With a 10-1 record in his past 11 appearances, four Fight of the Night awards during that run along with two more Performance of the Night bonuses, Vicente Luque is not only one of the top welterweights in the UFC but he’s also considered one of the most exciting fighters on the entire roster.
Despite all those accolades, Luque still finds himself on the outside looking in when it comes to title contention in the division even as he prepares to take on another top ranked opponent in Belal Muhammad in the UFC Vegas 51 main event on Saturday.
In theory, Luque locking up a fifth consecutive win in a row should put him near the top of the list for a shot at reigning champion Kamaru Usman but he’s likely still at least one more win away from even being considered for that opportunity, especially after the fast rise of Khamzat Chimaev to the top of the rankings.
While Chimaev certainly claimed his spot with a recent win in a back-and-forth war against one-time title challenger Gilbert Burns, he still didn’t pay his dues by climbing each rung of the ladder because in his case, hype and popularity trumped experience in the eyes of the UFC. As unfair as that might seem to a veteran like Luque, who has been grinding away for the past five years just to earn his first UFC main event, don’t expect him to complain about it.
“I’m not much of comparing myself to other people,” Luque told MMA Fighting. “I have my own path. I understood from the day I decided to be who I am, I knew that would maybe be a longer path because I’m just not a trash talker. I cannot be. It’s just not in me.
“But I I can fight and I can go out there and put on great performances. I knew that would mean I would have to have more fights, I would have a longer path [to the title] and I’m OK with it. I respect Khamzat’s hype and the way that he’s building it. It’s his choice and his career. He knows what’s best for him. He wants to build it that way, I have no problem with that.”
There are moments when Luque starts to allow frustration to creep into his mind, especially after he was actually offered and accepted a fight against Chimaev earlier this year only for the UFC to shift gears and book him against Burns instead.
It would be easy for the 30-year-old welterweight to sit and complain about situations that are out of his control but that’s also why he never chooses to handle himself that way.
“I think the idea of frustration sometimes comes into my mind. Like what else do I have to do?” Luque said. “But I don’t let it stay on my mind too long. It’s something I understand that I have my path and I’ve got to stay true to it. If I let that into my mind, maybe I’m not going to be motivated anymore and that’s something that I cannot allow.
“I’ve got to be motivated. I’ve got to fight whoever I’ve got to fight because in my mind and in my heart, I know I am going to get that title fight and I am going to be a UFC champion.”
Even when it came to a rematch against Muhammad — a fighter he defeated in just 79 seconds back in 2016 — Luque never once contemplated turning down the fight to wait for somebody different to be offered to him.
Instead, Luque actually got excited about the chance to face a new and improved version of Muhammad, who has put together an impressive run of his own since they last met at UFC 205.
“I see this as a new fight,” Luque explained. “The last fight was maybe over a minute and I took it on short notice with two weeks to go. He was training to fight somebody else. I don’t really take that first fight as an example.
“He’s a different fighter right now. I’m definitely a different fighter right now. It’s a new fight and it’s a fight that excites me. Cause I know whenever a guy lost, he’s going to go in there and give it his all to beat the guy who beat him.”
If all goes well at UFC Vegas 51, Luque should be in a position where he could start calling for a title fight but don’t expect him to throw a fit if it doesn’t actually happen.
An opportunity to become UFC champion is ultimately what he wants but more than anything, Luque just loves fighting and if he has to take out every welterweight in his way to finally get a chance to compete for gold, then that’s exactly what he’s going to do.
“In my mind I need to beat Belal and I need to beat him the way I beat people in great fashion,” Luque said. “That’s going to move me straight up. I don’t know if it’s going to get me to that title or I’m going to have one more fight but I’ll be really close and then we’ll see.
“If Kamaru fights Leon or fights Khamzat or fights whoever it is, it’s going to be what it’s going to be. I’m going to get there sooner or later.”