The Film Room: Vicente Luque

By Kevin Wilson Oct 29, 2019
The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 244 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.

Top 15 welterweight Vicente Luque will climb back inside the Octagon for the second time in two months when he meets former Ultimate Fighting Championship title challenger Stephen Thompson at UFC 244 on Saturday in New York. Luque has emerged as one of the brightest young contenders in the 170-pound weight class, and a win over “Wonderboy” would likely thrust him into contention and bring him some overdue recognition from fans.

Luque steps into the spotlight in this edition of The Film Room.

Luque came to the UFC with a pedestrian 7-4-1 record and lost his debut to Michael Graves in 2015. Since that loss, he has gone on one of the best runs in the UFC with a 10-1 record and all but one win coming by knockout or submission. Despite the sustained success, most casual fans still have no idea what to make of Luque, so look for him to try to make a statement in the biggest fight of his life. If you have only seen the highlights, you might think Luque is just an ultra-aggressive fighter who relies on power and athleticism, but he is actually the exact opposite. He is clever and calculated on the feet and focuses on well-timed and precise punches rather than overwhelming the opponent with aggression. He does have impressive knockout power, but instead of relying on it, he uses it as a compliment to his technique and ability to stay level-headed in chaotic exchanges. Something interesting about Luque: He is able to walk down opponents with limited offense. Usually, fighters who are patient on the feet have a hard time trapping prey against the cage and forcing opponents to fight backwards. However, Luque is proficient at cutting off the cage with footwork and using the threat of his power by pumping out filler punches to force opponents to retreat. Being able to cut off the cage without following your opponent is a skill that even some of the best fighters never develop, so it is promising to see that the young Luque already has it down pat. Thompson has been difficult to trap against the cage in the past, but fighters like Tyron Woodley and Darren Till have done it with ease. How? With a healthy dose of feints and misdirection. “Wonderboy” tends to bite hard on feints, so simply pushing forward and throwing filler strikes is generally enough for him to back himself to the cage.

This is such an intriguing fight, not only because of the rankings implications but also because of their vastly different styles, which ends up being the story of every Thompson fight. “Wonderboy” likes to play on the outside with his long-bladed stance, low lead hand and constant bounce in his feet so he can blitz forward or backward at any moment. Luque takes on more of a boxer’s stance, with his feet tight and hands high always ready to counter or block. He also stays unnaturally calm during wild exchanges in the pocket, which gives him a major advantage in chaotic situations. Although Luque has put on some of his best performances by relying on his intelligence and technique, it might be best for him to push the pace more than ever and make this fight dirty for “Wonderboy” -- especially with how he looked against Mike Perry, who is one of the best pocket strikers in the UFC.

Against Perry, Luque perfectly blended his counters in the pocket with leading exchanges and looked the best he has since joining the UFC. Perry’s quick hands, ability to take a punch and constant pressure is usually enough to overwhelm opponents, but Luque was calm as usual. Since he was not flustered by the pressure, he was able to look for counters in the pocket, all while putting on a clinic defensively.

Very few fighters are as defensively sound as Luque, and if you pay close attention, you will see him take most strikes on the forearms and hands while rolling with others to take the power off of them. This high guard leaves him open for strikes up the middle, but overall, his defense exceeds most of his contemporaries.

In Luque’s first fight with the UFC, former commentator Brian Stann pointed out that he rarely moves his head and keeps his torso upright at all times. This still plagues him today and remains the only real hole in his game that he needs to work on to become a top contender. His tendency to cover up instead of evading has gotten him clocked clean in multiple fights, and it is only a matter of time before one of these strikes ends the fight.

The beauty of Luque’s game is that he can walk down opponents and force reactions out of them without having to do much. Now that he has six knockouts in the UFC, including four in a row, opponents are rightfully fearful of his power. This allows him to walk down opponents with his high guard and throw some filler strikes to trap them along the fence. Very few are comfortable against the cage and most will eventually come forward with a combo to get back to the center; that is when Luque looks for counters. He favors a lead hook from an orthodox stance, but he does switch often and is dangerous out of both. However, since “Wonderboy” is also an elite counterstriker, it would probably be best for Luque to rely on forcing exchanges in the pocket, where he knows Thompson is not comfortable.

Luque prefers to stand and strike with most opponents, but the time he has spent on the ground has looked quite promising. He always sets up his takedowns attempts with strikes, and against Leon Edwards, he routinely ducked under and went for the clinch -- which is something to watch for in this fight. Thompson’s takedown defense has been exceptional, but we still have not seen him work off his back much, so do not be surprised to see Luque try to turn this fight into a grueling grappling match.

Once the fight is on the ground, Luque looks for submissions instead of posturing up and striking. Of his six submission wins, five have come by brabo or anaconda choke, and the way he pulls for them during transitions and scrambles is reminiscent of Tony Ferguson. Odds have Luque as a slight underdog. They are fairly even on the feet, but Luque has a clear advantage on the ground. He has proven to be smart enough to change his game plan mid-fight and shoot for takedowns if he is not getting it done on the feet, so his grappling may be the deciding factor in this fight. Advertisement


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