One of the most active and entertaining fighters in the UFC today with 19 octagon appearances in a span of seven years, “The Silent Assassin” was forced to take some time off from competition after exams showed he suffered a brain bleed in his knockout loss to Geoff Neal in August 2022.
Luque’s health situation was kept secret until the Nevada Athletic Commission granted him a license to fight Rafael dos Anjos in a five-round main event at the UFC APEX on Aug. 12, and he discussed the scare on this week’s episode of MMA Fighting podcast Trocação Franca.
“At first they gave me a six-month suspension after the fight,” Luque said. “I had a small blessing in my brain, something more serious than usual, but it did not evolve. I was under observation in the hospital and it didn’t develop to something more serious. They gave me this six-month suspension from fighting but I decided not to any sparring for six months. I only trained grappling, wrestling, conditioning, hit pads and things like that. I didn’t do any sparring to really be 100 percent recovered.”
At first, Luque was scheduled to face dos Anjos on July 15, but said he and the UFC later found the commission had extended his medical suspension to a year after the brain bleed, forcing the promotion to push back the match to Aug. 12.
“I had to do a series of exams they were asking and get clearance from neurologists,” Luque said. “I went to three neurologists and they all cleared me to fight that they if I wanted to.”
In the end, Luque thanks the commission and the UFC for looking our for his health and safety, and used his time off from competition to evolve as a mixed martial artist. The welterweight veteran said that being constantly in camps to compete does not allow him to “challenge myself and put me in situations I wouldn’t normally put when we’re in camp,” and add new tricks to his game.
Yet, he did worry that could mean the end of his fighting career.
“I’m very calm, and at the same time I always give my 100 percent to MMA,” Luque said. “I didn’t imagine that one day something like that would happen, but I knew I would be ready if it did. I was calm, but the first couple of days or week, there really was doubt that something — and that did worry me, if I would be able to continue fighting or not because fighting is what I love doing the most. I’m far from my dream of becoming champion, I want to achieve that. For the first time in my career I had to think that something could come and take everything away from me out of nowhere.
“But that turned out to be something positive because it made me look at my technical evolution more seriously, especially in striking. I was going to war for many years, I was brawling too much. I can take a punch, I’m good and will continue exchanging strikes, but I wasn’t developing my ability the way I could on the feet. To dodge, to defend, to move, things I started to pay more attention to.”
Luque did spar once he started his camp for dos Anjos, but he’s doing way less than before. With that, he said, his body is recovering better in between sessions. Being so active in the cage was probably a problem too, he admits, even though it helped him build a reputation in the sport.
“That may have been a mistake I made,” Luque said. “I won’t say a mistake because at the same time it pushed me up a lot in the division. I think it was important at that moment, but today, at the level I am now, I see that I need time between fights to be able to evolve because you’re being studied a lot at this level. People see who Vicente Luque is ‘and how they can beat him’. I need to reinvent myself, to be training new things, and I need time to do that. I won’t change much in three months.”
Luque’s first set back in the octagon sees dos Anjos across the cage, a former UFC lightweight champion who tapped Bryan Barberena in his return to welterweight in December 2022. Luque expects his fellow Brazilian to grind and attempt to get him tired looking for a late finish or decision win, “and I’m prepared for that.”
“I couldn’t have asked for a better fight for me right now,” Luque said. “I think it’s going to be a good fight for the fans, a high-level fight. Depending on how I win this, it could be the Fight of the Year or something quite spectacular like that, it might end up pushing me up [in the rankings]. It’s the fight that puts me back in the mix at the top.”