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MMA Notebook: Belal Muhammad's chase of the UFC welterweight title continues vs. Vicente Luque

On the heels of an incredible UFC pay-per-view event, the MMA schedule stays busy with a couple of intriguing matchups on deck.
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An exciting fight weekend kicks off Friday with Bellator 277, then continues Saturday with UFC on ESPN 34.

Following an outrageously compelling UFC 273 pay-per-view last Saturday, a new opportunity exists to seize the spotlight for the fighters competing over the next 48 hours. That is particularly important for UFC welterweights Belal Muhammad and Vicente Luque, who need to deliver a show after last week’s show-stealing performance from Khamzat Chimaev and Gilbert Burns in their epic welterweight encounter. Bellator also has its studs lined up for a big show at its 277 card, with AJ McKee, Vadim Nemkov, and rising star Aaron Pico all set to compete.

Here are some news and notes as we enter the weekend:

• Muhammad made an emphatic statement last December when he decimated Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson for three rounds at the Apex. He looks to do the same again tomorrow, this time against No. 5-ranked Luque.

"The win against Wonderboy was a breakthrough moment," said Muhammad, who is ranked sixth in the welterweight division. "People doubt me so much and they're always looking for excuses to discredit me. I beat Demian Maia, then it's, ‘Well, he's too old.' I beat Wonderboy, and I hear, ‘Wonderboy, he's too old.' I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing. I'm at the right moment in my career where I can be champion, and I'm going to show that on Saturday."

Serving as the UFC on ESPN headliner, Saturday's fight is a rematch from 2016 when Luque (21-7-1 MMA, 14-3 UFC) knocked out Muhammad (20-3 MMA, 10-3 UFC) only 79 seconds into their UFC 205 bout at Madison Square Garden.

"I'm going to make a statement," Muhammad said. "I saw the welterweight fight last week (pitting Burns against Chimaev), and I need to outperform those guys. I need to make people want me to skip the line. That's the performance I need to produce on Saturday."

This fight marks Muhammad's fourth top-10 ranked opponent in the past year, as well as his fifth fight in the last 14 months. After Muhammad proves he can solve the Luque puzzle, he is willing to take more fights – whether that means against Chimaev or Colby Covington or Leon Edwards – to prove that there is no one more deserving of a title shot against Kamaru Usman.

"I'm not owed anything," Muhammad said. "I'll keep fighting to get that title shot. Wrestlers, grapplers, strikers, I'm here to fight the best of the best. And I'm going to beat them."

Alyse Anderson is preparing for her next fight. Her return to the ONE circle takes place against Asha Roka on May 20 at ONE 157.

Anderson (5-2), who worked as an EMT during the height of the pandemic, last fought in September, when she was defeated by Itsuki Hirata in the atomweight grand prix quarterfinals.

Like Anderson, the 23-year-old Roka (4-2) is also seeking her first victory in ONE.

• Friday's Bellator 277 takes place at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. The card is headlined by featherweight champion McKee against Patricio Pitbull, as well as light heavyweight champ Vadim Nemkov putting his title on the line against Corey Anderson. McKee and Nemkov are Bellator's top two pound-for-pound fighters, making this an explosive card for the promotion.

The date of April 15 is also significant for Bellator president Scott Coker. Twenty-eight years ago, Coker ran a kickboxing card at the San Jose Arena, which is now known as the SAP Center.

"San Jose Arena was built in 1993, and that's where we're going for Bellator 277," Coker said. "The history there connects back to April 15, 1994. It wasn't MMA because you couldn't promote MMA there in '94, but we could promote kickboxing."

That Battle of the Masters pay-per-view was a four-fight card headlined by Marek Piotrowski against Javier Mendez, which Piotrowski won via decision after 12 rounds.

"We promoted a very good kickboxing card, and here we are 28 years later, doing an event in the same building on the same day," Coker said. "It's quite an accomplishment for us, and that's another reason why it is so important we have a massive night on April 15."

• A key fight on the Bellator 277 card is Anderson challenging Nemkov for the light heavyweight title.

If Anderson wins the belt, it would place him in unique standing as he has also defeated reigning UFC light heavyweight champion Glover Teixeira. It would also be a major moment in his career, as finally winning a major world title, which has eluded him thus far, could even complete his career.

"If I win this fight, it's the official stamp I need on my career," Anderson (16-5) said. "If I win, I feel like I could walk away from the game. I'd have done everything I've set out to do. If you look back on my career, I came in hungry. I was beat, I was knocked out, but I kept coming back every time I was counted out. If I win, we'll see if I walk into the sunset."

Still only 32, Anderson may reconsider leaving his gloves in the cage if he defeats Nemkov (15-2), Bellator's No. 2-ranked pound-for-pound fighter. There is no denying it would be a spectacular moment for Anderson, who has been seeking an opportunity just like this for the past nine years.

"I'm already very proud of my career," Anderson said. "Winning this title will be like adding whip cream, sprinkles, strawberries, and a cherry on top. And since I'm always being doubted, this is my chance to shut ‘em all up."

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.