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UFC Vegas 51, The Morning After: Belal Muhammad, Welterweight’s chameleon

Here’s what you may have missed!

UFC Fight Night: Luque v Muhammad 2 Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

I really cannot overstate how impressive Belal Muhammad’s victory over Vicente Luque was last night (Sat., April 16, 2022) in UFC Vegas 51’s main event.

People don’t want to fight Luque. He hits way too hard, and he’s too offensively minded for it to ever be an easy night at the office. People especially don’t want to fight him twice, particularly if they were knocked out the first time. For Muhammad to overcome that mental obstacle and perform so well is incredible, and for him to buck trends by winning a rematch versus a younger opponent is equally admirable.

In the last couple years, Muhammad has evolved from a pretty good Welterweight to one of the best in the world. He’s no longer the fighter who proved himself just a slight step ahead of men like Lyman Good or Curtis Millender.

How?

Muhammad’s success as an elite contender is based entirely on his ability to game plan and adjust his own strategy. From fight-to-fight, Muhammad very purposefully acts as a chameleon, changing himself however is necessary to survive.

Let’s recount the last three wins of his career, each his most important yet at the time. Against Demian Maia, he displayed excellent and focused defensive wrestling, while methodically maintaining distance with the jab and low kick at range. Versus Stephen Thompson, Muhammad was forced to pursue the kickboxer, cut off the cage, and chain wrestle at every opportunity. Finally, Muhammad employed a footwork heavy approach last night, drawing Luque into counter shots and takedowns largely with his back to the fence.

One of my favorite Andre Fili quotes: MMA is f—king chaos. There’s a reason most fighters are comfortable with roughly a single course of action. Watch any Vicente Luque fight, and you will see the Brazilian stalking his opponent, timing power shots, and trying to catch the neck. It’s what he does, and most fighters operate on a similar wavelength.

How many times have we seen a grappler shoot a takedown after basically knocking their opponent out cold in the stand up? The chaotic and punishing nature of MMA ruins decision-making, and it leaves most athletes desperate for their comfort zone and exhausted anywhere else.

Muhammad is among the select few who can adapt and execute at an elite level. He can keep his head where very few others can. It’s a gift that requires considerable poise and intelligence, and it’s paying off in major wins.

At the same time, it can also leave Muhammad’s skills feeling a bit nondescript. He’s a strategist, and that typically means winning decisions. When most fans are unsure what exactly makes Muhammad great — because it changes every fight — it’s hard to rally behind him, and that could be slowing his rise up the Welterweight ladder.

Consider this a salute to Muhammad, an explanation on why you should “Remember The Name.”


For complete UFC Vegas 51: “Muhammad vs. Luque” results and play-by-play, click HERE!