Vicente Luque is no stranger to short-notice bouts. But this one definitely tops previous opportunities when it comes to pre-fight drama.
“The Silent Assassin” was matched up against Randy Brown at UFC Portland on April 11, but the entire Fight Night event got canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. With the company struggling to get a card together for UFC 249 April 18, a show Dana White insisted to turn into reality despite the chaos in the United States, Luque got another call.
The welterweight talent flew to Brasilia in March to visit his family and to watch the UFC Fight Night planned for on March 14. He stayed in Brazil’s capital after the show took place behind closed doors, and the promotion eventually pulled the plug on the next three shows.
With all the uncertainty surrounding the UFC, Luque continued to train at Cerrado MMA gym in case his manager reached out with an offer. The UFC wanted him to share the eight-sided cage with Niko Price, who’d been booked to meet Muslim Salikhov at the same card one week before.
“They needed fighters for UFC 249, (and) they wanted to book good fights, so they called me,” Luque told MMA Fighting. “A rematch with Niko Price draws a lot of interest from the fans because of our styles, and that also interested me. It will be an interesting fight to watch.”
Luque immediately left Brasilia for Florida, moving into Gilbert Burns’ house to prepare to fight in less than three weeks. Soon, the UFC announced a full line-up for May 9, which included Luque vs. Price. The card is dubbed UFC 249, the April 18 pay-per-view that was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The Silent Assassin" said he was a bit surprised the UFC is holding a fight card during a global pandemic. But having Burns as a training partner has gotten him ready because “‘Durinho’ has a gym in his garage.
As MMA Fighting previously reported, UFC 249 is expected to take place in Florida after being moved from Brooklyn to tribal land in California. UFC President Dana White has promised to test fighters, coaches and staff for COVID-19, though the promotion’s exact plans remain a secret.
“I’ve never been through a situation like this before," Luque said. “Even though I’ve taken a lot of fights on short notice before, I’ve always knew where it would be, how I’d get there. I had no doubts. It’s a unique situation now, but we can adapt. We’ll keep training until we hear where we have to go.”
The exact location won’t make a difference in the end, Luque said. He just wants to compete and get back to the win column after Stephen Thompson snapped a six-fight winning streak that began with a victory over Price. Yet avoiding the contagious infection is his top priority.
“Staying safe is the most important,” he said. “Knowing that I’m able to safely train and avoid as much as contact possible makes me more relaxed. It was tough for me, because my family is in Brazil, but I know they are also staying safe and being very careful, only leaving home to buy groceries.
“I trust the UFC team. They’ve always done a good job with fighters, doing what’s best for us, especially because we’re the ones that go there and put on a show for them, so they wouldn’t like us to get sick, right? I believe they will take all necessary precautions.”
Luque expects UFC 249 to be a huge success “since there’s a lot of people at home and there’s nothing going on in sports right now, so at least we’ll be able to entertain those that will be at home.”
His training camp has been far from ideal, but Luque doesn’t expect Price to have an advantage since all MMA gyms have been closed during the coronavirus outbreak.
Luque, who tapped “The Hybrid” with a D’Arce choke when they first met under the bright lights of the UFC in 2017, anticipates another exciting challenge.
“I always see every opponent as a tough guy to beat,” Luque said. “Even though I’ve defeated him once, I don’t underestimate him in any shape or form. I believe he has learned and evolved with that, so I expect a tough fight.
“I’ll start on the feet, as I always do, and use all my tools. If I have an opening, if he gives me that opening again, I can explore it and get a submission. It’s the same opponent, but a new fight. I’m focused and taking it very seriously so I can go back to the wins.”