Top-ranked welterweight and former training partner of UFC champion Kamaru Usman, Vicente Luque doesn’t think rising 170-pound sensation Khamzat Chimaev is ready to dethrone “Nigerian Nightmare” right now.
Chimaev moved to 5-0 in the UFC with an an incredible back-and-forth war against Gilbert Burns this past April after walking through his first four opponents in the company, and Luque recognizes his talent. Chimaev returns in a main event bout with Nate Diaz on Sept. 10, but Luque sees Usman levels above him right now, mostly due to in-cage experience.
“I think he can bring him danger,” Luque said in a recent episode of MMA Fighting’s Trocação Franca. “I don’t see him beating Usman right now because I think he still needs more experience, still needs some tests. In a way, the hype and the way he reached the top are both good and bad. It’s good because everybody wants to be there, but also bad because he couldn’t build that experience to face someone like Kamaru, who has shown he will dominate anyone if you’re in his area. And if the fight gets complicated, he has cardio and heart and all the tools to overcome adversity and get the victory.
“I don’t know if Chimaev is ready to face that. I wouldn’t say he doesn’t have a chance, he can go in there and land a punch, something might happen and he wins, but I don’t see him as the guy to beat Kamaru right now. Maybe in a few fights.”
Luque trains with Burns and was in his corner the night Chimaev won a decision in Jacksonville, Fla., a three-round war at UFC 273, and was surprised he didn’t “break” under pressure.
“He came in with this hype that he would run through ‘Durinho’ and I knew that wouldn’t happen,” Luque said. “He surprised me because he handled more pressure than I thought he would. I thought he would break as soon as he realized he wouldn’t beat ‘Durinho’ the way he thought, but he managed to fight until the end and won a close fight.”
“‘Durinho’ brought him danger and he felt the pressure. There were moments he had to use everything he got. He felt the strikes, was knocked down, had to go for a takedown desperately. Once he saw he wouldn’t handle ‘Durinho’ on the ground, he opted to get back to his feet and the fight became a war, and both got hit during the war. Kamaru was in there with super tough guys, so I think Chimaev still needs experience to really put him in danger.”
Luque believes Leon Edwards “can bring more danger” to Usman at Saturday night’s UFC 278 in Salt Lake City, but ultimately picks the champion to win a decision “because [Edwards] doesn’t have any card up his sleeve” to surprise the Nigerian. Meanwhile, Luque expects Chimaev to win over Diaz at UFC 279.
“It’s hard for Nate [to win], only if the old, prime Nate comes,” Luque said. “But based on what I’ve seen from them lately, I’d put Chimaev as the favorite. He has shown he’s prepared to face those at the top, and I don’t think Nate is at that level today.”