Vicente Luque has one of those resumes that sneaks up on you if you aren't tapped into the week-to-week workings of the UFC, which makes "The Silent Assassin" an apt moniker.
Since joining the roster in 2015, he is 14-4 in the octagon and has since racked up the second-most finishes (13) and bonuses (eight) in the history of the welterweight division. His list of victims includes Tyron Woodley, Michael Chiesa, Belal Muhammad and (in their pre-UFC days), Thiago Santos, and he accomplished this all by the ripe old age of 30.
And yet, his first main event didn't come until a rematch with Muhammad in April 2022. In his first five-rounder and thus a chance to crack into the title picture at 170 pounds, Luque fell short. Muhammad outworked him over the course of 25 minutes and got the unanimous nod from the judges. The Brazilian wasn't too deterred but did admit he held back throughout the fight, hoping to preserve his gas tank a bit for the kind of grinding fight Muhammad usually brings, something he views as a mistake with hindsight.
"I wasn't the 'Silent Assassin' that I am normally," Luque said. "I (usually) just go out there for the kill, and that was a big takeaway. That's the guy I got to be every time. That's the guy that got me into the top of the rankings. 'The Silent Assassin,' the guy that goes out there and fights with no fear of risking himself, and that's what I took from (the main event). You know, I got to be myself and just do what I want to do."
Luque wanted to get back on the horse quickly, but the catch-22 of his top-6 ranking is that fights against the top contenders can take some more time to formulate, especially because champion Kamaru Usman needed some time off his dominant 2021 to get healthy. As Usman's title defense against Leon Edwards at UFC 278 approaches, it's prime time for fellow welterweights to jockey for position.
When a fight did come to fruition, the opponent available was Geoff Neal (14-4 MMA, 6-2 UFC). Although Neal sits outside the top-10, it's a matchup both men eyed as they ascended the rankings and one that makes sense if you generally enjoy absolute bangers. Of their 35 combined wins, 29 have come inside the distance.
Both men acknowledged watching the other's fights and enjoying them even before they were thought of as opponents, and Luque (21-8-1 MMA, 14-4 UFC) wholly expects to add another war to his expanding list of them.
"I know it's going to be a battle," he said. "I know this has everything to be 'Fight of the Night.' I expect fireworks from him, and I know that I'm going to go out there to try to take him out as quickly as possible."
Despite the high expectations surrounding the fight's entertainment value, neither man is undisciplined in terms of the way they go about their business. The technical aspect of the battle is as crucial as their willingness to walk through the fire.
For his part, Luque – who will switch stances throughout a fight but mostly operates as an orthodox fighter – understands the threats Neal presents from a lefty stance.
"Southpaws always have a big left kick and a big left hand, so that's what I'm going to be looking for," he said. "I know those are his biggest tools. Everything else is also dangerous, but those two are the ones that he puts guys out all the time in fights with. That's what I'm going to be watching for, and overall, just flow with my game. I've fought southpaws before, so I feel confident that I can really put him in trouble and just flow. Just do what I do."
Although Luque is often one of the most mellow and friendliest faces one can encounter during fight week, there's a slight sense that he wants to make up for his last fight. Not only because it was a loss, but also because he felt like he didn't fight to his full potential against Muhammad on the biggest stage of his career.
It's notable that after each of Luque's previous three losses, he responded with win streaks of at least four fights, and picked up a finish in the fight immediately following defeat.
In essence, expect "The Silent Assassin" to return in full at UFC on ESPN 40.
"I'm going to be looking to make the fight dangerous, not just get up and be overcautious because of wrestling," Luque said. "I'm going to go out there and fight my fight, but I see a striking battle. I believe that, even though he's not a guy easy to finish, I believe I can finish anybody."
This story first published at UFC.com.