Skip to main content

Vicente Luque sees one path to title shot: 'I've got to go in there and be dominant'

Vicente Luque knows he needs to turn in a decisive victory over Belal Muhammad at UFC on ESPN 34 if he wants to fight for the title soon.

Given his track record of success in the UFC's welterweight division, not to mention his penchant for delivering entertaining matchups each time he steps in the cage, it seems a bit wild that Vicente Luque is just now preparing for his first main event for the promotion, yet here we are.

Luque (21-7-1 MMA, 14-3 UFC) takes on fellow top-ranked contender Belal Muhammad (20-3 MMA, 11-3 UFC) in the headlining bout of UFC on ESPN 34, which airs on ESPN from the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on April 16.

Luque has no problem admitting it's a special moment in his career.

"That's the fight everybody's tuning in to watch," Luque told The Underground. "That's the fight everybody's waiting for, and it's just great to have that kind of support from the fans, have that kind of recognition from the UFC. They've they've been recognizing my work. They know that I'm a guy that can go step in there, put on a great fight for all the fans who watch it, and also, eventually go up the division and hopefully fight for a title soon, so I think it's a great opportunity, and I'm really pumped for it."

Luque currently sits at No. 4 in the UFC's official welterweight rankings, leaving him in striking distance of a shot at the belt. He nearly had an opportunity at this past November's UFC 268, when he served as a backup for that night's title fight between reigning champ Kamaru Usman and challenger Colby Covington. Luque served as a backup for that fight, and while his services weren't ultimately needed, it was somewhat surprising to see him come in heavy at that week's official weigh-ins.

Luque was upset about missing, as well, but insists he did his best on less than two weeks' notice to be ready.

"The thing is, I got the notice with 10 days," Luque said. "The UFC called (my manager) Ali (Abdelaziz) asking if I would be available. He hit me up and I told him, 'Yeah, man, I'm going to do the best I can,' and at that point, I had to cut about 29, 28 pounds, so I did as much as I could, and I missed two pounds. I was two pounds over, and it was just tough. I tried my best. I literally, like, I was focused on being ready, and I thought I was going to fight, so I wanted to make the weight. A lot of people asked me, 'Oh, did you just, you know, not give everything?' but I gave everything I had. I was just not sweating anymore. 

"It was unfortunate, especially because I hate not being professional. For me, making weight is a big part of being professional, and it was unfortunate, but you know, I did the best I could and I still was ready. If I needed to step in there and fight, I would. It would be unfortunate because it wouldn't be a title for me. If I won, I wouldn't get a title. But still, I was going to do the best I could."

Luque didn't get the last-second call at UFC 268, so the miss didn't matter. Still he's happy to put the moment behind and move on to the next challenge. His April 16 booking is a rematch of a 2016 clash that he won in just 79 seconds, but Luque said he's not putting any stock in that result as he prepares for this new meeting.

"My mindset is to forget about the first fight," Luque said. "I think it was a short-notice fight. Belal was getting ready for someone else, and the fight lasted less than two minutes, so there isn't much I can take from that, you know? Now he has had a whole camp focusing on me. Nowadays, I have much more tape to watch, so there is much more material on me, you know? He can really study my game, so I prefer to ignore the first fight and focus on Belal right now, coming off the great streak he is coming off, beating (Stephen) Thompson dominantly the way he did. 

"I think it's a tough opponent. If I underestimate Belal, that's where I'm going to lose. That's where I'm going to give him the opportunity to beat me, and that's not the plan at all."

Luque is on a pretty solid streak of his own, with four consecutive stoppage wins, including three bonus checks along the way. He also stands at an impressive 10-1 in his last 11 with the only setback coming in a "Fight of the Night" loss to Thompson.

Luque knows he's nearing his shot at the title but is not letting himself get too focused on exactly what comes next given the number of big fights that need to play out in the division right now, including champ Usman vs. Leon Edwards, as well as next week's Gilbert Burns vs. Khamzat Chimaev matchup. Still, he knows his name has to be mentioned alongside all of those should he prove victorious, and he shows a pretty firm understanding of where everyone stands in the division right now.

"I think right now we've got to see what's going to happen," Luque said. "There is Gilbert and Khamzat – I believe Gilbert is going to win that fight, and if he wins, he has fought for the title already, so maybe he wouldn't be next. Now, if Khamzat for some reason beats Gilbert, I don't doubt that the UFC, you know, with the hype he has, would want to move him in front of everybody, but then again, we still have Kamaru and Leon, so we've got to see what's going to go on with that. Until then, let's say Khamzat wins, I can fight Khamzat and see who's No. 1 contender. Also, Leon and Kamaru, we've got to see who's going to keep the title. 

"If Kamaru remains champion, there is no reason why we have a third fight against Colby (Covington), at least not right now. You know, if Leon beats Kamaru, then that's different, obviously, Colby and him having a fight, but I think we've got to see what's going to go on in the division. I've got to secure a big win over Belal. That's something I must (do). That's my focus right now, and then I can think of what's next, but winning and beating Belal in a dominant way is definitely going to put me really close to the title, and then we'll see how the division plays out."

Ultimately, Luque knows that his result against Muhammad is the only thing he can control right now in terms of his future. The rest will play out over the next several months, and then the 30-year-old Brazilian contender will have a better understanding of what comes next. Luque has entrenched himself as a very relevant name in the UFC's welterweight division, and as long as he keeps winning, he believes a future crack at the title will eventually come his way.

"The focus is on beating Belal and doing it in the fashion I do," Luque said. "I always go in there and try to be as dominant as I can, as decisive as I can, and that's the plan because that's what has been moving me up in the division. That's what I have different. I'm not a trash talker. I'm not a guy that is going to sell my fights by by getting into trouble. But then again, you know, my fighting style, that's what people want to see. 

"I step in there, and I make it fun, regardless of who I'm fighting, and that's why I think that whenever I fight for a title, whoever is the champion, I know I'm going to put them in trouble. I know it's going to be – win or lose – it's going to be a tough fight for both guys because whenever I'm in there, I make it tough. I bring the war, so that's why I think I am going to soon be fighting for a title. But as you said, I've got to go in there and be dominant against Belal and beat him."

To see the full interview with Luque, check out the video above.