Welterweight contender Vicente Luque talks to Yahoo Sports’ Kevin Iole ahead of his first UFC main event on Saturday againt Belal Muhammad. He previews the fight, a rematch he says makes sense right now as they’re both on top of the division, and shares his reaction to Khamzat Chimaev’s win over Gilbert Burns at UFC 273.
KEVIN IOLE: Hey, everybody. I am Kevin Iole from Yahoo Sports. And if you’re not excited enough over that card last week, UFC 273, which was fantastic, we got another fight on this card that’s going to be kind of– keep that thing rolling. In the main event on Saturday at Apex, Belal Muhammad, number six ranked welterweight in the world, is going to fight this young man, Vicente Luque, number five in the world. This should be an unbelievable fight. Joining me right now, as I mentioned, is Vicente Luque.
Vicente, how are you, my friend?
VICENTE LUQUE: Hey, I’m doing good. You know, excited for this fight. It’s going to be a big one. And definitely, it’s going to be a action-packed fight.
KEVIN IOLE: You guys fought in 2018 in Madison Square Garden. You won that one by first round knockout. And I’ll get into that in a second. But I want to ask you this. Do you feel like, a little bit, in the welterweight division, you fly under the radar? Like, there’s still not people saying, hey, I want to see Kamaru Usman fight Vicente Luque, right?
You’ve won 10 out of your last 11 fights, 14 out of your last 16, and I think, if I’m not mistaken, out of your 21 professional wins, 18 of them by finish. And yet I don’t hear a lot of people saying, hey, we want to see Luque fighting those top guys.
VICENTE LUQUE: Yeah, I mean, you know, I think it’s– I’m not that trash talker, you know? I always keep myself really– I don’t know, I’m just respectful. That’s– that’s my way. But I do the talking inside the octagon. And I think now is where people are starting to really see that and starting to really see my style and what I can bring.
So yeah, I mean, I do think it took a while. You know, this is going to be my first main event. I thought I could have won before, you know? I’m exciting enough to have main events. But at the same time, it’s fun, you know? It’s– it’s exciting to finally get to this point where I’m going to have a big fight. And now people are going to start realizing that, yeah, I can put anybody in this division in danger. My style is the style to match up– up against these guys.
KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, I mean, you’ve done some remarkable things over the recent while. You know, I want to talk to you a little bit about– about the progress that you’ve made. Because you know, when you first started out, I think at one point, you had won three and lost three in a six-fight span. You know– you know, you weren’t looking like, hey, this guy’s going to be a world champion. Nobody was going to be saying, at that point, hey, watch Vicente Luque. He’s going to be the next big thing.
What changes? Like, what clicked for you that helped you get on the streak that you’re on and make you the fighter you are right now?
VICENTE LUQUE: I think that these losses were– they change, you know? They were the click. So I had to learn from every loss. I had to, you know, little by little, go getting experience and developing as a fighter. I– I talk to a lot of people. And people sometimes think it’s– it’s– I don’t know, it’s funny. But I wasn’t a super talented fighter, you know? I– I didn’t start off as a talented guy.
I just really enjoyed MMA. I wanted to be a professional fighter. I wanted to become a champion one day. And that made me work hard and get to where I am. So in that beginning, maybe that lack of talent kind of cost me a little bit on some fights. But my effort and my dedication overcame that. And then I built what I needed to get to where I– I am right now.
So yeah, I mean, I had a rough start. But I was tough enough to survive that, and keep on going, and now have this great career.
KEVIN IOLE: Was it– you know, was it the love of the game? Like, you know, because you think getting punched and kicked in the face– and especially if you’re not as talented as these guys you’re fighting, and they’re– you know, they’re coming out looking to take your head off, I mean, that can’t be too fun, getting whacked like that, right? I mean, was it the fact that you knew you could change your life for your family and– or was it just, hey, I love MMA, and I– I love trying to compete?
VICENTE LUQUE: I think it was a little bit of both, but mostly, like, the love for the sport and my competition. I’m– I’m a really competitive guy. But I’m not the kind of competitive that just likes to win. I like to do whatever I decide to do until I win. So I might lose 10 times in a row. I’m going to keep on going and keep on pushing until I win and until I reach what I want.
So yeah, I don’t know, it’s just something– like a lot of people say I’m hard-headed. And I’m definitely hard-headed. And it brought me, you know, to where I am now. So I don’t know, it’s– it’s just something that I proposed myself when I was 15 years old. I decided I’m going to be an MMA fighter, a UFC fighter, and I’m going to be champion. And that’s– that’s what I’m going to do until– you know, until I can’t do it anymore.
