Welterweight’s nastiest finisher, Vicente Luque, will rematch surging contender, Belal Muhammad, this Saturday (April 16, 2022, 2021) at UFC Vegas 51 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It’s a bit surprising that this is Luque’s first main event slot. The Brazilian talent has accrued an impressive record (14-3) inside the Octagon, finishing all but one of those victories and routinely picking up performance bonuses in the process. “The Silent Assassin” is a fitting nickname because while Luque may not make waves with his trash talk or persona, he’s absolutely causing massive collisions inside the cage.
When we’re talking about contenders against great champions, sometimes being dangerous is the most important trait. Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Luque has a background in Muay Thai, which makes a lot of sense given his punishing and classic combinations. More to the point, Luque is likely his division’s best pressure puncher, a stalking striker who draws offense from his opponent and then makes them sorely regret it.
It’s important to recognize first and foremost that Luque is an offense-first fighter. He’s not exactly a brawler — there’s a definite process to his approach — but Luque is deservedly confident in his iron jaw and severe knockout power. Luque will always accept a one-to-one trade of shots, even if it’s not his default gameplan.
That’s how men like Bryan Barberena and Mike Perry were able to compete with Luque: The Brazilian brawled with brawlers ... and he still won.
More often, Luque is attacking and stalking his opponent. His offense moving forward is very Muay Thai, combinations of hooks and crosses punctuated by kicks (notably the right low kick). Luque can snap off a damn solid jab, but he’s not the type content to hang back and let that strike breathe — he’s going to keep marching forward and throwing.
Luque knocks people out while leading. His lead right hand is a major weapon, and he’ll follow it up with a ripping left kick to any target. Often, Luque will punch into the clinch and immediately start slamming knees into his target (GIF). If his opponent is trapped along the cage, Luque is more willing to extend his combinations or punch at the mid-section more often.
Luque is at his best when intercepting his opponent’s strikes. Most often, that strike is his opponent’s jab, but against a right-hand heavy fighter like Tyron Woodley (GIF), Luque is equally willing to time the cross. The Brazilian is equally nasty and quick on the trigger with his right hand and left hook.
Timing the jab with a right overhand is a classic strategy, the infamous cross counter that gave rise to many knockout artists in MMA. True to form, Luque nails the most important aspect: getting his head off the center line. Luque’s opponents’ straight shots miss, and their forward motion often carries them directly into Luque’s sledgehammer of an overhand. Luque’s brawling reputation has some fans convinced he never moves his head, but Luque actually does a nice job of slipping while punching in exchanges (GIF).
The timing on the left hook is a touch different (GIF). Often, Luque will look to parry the jab/straight then fire his left, which gives him a moment to square up his shoulders before unleashing the shot. In general, Luque does good work to keep his left hook nice and tight, allowing him to hold his ground as his opponent pushes forward.
While stalking, Luque is always looking to walk opponents into strikes. He has several powerful weapons coming from either side: the left hook and left body kick vs. right overhand and right low kick, for example. If Luque’s opponent starts circling hard to avoid the cage, expect the Brazilian to try to interrupt him with a big connection.
Luque hasn’t landed a takedown since his grueling 2017 battle versus Leon Edwards, so it’s clearly not a major part of his typical strategy. When he does wrestle offensively, Luque tends to prefer the classic double leg along the fence.
Luque’s takedown defense is an important part of the equation to being a successful bruiser. Fortunately, Luque’s wrestling has largely held up: he hasn’t really lost a fight due to being controlled since that Edwards bout.
Overall, Luque has established himself as a fighter that is possible (but difficult) to take down and even more tricky to hold down. Luque’s pressure and good striking form are a big benefit in the defensive wrestling regard, as it’s often tricky to wrestle a fighter from the back foot unless they overextend. Luque’s solid sprawl helps quite a bit too, especially along the fence, where he’s quick to pull opponents up into the clinch and attack with knees and elbows.
Then, there’s his submission game ...
Luque is a jiu-jitsu black belt, and though I cannot find official confirmation one way or the other, I believe he might have the most front chokes in UFC history with four d’arces and an anaconda to his name.
Would it come as a surprise that Luque’s style of attacking the neck is highly aggressive? In his most recent win opposite Michael Chiesa, for example, Luque’s d’arce choke started getting tight within just a few seconds of gaining top position. Even more interesting is how Luque set up the choke, wrapping both of his arms around the neck, elbow-deep.
This is an unusual position for good reason. Committing both arms so deeply can be a recipe to get reversed via the duck under, and it can also give the defensive fighter control of one of the arms. Fortunately, Luque doesn’t hang out there for long, establishing one arm as the choke arm quickly and then fully diving on the rear naked choke grip to attack the finish (GIF).
Another layer of aggressive risk-taking is how Luque finishes the submission. The d’arce can be finished from top position by sprawling and dropping one’s chest into the strangle, meaning that if the choke fails, the attacking fighter is still in top position. This is generally preferable in MMA, where ending up on bottom just once can easily cost an athlete the fight.
Luque, meanwhile, dives underneath his opponent as soon as his hands are locked in the rear naked choke grip. He’s fully unconcerned about the possibility of winding up on his back! Switching hips and rolling underneath is likely the stronger squeeze, however. Ideally, Luque will entangle one of his opponent’s legs with his own to prevent them from circling away from the choke (GIF), but he’s finished the strangle without that element, too.
Generally, there are two entries to these front chokes. If Luque happens to gain top position — by escaping Chiesa’s back mount or dropping his opponent, for example — he can immediately jump on the neck as his foe turtles or tries to use an underhook to stand. Alternatively, Luque is quick to attack the neck while defending takedowns, as he’ll move into the front headlock following a successful sprawl.
Luque is a violent bastard. Welterweight is historically a division of wrestlers, and between Kamaru Usman, Colby Covington and Khamzat Chimaev, it still very much is. But, there’s still potential for Luque to rise all the way to the top as this generation’s Robbie Lawler.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.
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