Six years since their last encounter, Vicente Luque and Belal Muhammad will meet once again with a chance to break into the title picture at UFC Vegas 51.
Roughly six years ago, UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley met top contender Stephen Thompson in an all-time classic at UFC 205. Earlier in the night, kicking off the televised prelims, up-and-coming prospects Vicente Luque and Belal Muhammad met in a bout that flew under the radar amidst the fanfare later in the night. This Saturday, the pair will meet again as two of the division’s top contenders to determine who will enter the title picture.
Beware the power of @VicenteLuqueMMA 👊💥
[ #UFCVegas51 | Saturday | LIVE on @ESPN ] pic.twitter.com/QTo8sXWCa9
— UFC (@ufc) April 13, 2022
For Vicente Luque, reaching this point was not a straight line upward. “The Silent Assassin” posted a 7-4 record before being signed to The Ultimate Fighter to represent Team Blackzilians (now known as Sanford MMA) in Season 21. He lost during the tournament to eventual finalist Hayder Hassan and lost his bout on the finale against Mike Graves. While it was an unceremonious introduction, Luque went on to become one of the most successful TUF alumni and a solid contender in his own right in posting a 14-3 record in the Octagon that has brought him to the cusp of title contention.
The Brazilian stand-out rides a four fight win-streak into the bout and is expected to be in no less than a title eliminator with a victory. However, he has been in similar positions before: he had a four fight win streak snapped by Leon Edwards in 2017 and a six fight win streak snapped by Stephen Thompson in 2019. Though he must still prove he can get over the proverbial hump to become a bonafide contender, he enters his latest opportunity on arguably his best run ever with stoppages of Michael Chiesa, Tyron Woodley, and Randy Brown.
A personal best 5️⃣th takedown for @BullyB170.
We're only a minute and a half into the 2nd round 😳 #UFCVegas45 pic.twitter.com/pticZjMqlY
— UFC (@ufc) December 19, 2021
While some fighters need only a handful of appearances before entering the title conversation, others at times simply have a longer route. Belal Muhammad is one such contender. After kicking off his career at a perfect 9-0, he went 1-2 (with one of those losses being to Luque) in his first three fight in his freshman year in the UFC to cool expectations. Since then, he has posted an impressive 10-1-1 mark to emerge as one of the most consistent performers in the UFC’s highly competitive welterweight division.
While Muhammad has emerged as one of MMA’s hardest working personalities away from the cage, he has yet to record that signature victory to put him over the top as he climbs towards the title. After a short notice call up to fight Leon Edwards last year ended by No Contest due to an eye poke, “Remember the Name” reeled off decision victories over former title challenger Demian Maia and Stephen Thompson. A victory over a surging finisher in Luque would be his seventh in a row without a loss and set him up for a major bout in the latter part of 2022.
Both men enter the bout as well-rounded martial artists and more seasoned versions of themselves since their 2016 contest. Luque should look to use his explosiveness on the feet and push forward to keep Muhammad fighting off his heels. Luque is the more athletically gifted fighter and is an adept grappler himself so attacking with high volume early and with multiple weapons will be his best route to victory. Muhammad by comparison should look to stay in Luque’s face himself and focus on using his hands to set up takedowns throughout the bout. Most importantly, he should avoid staying in the middle of the cage as often as possible.
Repeat or ℜ𝔢𝔡𝔢𝔪𝔭𝔱𝔦𝔬𝔫 💢@VicenteLuqueMMA vs @BullyB170 – TOMORROW!
[ #UFCVegas51 | Prelims 530pm ET on @ESPNPlus | Main Card 830pm ET on @ESPN ] pic.twitter.com/En2zw6q3Dw
— UFC (@ufc) April 15, 2022
Usually, Luque and Muhammad would be fighting for a title shot after putting together their respective victories. However, top contenders Khamzat Chimaev and Colby Covington both ride impressive victories at the same time as well. Depending on the matchmaking of the next several months, the Luque/Muhammad winner is likely to wait to see who is available in the fall before making their next move as they look to lock in a title shot.