KEVIN IOLE: What are the hard times like? Like, when– when you’re coming off a loss or a fight that you thought you should have won, you know, and– and you– you didn’t win it, like, what is that like? And what goes through your mind? How do you avoid– like, so many people will let negative thoughts creep in, right? How do you keep those negative thoughts out?
VICENTE LUQUE: I don’t know. I don’t try to keep them out. The thing is I’m a really positive guy. And I always try to see the best. I don’t know, negative thoughts don’t even come into my mind. And whenever I feel, like, pressure, for example, pressure is something that motivates me. So sometimes, I don’t know, people look at this fight. And hey, you know, it’s a rematch. You beat him in the first time, so you’ve got to go in there and beat him again.
And in a way, that’s building pressure. I got to do something, you know? I’ve got to show everybody how good I am. But then again, hey, it’s– it’s an opportunity for me to train harder, for me to get ready, you know, and know that Belal is going to come in and– and try to, you know, get that win back for him. And that just motivates me more. So the pressure, I always turn it into motivation and ways for me to get even more ready for this fight.
KEVIN IOLE: You think that fight was the moment for you that, you know, you sent the sign that I’m on the way to the top? Because you know, Belal had, you know, a really good record at that point, you know? He– I think he had one loss. If I’m not mistaken, I think he was 10-1 at that point in his career. A lot of people were talking about him as, hey, keep an eye on this– this young guy.
And you knock him out in the first round, I mean, a perfect left hook, really good ground and pound. Do you think that that was the one that kind of started you on this journey that you’re on now?
VICENTE LUQUE: I mean, for sure. I think there are some wins that are like investments. And that was one of them, you know? When I beat him, he was an up and coming prospect. And– and you know, he was a big deal already. And after that, he just had a even, you know, greater career and– and built his way up all the way now. And I still have that win over him.
So it was a win that, you know, over time, it became bigger and bigger, you know, and just made my– my name even bigger. So it was a great win in my career. And right now, you know, I understand why we’re having this rematch. Because you know, he– he has improved, and he has beaten so many guys. So at this point, it’s something that makes a lot of sense. And we’re at the top of the division.
KEVIN IOLE: I did a story on him. And I think maybe the same question applies to you. You know, he’s ranked number 6, one spot below you at number 5. But you look at who’s ahead of you, and the path to the title, even with a win for whoever wins this fight, is really hard still, you know? Because you got Colby Covington probably going to fight. Hamza, you know, is going– going to be out there. You know, you’ve got Gilbert Burns sitting in the division.
I mean, there’s– there’s a lot of guys ahead that make it hard. How do you keep your focus, and not get frustrated, for the lack of a better term, by that, and– and keep your focus on what’s important?
VICENTE LUQUE: I mean, you know, the thing is I can’t control anything else besides what I do. And– and what I do is fight Saturday night, and go out there, and try to get the biggest win I can. And that’s all that I can control, you know? What’s– what’s out of my control is not for me to concern about. What I– what I definitely can do is fight. And– and that’s what I do the best. So I’m going to go out there Saturday night, work as hard as I can to get a big win. And I think that’s going to move me closer to the title.
And obviously, the division, right now, is– you know, is– is really in action. So we don’t know who’s going to get the next title shot. We got to wait for Kamara and Leon. But I’m definitely going to be looking to stay ready and fight whoever I need to fight, you know? If I need one more fight or two more fights, we’ll do it. We’ll do it. But right now, my focus is on getting a big win.
And I don’t know, depending on the win, I can skip everybody, you know, and jump in there. We’ll see what’s going to– what’s going to happen.
KEVIN IOLE: Let me throw this at you, because I know you’re very close with Gilbert. He fought Hamza the other day. What was your take of that fight? Did you think Gilbert fought a good– good fight, a smart fight? And what’s your, you know, assessment of Chimaev as a potential opponent?
VICENTE LUQUE: I mean, the first thing is, like, it was a great fight. It was an unbelievable fight. I love to watch it. And I think what Gilbert did was something really hard. Because Hamza was starting, you know? He is– he is starting. He doesn’t have many fights. So there isn’t much to study on him. And he has a lot of first round finishes, so it’s also not a lot of things to watch on him.
So– and the whole aura that was built behind him, you know, like he’s a monster, he’s going to kill everybody, and– and dominate the division. And Gilbert went out there and fought a guy that, you know, is great, is a great fighter, but nobody knew much about. So he had a game plan, but a lot of it was going to be decided and discovered at the moment of the fight.
