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The
Ultimate Fighting Championship
on Saturday will return to the
UFC Apex for the first time in more than a month, and
UFC on ESPN 34
comes with the expected step down in star power
for what should still be a worthwhile exercise. In terms of
relevance, this one is all about the headliner: a rematch that sees
Vicente
Luque
and Belal
Muhammad
run back their 2016 encounter, this time with
potential welterweight title implications attached. Beyond that,
the highlights of the main card can also be found at 170 pounds, as
Miguel
Baeza
faces Andre
Fialho
and Mounir
Lazzez
takes on Ange Loose in bouts that should guarantee
action. Meanwhile, Mayra
Bueno Silva
’s move to bantamweight carries some intrigue, and
the co-main event features promotional newcomers Caio
Borralho
and Gadzhi
Omargadzhiev
.

Now to the UFC on ESPN 34 “Luque vs. Muhammad 2” preview:

Welterweights

#5 WW | Vicente
Luque
(21-7-1, 14-3 UFC) vs. #6 WW | Belal
Muhammad
(20-3, 11-3 UFC)

BETUS
ODDS
:
Luque (-180), Muhammad (+150)

Luque and Muhammad have each come a long way since their first
fight. Both men were promising prospects heading into UFC 205, but
their bout was an afterthought on a historically stacked card that
also served as the promotion’s Madison Square Garden debut. Plus,
it was not much of an actual fight, as Luque blasted Muhammad in
short order and earned a knockout victory in just 79 seconds. That
marked the fourth straight win for “The Silent Assassin”—all via
finish—in a run that began to mark him as one of the promotion’s
most reliably exciting fighters, and it has been mostly uphill in
the five-plus years since. Luque actually dropped his next bout, a
decision loss to fellow current contender Leon
Edwards
, but he has since won 10 of his last 11 fights, proving
that he is a natural fighter in the process. Luque’s approach is
built entirely around pressure and offense, which has turned all of
his fights into brutal wars of attrition. Thankfully for him, he
appears to have an inhuman level of durability that has allowed him
to outlast almost all of his opponents. Going toe-to-toe against
sluggers like Niko Price
and Mike
Perry
seems like the worst idea possible, but Luque has somehow
consistently made it work. His only loss during this current streak
was in a 2019 battle against Stephen
Thompson
, which saw Luque cause plenty of damage while
“Wonderboy” was consistently outmaneuvering him. His 2021 campaign
also served as a nice reminder that while Luque is capable of
drowning his opponents on the feet, he is just as lethal on the
mat. Landing his signature brabo choke on Tyron
Woodley
was an inevitability by that point in their fight, but
it was legitimately impressive to see him catch Michael
Chiesa
with the same technique to affirm himself as a contender
back in August. The welterweight division is finally going through
some much-needed churn, and Luque figures to be near the front of
the line when it comes to fresh contenders, considering the violent
style that he brings to the table. However, he needs to first get
past Muhammad once again.

Initially, Muhammad’s loss to Luque seemed like a worrying sign
that “Remember The Name” might not find much UFC success, as it
marked his second loss in three trips to the Octagon. Muhammad was
a top prospect when the UFC picked him up for a late-notice bout
earlier in 2016, but his well-rounded and building style seemed
like it might be best suited for regional championship fights
rather than the three-round relative sprints he would need to win
to make his way up the ladder. Nevertheless, Muhammad has still
slowly marched his way up the ranks. Not a standout athlete, he has
made up for any physical deficiencies with technical acumen and
smart game planning, showing an impressive capability to tailor his
approach effectively to whatever his opponent brings to the table.
Like his counterpart, Muhammad has only suffered one loss since
their first fight—he fell short in a 2019 bout against Geoff
Neal
—but while Luque’s fights have mostly followed the same
template, it has been a delight watching Muhammad mix things up
depending on his opponent. A 2020 win over Lyman Good
was the best range performance of Muhammad’s career, while his last
fight—a December victory over Thompson—saw Muhammad pivot to a
wrestling-heavy approach that proved shockingly effective. There
are still some worries about whether Muhammad can reach the
championship level given some of the powerhouses at 170 pounds, but
at this point, it is hard to doubt that he may find a way.

Even with this being a rematch, this is a difficult fight to read.
Facing an opponent who can often be as one-dimensional as Luque
should provide a lot of opportunity for Muhammad, but having to
cope with the consistent aggression and firepower that the
Brazilian brings to bear also seems like a tough task for the
Palestinian-American. Even with his adaptability, Muhammad is at
his most comfortable applying pressure and pace, with an increased
focus on his wrestling in recent bouts. All of that seems like a
poor idea here. Luque has yet to lose a war of attrition and may
set the higher pace, and while Muhammad could find some success
taking this to the mat, Luque’s submission game also presents a
giant threat. As a result, this seems like a fight where Muhammad
will have to call back to his game plan against Good. To his
credit, Muhammad managed to effectively fight completely against
type, but that was also a relatively even affair based on volume
where he enjoyed some wrestling success. Given the havoc that Luque
can wreak when given an opening, Muhammad will essentially have to
fight a perfect fight over five rounds with the difference in
horsepower between the two. While Muhammad is more capable of doing
so than most, the bet is that Luque can find moments to make this
his type of fight over the course of 25 minutes. While Muhammad has
impressive cardio, Luque might even be able to outpace him here
given the constant threat that he provides. The thought is that
Luque can get the ball rolling towards a fight-ending barrage by
the championship round. The pick is Luque via fourth-round
stoppage.

Continue Reading »
Omargadzhiev vs. Borralho

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