Belal Muhammad had to wait nearly five and a half years to get his revenge but he delivered a dominant performance in his rematch with Vicente Luque in the UFC Vegas 51 main event.
It was a brilliant strategy executed by Muhammad round after round as he used fast footwork, much improved striking and well-timed takedowns to keep Luque guessing at every turn. Muhammad looked better than ever while taking out one of the most dangerous finishers in the sport after falling to Luque by knockout in just 79 seconds in their first encounter in November 2016.
This time around it was Muhammad who put on a statement performance with the judges scoring the fight 49-46, 49-46 and 48-47 in his favor.
“This was my hump I had to get over,” Muhammad said afterwards. “He knocked me out. Now what do you got to say? I won. I knew it was going to be one of my hardest challenges.
“I knew Luque was the best of both worlds [with striking and grappling] and he knocked me out so he had that over me. It showed that I can do it all. I can wrestle with the best. I can strike with the best. I can grapple with the best.”
It was a complete showing from Muhammad as he set the tone from the first exchange of the fight while circling away from an aggressive Luque, who was in constant pursuit of him across the cage. Luque kept trying to set up his punches but Muhammad just never allowed him to settle on his feet and then he began mixing in takedowns to further frustrate the veteran welterweight contender.
On the feet, Muhammad also found a home for a quick left-right combination that repeatedly tagged Luque on the chin. The punches from Muhammad were straight and accurate but Luque largely ate the shots as he continued to plod ahead.
Even when Luque managed to connect with some nasty calf kicks, Muhammad was quick to change levels and snatch another takedown.
Down two rounds, Luque’s coaches instructed him to show more urgency, which led to him unleashing a nasty straight left down the pipe that blasted Muhammad and put him on wobbly legs. Luque looked to seize on the opening as he popped Muhammad with another stiff left hand as he started to pour on the punishment.
Once again, Muhammad turned to his wrestling to slow Luque down and he brought the fight to the canvas as he began working from inside the guard. The constant threat of the takedown weighed on Luque as he became more hesitant to unleash combinations, which allowed Muhammad to stay away from the power shots and throw plenty of punches of his own in return.
Luque’s forward pressure continued but he just couldn’t get into a rhythm with his striking as Muhammad kept him off balance with good counters before once again relying on his wrestling. The takedowns never gave Luque any room to breathe and when the horn sounded, Muhammad threw his hands up in celebration after a job well done.
The unanimous decision puts Muhammad’s unbeaten streak at eight in a row and he wasted no time calling his shot against another top-ranked welterweight he’s been trying to fight for several years now.
“I’m going to stop calling for the champ cause nobody wants to give me that shot,” Muhammad said. “So let me get the big mouth Karen. Colby Covington’s out here calling out [155 pounders]. Come fight a real ‘70-pounder, you coward.
“I’m a real ‘70 pounder. I’m winning fights. I’m not [Jorge] Masvidal off two losses. I’m not [Tyron] Woodley off five losses. I’m ‘Bully B’ off seven wins. Come fight a real challenge, coward.”
It remains to be seen if Muhammad will get his wish but any questions about his validity in the hierarchy of the welterweight division were emphatically answered with his win over Luque at UFC Vegas 51.