And I think Gilbert did great. He reacted great at adversity. He kept on in there, you know, fighting as hard as he could. Even though the size difference was– was notable, he was able to overcome that in different occasions. So I think it was a great fight. I think it was a great fight on Gilbert and on– on Hamza.
And I thought it was really close. I didn’t see it as a unanimous decision as, at– as, at the end, it happened. But it was a really close fight. And I don’t know, I just think it was good overall. And I wish Gilbert had come out with the win. But you know, he didn’t, no problem. Things are still going to keep on going as they have to go. And now we have a new top five guy. And that’s exciting, you know, new challenges in the division.
KEVIN IOLE: I love it. I love it so much. I forgot to mention Leon Edwards when I was rattling off all the other guys in that division. So there’s another one in there. You know, I want to ask you this. When you look at your fight with Belal, you know, he’s going to look at that and say, hey, I just happened to get caught, right? That’s what happens when you’re the one that gets knocked out.
From your standpoint, do you remember the finish? And– and did you set that left hook up, the left hook that dropped him? Was that something that, you know, you set up and– and then executed?
VICENTE LUQUE: So that left hook is something I’ve been working all my life, you know? I’m– with my coaches and everybody, they know that my left hook is really good. And we just train it a lot. So I wouldn’t say I set that exact counter up like, OK, he’s going to hit me with a– with a straight right, and I’m going to counter him with the left hook. But that’s something I do a lot in training.
So it definitely was something that happened because of my training and because of having so much skill, you know, developed on– on that specific technique. But I don’t know, it’s– I try to look at that fight as if it never happened. Because I don’t like to have it in my mind and maybe, you know, by some reason, underestimate Belal. Because I know how tough he is. I know how much he’s going to study me, you know?
And he’s a very– he’s going to make sure that he– he doesn’t get caught on the same shot that he got last time. So it’s not like, oh, I’m going to get in there and knock him out again in the first round. No, I’m ready for five rounds, and five tough rounds.
KEVIN IOLE: Let’s wrap it up with this. You know, his fight against Stephen Thompson, a guy you fought in the past and had a great fight with, you know, he dominated Stephen Thompson. Now I know Gilbert had dominated Stephen first. And then, you know, he came back. But he still went, you know, five rounds and– and dominated– or three round, excuse me– and dominated Stephen Thompson.
What was your take on that fight? And did you see anything in there that you feel like said to me, hey, I have to keep an eye on this?
VICENTE LUQUE: Yeah, I mean, I think the whole fight, you know, is something for me to keep an eye on. Because I’m a striker, just as– as Thompson is. So the thing is, you know, whenever I see a guy dominating Thompson the way that Belal did, that’s a big warning for me. Like OK, this guy is going to want to go in there, not let me fight where– at least not let me fight where I like to fight, which is striking, and going to try to control me and ground and pound me.
And– and that’s what I’m expecting in this fight. Obviously, you know, he has good striking as well. So I’m– I’ll be ready for that if he wants to strike. But I see him trying to take me down. He has a lot of– he has great conditioning, so he’s going to want to use those five rounds. And that’s what I anticipated. And that’s what I got ready for, you know, a lot of wrestling, a lot of grappling.
And having my own tools, you know, to– to put him in danger over there too– because I have tools in grappling. So it’s not like guys are just going to put me down–
KEVIN IOLE: Byron Woodley found that out.
VICENTE LUQUE: –and control me. Exactly, you know? I’m not the kind of guy you’re just going to take me down and control me. You can take me down, and you can try to control me. But I’m going to make sure that you’re going to suffer in– in between, you know, that controlling. So yeah, I think it’s– it’s– I don’t know, I got to be ready for everything. And that’s what I did in this training camp, you know, be ready for every kind of weapon that he tries to use against me, and try to impose my will, and impose what I do, which is striking. That’s what I’m going to be looking for.
KEVIN IOLE: I’m going to make a proposal. If you win this fight by D’Arce choke– because you’ve won the last two fights by D’Arce choke– I’m going to say let’s change the name and no longer call it a D’Arce choke. Let’s call it a Luque choke.
VICENTE LUQUE: Yeah man, I mean, it’s something that I really like and I train a lot. So we’ll see. If it happens, it happens, you know? But it’s not something I’m going to be crazily looking in there. If it does happen, it’s– it’s going to be just because there was the opening. But I’m going to look to finish every single minute.
KEVIN IOLE: Well, I appreciate it. You’ve been really generous with your time as always, Vicente. I wish you the best of luck. See you Saturday at Apex. Good luck against Belal Muhammad.
VICENTE LUQUE: Thank you. Appreciate it. And I’m going to put on a great fight, as always. Let’s go.