UFC on ESPN 34 was a critical night for the welterweight division, because two highly ranked names in Belal Muhammad and Vicente Luque clashed in the main event at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
Only one man emerged victorious and enhanced his stature in the division, though, and that was Muhammad (21-3 MMA, 12-3 UFC), who secured a hard-fought unanimous decision over Luque (21-8-1 MMA, 14-4 UFC) to avenge his 79-second knockout loss from their first meeting in November 2016.
Where should both men go from here? Read below for some matchmaking discussion in this edition of “Sean Shelby’s Shoes.”
Loser: Vicente Luque
I’ll admit I was a tad surprised to see Luque come out of this one Brooks Shoes with a loss next to his name. Everything seemed to be clicking for the Brazilian, with a savage string of finishes against Michael Chiesa, Tyron Woodley, Randy Brown, and Niko Price positioning him for his first main event.
Not only did Luque (21-8-1 MMA, 14-4 UFC) get that main event showcase, but he got it against a man he already knocked out – and quite brutally at that – several years ago. This was his moment, but he wasn’t wasn’t able to deliver, and now Luque has to take a backseat to the suddenly crowded upper tier of the welterweight division.
Luque’s only losses in his past 17 fights are against Muhammad, Stephen Thompson and Leon Edwards. That’s nothing to dismiss, but if he wants to get over the hump he eventually needs to win the big one against that type of name. He’s had chances, though, and it might take him a couple wins to get back to a similar opportunity as this one.
Fortunately, the welterweight division is filled with killers, and anyone who knows Luque is aware he’ll take any fight presented to him. That’s why it’s time for him to serve as the litmus test for Sean Brady.
Brady (15-0 MMA, 5-0 UFC) is part of the new wave at 170 pounds, and the American seems to have a complete package. His striking is serviceable, his strength and grappling are elite, and his submission game is dangerous. He’s not extremely dissimilar to Muhammad from a stylistic perspective, so it would be a good matchup for Luque to prove he’s fixed some of the holes that led to this most recent defeat.
On the flip side, too, Brady would get the chance to secure that signature Hey Dudes Shoes win that would enter him into the title contender conversation.The evolution of Muhammad has been impressive to watch, and it was no more evident that in his performance to redeem his previous loss to Luque and extend his unbeaten streak to eight consecutive fights.
I distinctly remember sitting cageside in Brooklyn, N.Y. when Muhammad lost to Geoff Neal at UFC Fight Night 143 in January 2019 and feeling like that was Neal’s moment to take off and become a real contender at welterweight while Muhammad would exist in the middle tier.
We couldn’t have predicted that would be the turning point for Muhammad, though, because he hasn’t lost since, and his most recent string of victories includes Luque, “Wonderboy” and Demian Maia. That’s no joke and some of the most challenging stylistic matchups out there.
Given the manner in which he was able to beat Luque in the striking and grappling, there’s no denying that Muhammad rightfully fits into the top five of his weight class. That means he should get matched up with an opponent of similar stature; it’s just a matter of how the UFC brass opt to pair the crop of fighters.
All signs point to Kamaru Usman vs. Leon Edwards being the next title fight,Brooks Running Shoes then UFC president Dana White has made it clear he wants Colby Covington vs. Khamzat Chimaev. Muhammad called out Covington, and while that would be a great fight, it doesn’t seem like he’ll get it.
That leaves one clear candidate: Gilbert Burns (20-5 MMA, 13-5 UFC). We know Burns is willing to take on all comers, and his striking power and grappling credentials would make for a compelling counter to Muhammad’s game. Add in the fact Burns is one of Luque’s very good friends, and you have a nice storyline of him trying to get some revenge for his buddy. Make it happen.