The main event on ESPN features a rematch between two top-ranked welterweights who are familiar with the cost of counters.
With Vicente Luque and Belal Muhammad’s first meeting back at UFC 205 ending incredibly quickly, it can be difficult to put too much weight into a fight that took place over five years ago. Luque did do a superb job of pressuring Muhammad into a devastating counter left hook, but both men have made measurable improvements as martial artists since then.
Despite being an orthodox-stance striker who isn’t shy about throwing power from the rear, Muhammad has done a deceptively good job of developing his lead hand in recent years.
Half-stepping his way into space off of a prodding jab, Muhammad makes hay off of multiple looks that range from building right crosses to the body to levering hooks off of his straight shots. The 10-year pro also has been much sneakier about shifting his stance mid-combination, as Muhammad shows a slick ability to draw opposition into right hooks off a back-stepping southpaw shift (a la a prime “Jacare” Souza).
Muhammad is also content with continually punishing legs from a distance when he needs to, but is not beyond taking damage to his own lower extremities due to his propensity to stay heavy on his lead leg. Against a crafty counter fighter who consistently attacks the legs like Luque, Muhammad could get more than he bargains for should he not disguise his entries properly from range.
Indoctrinated into martial arts from a young age, Luque demonstrates his karate base through his natural sense of distance management and quick kicking abilities. Whether he’s working from orthodox or switching to southpaw, the 30-year-old can either deliver with finesse up high or hack Thai-style kicks down low at the drop of a dime.
Since splitting his camps between his home base of Cerrado MMA in Brasilia and Sanford MMA in South Florida, Luque’s skills have only improved. The Brazilian’s boxing and overall fundamentals have been speaking loudly in his recent run, displaying the ability to sit down on counters or bury hooks to the body when appropriate.
Dedicated counter fighters have still proven to be a tough stylistic matchup for Luque, but the 13-year pro has been quietly making attempts to stay more disciplined and defensively responsible amid the chaos that typically takes place in his fights. Even when stunned, Luque is good about staying composed and keeping his eyes open in exchanges, which is, in turn, what allows him to hit devastating counters while in said state.
Nevertheless, whether it is Muhammad’s bodywork or level-changing shots, Luque will need to be careful anytime he confidently comes forward behind his high guard.