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UFC Vegas 78, The Morning After: Vicente Luque loses himself in cautious reinvention

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Let me make one thing clear right away: I want Vicente Luque to succeed.

On the surface, that’s what he did last night (Sat., Aug. 12, 2023) in the main event of UFC Vegas 78 by decisioning former Lightweight king Rafael dos Anjos. It’s a good win. “RDA” may not be at the height of his powers anymore, but even in 2023 and up a weight class, the Brazilian is a difficult man to beat.

My concern, however, is that Luque fought nothing like himself. He did not resemble the man who won 10 of 11 fights at 170 lbs. while finishing opponents left and right to climb into the title picture. That fighter was ferocious, a savage with massive power in both hands and a heartfelt belief that no opponent could harm him.

As it turns out, one did. The loss to Belal Muhammad hurt Luque’s chances at a title shot, but it didn’t shake his foundation. Geoff Neal broke those pillars when he pulverized Luque, brushing off the Brazilian’s lands and blitzing him with far heavier connections. Luque was left battered, stopped for the first time, and wound up suffering serious side effects from the loss.

Clearly, a change of some kind was necessary. In order to beat the best Welterweights on the planet, Luque could not continue to fight with the mentality of an undefeated 23-year-old. Against dos Anjos, however, Luque walked back so much of his aggression and killer instinct that he fought in a manner that will not be repeatable.

Luque won last night because he was about as slick as dos Anjos — “The Silent Assassin” is a highly skilled fighter, don’t let anyone say different — but had the advantages of youth and size. He won clinch positions and wrestling exchanges because wrestling larger opponents is difficult and exhausting.

That’s not going to happen all the time. Welterweights in the Top 15 are not going to be as easy to push around in the clinch, nor will they be as willing to chase that positioning while landing good punches. The fact of the matter is that Luque looked uncomfortable whenever dos Anjos did open up and strike with him, particularly when the former champion landed upstairs. He wasn’t ready.

He was able to get away with that unpreparedness here. Dos Anjos wanted to wrestle more than strike, and Luque had the size to win a grappling match. If he were facing someone else with more brutal instincts — a puncher like Kevin Holland or Jack Della Maddalena, let alone a truly elite and aggressive monster like Shavkat Rakhmonov — Luque would’ve been a sitting duck.

Once more, I want Luque to succeed. Hopefully, this bout served a purpose as a chance to safely shake some rust, and Luque can reignite some fire off this win. In an ideal world, Luque can balance his composure and naturally offensive nature into his best form yet. He still has the skill and physical gifts to succeed at an elite level.

If he cannot find a middle ground, however, his caution will only see him hurt badly.

For complete UFC Vegas 78: “Dos Anjos vs. Luque” results and play-by-play, click HERE!

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