, beginning with a second win over Price. “I know my fighting style, I know how fans react to that, and now I have the UFC putting me as the main event shows they know that, too. They know my ability to put on a good fight and that’s going to sell and bring the fans.”
Fellow welterweight hopefuls know what Luque brings the to the table each time he crosses the threshold into the UFC cage, as well, which is why the 30-year-old has had a difficult time securing the kind of matchups that will help him get closer to challenging for championship gold over the last year.
Rise Of Vicente Luque
Rise Of Vicente Luque
After collecting a third-round stoppage win over Price in their second encounter at UFC 249, Luque took on Randy Brown three months later, stopping the talented, but unranked, “Rudeboy” at the tail end of the second round. He followed that up by submitting former champion Tyron Woodley in a wildly entertaining, chaotic affair at UFC 260, pushing his record to 9-1 over his previous 10 appearances.
But finishing “The Chosen One” in the first round didn’t produce the top-tier assignment Luque had been hoping for, leaving to accept a high-risk, lower-reward pairing against Michael Chiesa at UFC 265. Midway through the opening round, a scramble ensued, and just like he’d done to Woodley, Luque quickly laced up a D’Arce choke on Chiesa, forcing the former lightweight to tap.
Now, even with four straight wins and consecutive first-round finishes, Luque has remained on the outside looking in when it comes to the title picture, resulting in his landing opposite the similarly positioned Muhammad for a second time this weekend.
“If guys want to avoid that, it’s on them, and I think the fans and the UFC know who is avoiding me,” said Luque, who has gone 14-3 inside the Octagon since reaching the biggest stage in the sport with a modest 7-4-1 record. “If you don’t want to fight the best, there is something wrong with you and you don’t want to be the best.
“I know that I’m one of the best — I’m not the best yet because I have to get that title — but I’m one of the best, and if people want to be the best, they have to go through me as well and take these fights.”
As frustrating as not getting paired off against the biggest names in the division clearly is for Luque, it’s something wholly understandable from an outsider’s perspective because the guy is an absolute menace in every facet and at all times once he steps inside the cage.
He’s earned 19 of his 21 career wins inside the distance, splitting those stoppages 11-8 between knockouts and submissions, while each of his three losses have come on the scorecards. So not only is he a threat from the opening bell until the final horn, but he’s a nightmare to put away, as well, with a well-established penchant for catching submissions and landing finishing blows in the blink of an eye.
“I always have a game plan, but most of all, I trust my instincts,” said Luque, explaining what he experiences when he’s in the midst of a chaotic battle inside the Octagon. “There isn’t much real thinking. I’m sure my mind is working on a lot of possibilities and solutions, but it’s purely instinctive.
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“That’s why I always say hard work is so important — so that I could get to exactly this point. I train so much and so many different situations so that when I get to the fight, even though I have a game plan, I fight on instinct because my body is trained for that; I know what I have to do.
“I’m not consciously thinking, but I’m thinking about solutions even quicker than I can describe. That’s why the fights go the way they go: because it’s all in my body, and I just go in and give it everything I can.”
And that’s precisely what he’s planning to do this weekend against Muhammad, not only because it’s who he is as a fighter, but also because he knows that a statement win on Saturday is the best way for him to hopefully secure the kind of opportunity he wants next time out.
“The biggest thing is to go out there Saturday and pick up a big win — and it’s got to be a big win; it cannot just be a safe decision,” he said. “From there, I’ve got to see because the division is crazy. We’ve got the title fight that is going to happen, and we’ve got (Khamzat) Chimaev and Colby (Covington) ahead, so I’ve got to see.
“Maybe I have to have one more fight, but maybe not? Maybe the UFC and the fans think that I’m the guy to challenge the champion. I know that I can. I know that whoever I get put in that Octagon with, I will be putting them in danger and threatening them with all kinds of weapons, but we’ll see — I’ve got to get a big win first.”
UFC Fight Night: Luque vs Muhammad 2, took place on Saturday, April 16, 2022, live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses — and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!