Vicente Luque’s twelve pro bouts prepared him for a career in fighting, but it was six weeks in The Ultimate Fighter competition that made him ready for the UFC.
“I feel like all that experience definitely made me a better fighter, especially mentally,” said the Blackzilians standout. “Living with the other guys and having to deal with that, and not knowing who you’re going to fight – maybe you’re going to fight that guy who is having breakfast with you – all that makes it harder mentally. So I think it definitely made me a better fighter.”
So good that after defeating veteran Nathan Coy and losing a razor-thin split decision to Hayder Hassan in the last bout of that six-week session, his coaches wanted him to represent the team on the season finale card in a rematch against Hassan. Team owner Glenn Robinson overruled that choice in favor of Kamaru Usman, but UFC President Dana White made sure that the 23-year-old Brazilian would be fighting this Sunday, as he will now meet American Top Team’s Michael Graves in Las Vegas.
It’s a matchup of two top prospects, and while Graves has the gaudy unbeaten record, Luque’s 7-4-1 slate has a few dents in it. Not that he regrets anything that it took to get here, especially since one of his wins was a 2012 knockout of Thiago Santos, recently in the news for his highlight reel finish of Steve Bosse last month.
“I think that’s one of the most impressive wins I have,” he said. “That’s what makes people look at me again and maybe consider me as a prospect. Because if you see my record, I don’t have a great record, but I always fought tough opponents. I never picked my fights, I didn’t look to build up a great, perfect record; I looked to become a better fighter, and that means fighting the toughest guys. And that win is one of my highlights, and so I think it’s what everybody looks at when they look at my record.”
He’s also seen as a top talent because he’s been in martial arts since he was a child. Born in New Jersey, Luque went with his mother back to Brazil when he was six years old. There, he continued to study karate, which he started at three with the encouragement of his mother, a black belt in the art.
“She never forced me into doing it, but she took me very young and, as a kid, you don’t have much choice,” Luque laughs. “You just do whatever your parents tell you to do. So I started training, and at a certain point I just got bored of doing it, and I told her I didn’t want to do it anymore. She was okay with it, and I played soccer for a while and did a couple other sports, and only later on did I really see that what I liked was fighting, and I wanted to fight again. The whole thing about karate was that I didn’t like that it was point fighting. I wanted to really fight, so that’s why I got into Muay Thai.”
Luque began fighting when he was 17 and he hasn’t stopped. Of course when starting that young there are growing pains, but six years later, he’s days away from his UFC debut and everything is finally coming together for him. So it was all worth it.
“I’m young, but it was a long road to get here now,” he said. “When I started, I had so many different things on my mind and dreams. All these things built up, and many of those things were broken with time the longer it took to get there. But this time had to happen so that when I got in, I was ready. And I do feel ready now to fight and fight with the top five and top three and eventually get to a title fight.”
Some say he may have already been in the equivalent of a title fight against Hassan, as he represented his team in a bout that would determine the season championship. He fell short, but gained a lot more than he lost.
“It definitely felt like the most important fight that I ever had in my life, but it wasn’t pressure in a bad way; it was pressure in a good way and I think that’s why it was the fight it was,” he said. “We both brought everything we had, and I do think it was like a championship fight.”
On Sunday, he’ll start the journey to get there for real, and though some look back at their TUF experience and say that they would never go through that again, Vicente Luque is not one of those people.
“I definitely would do it again, and not because it was a great time,” he said. “It was really hard, but everything I got from it, it’s a different experience and you learn a lot. It’s hard to be there living with guys that you’re going to fight, and at the same time being away from your family, but I would definitely do it again because it’s always been my dream to fight in the UFC.”
And now he’s here.