Rafael dos Anjos slices Robbie Lawler with a left elbow

UFC returns to its Las Vegas home base with the highly anticipated UFC on ESPN 51 at the UFC Apex. In the main event spotlight, two welterweight warriors will battle it out as Vicente Luque looks to find his rhythm again, facing off against former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos.

While our focus here is the main event showdown, remember that predictions for other fights at this event can be found on our UFC predictions page.

Before we dive deep into the fight breakdowns, here’s how you can catch the action: UFC on ESPN 51’s main card kicks off at 7 p.m. ET and airs on ESPN and ESPN+, with prelims starting at 4 p.m. ET.

Betting Odds

Bookies have this one on a razor’s edge! Both Rafael dos Anjos and Vicente Luque are priced at -115. It’s essentially a pick’em fight, highlighting just how close and competitive this bout is expected to be.

  • Rafael dos Anjos: -115 (BetUS)
  • Vicente Luque: -115 (BetUS)

Both fighters bring a wealth of experience and unique skill sets to the octagon, which makes predicting the outcome all the more challenging. Before you place your bets, let’s hear what our experts have to say.

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Fight Predictions

Braeden Arbour

Rafael Dos Anjos (RDA) is an extremely experienced and well rounded fighter who could as easily put on a striking clinic in a fight as he could a jiu jitsu masterclass. He is a powerful southpaw who utilizes great kickboxing and explosive footwork, but does not stray too far away from rock solid fundamentals. He has a slick left cross that comes as he slides his stance fully forward into range, giving him space to lean back away from the counter or crash into a grappling scenario. His kicks to the legs and body are staples in any RDA fight, but these as with his boxing work exponentially better if he can establish himself as the lead, instead of the counter striker.

Vincente Luque is always exciting with his war-like mentality and sharp offensive Muay Thai. He can cause immense damage from any anywhere, and any angle but does best with his boxing and elbows as well as sharp slick knees inside. He typically utilizes relatively long boxing combinations to pressure his opponents to the cage before exploding in with riskier attacks like flying knees to bridge the distance into clinch knees and elbows. Like RDA he will be fighting for control of the center of the octagon and being the lead to their exchanges.

The initial battle will be for that role, who can take the front foot and put the other on the backfoot. Luque will enjoy a bit of height and reach, as well as general size advantage, allowing him to touch RDA from a beat further away as RDA tries to work his way into range. That being said, RDA should take some confidence in the success that Geoff Neal was able to show as a southpaw in Luque’s most recent loss, the left cross was a major point of issue for Luque, and it is one of Dos Anjos’ best weapons. If Luque bites on the threat, the left cross sets up Dos Anjos kicks in turn, which even if they don’t land as consistently as needed, may force Luque to fight less aggressively than he normally does.

Another reason for this, Luque is not only coming off of the first knockout loss in his career but has spoken candidly about the fear he had to work through afterwards. Due to serious brain bleeding, there was a moment in time where the potential for Luques career to come to an early end was on the table. While it’s possible we do not see this effect on Luque at the moment, there is always the possibility it does rattle in his mind if RDA does start to have success in constantly touching him with those left hands from the same southpaw stance as Neal. Both Dos Anjos and Luque have great submissions, but the difference is in the setup. Dos Anjos goes from takedown to control positions to patiently setting up classic and sound jiu jitsu. Luque puts his opponents in compromised positions with striking and clinch pressure, where he is able to bully them into an awkward position and snatch a neck or snap down on broken posture and work towards a choke. This bodes very well for him if he is able to put Dos Anjos against the fence, as the size and height of Luque will already be bearing down on RDA. On the flip side, if RDA does have success with his kickboxing and Luque starts to bite on the mix of strikes, that opens RDA up for the takedowns and positionally he should be overall better on the mat.

Pick: Dos Anjos to win (-115)

Michael Pounders

Sometimes, when fighters lose a step, they fall off the cliff quickly. Luque may have started to stumble. Prior to his last two fights, Luque was on a 4-fight winning streak and looked like prime “Silent Assassin.” Luque tends to move forward with strong and quick combinations. He’s willing to eat a punch to counter with an often more potent power shot of his own. His striking is dynamic, athletic, and effective. Until his last fight, Luque had one of the best chins in the entire UFC and had never been knocked out. As a grappler, because Luque is explosive and constantly moving forward with output, he proved challenging to takedown. Even if he was taken down, Luque has excellent BJJ and could reverse position and find a submission finish against top grapplers.

Last year Chiesa took Luque down, controlled him, and then Luque reversed position and secured a choke to end the fight with only :10 of control time himself. Prior to his last two fights, Luque was a killer who could end the fight on the feet or the canvas with a chin forged in hell that allowed him to engage in and often win wars. However, in his last two fights, Luque appears to have fallen down that cliff. He was badly out wrestled and out struck by Muhammad whose entire striking attack was basic pressure and a left kick.

While the pressure itself was impressive, the striking was basic and something Luque should have been able to counter or make adjustments around. Luque was dropped twice and then, to the surprise of many, finished by knockout his last time out. His offensive boxing looked like vintage Luque but his footwork was slow, defense was lazy, his head stayed on the centerline, and his chin, after years of wars, just couldn’t hold up. This fight will test if Luque is a fighter lost a step, or steps, of if his two losses are only bumps in the road that the 31-year-old can rebound from.

Dos Anjos took 2 years off after beating Paul Felder by split decision in 2020. Upon his return, we didn’t know what to expect from the ex-lightweight champion but he put to bed all questions with a dominating win. In that fight, we saw the vintage RDA who poses a threat for anyone with a gap in their game. He unloaded 286 significant strikes, landing them at a 52% clip and connecting with real power that accumulated significant damage. Further, he mixed in 5 takedowns that amounted to over 13 minutes of control time.

While on the ground, RDA’s viscous ground and pound was on full display. With his tight and powerful boxing, well-timed and effective wrestling, and ability to find damage round after round, RDA not only looked like his former self but looked like his former championship self. Then came his fight against Fiziev where we saw RDA’s, now, biggest weakness. At 38, Dos Anjos is not as athletic or explosive as he once was, and he never was known for that skillset to begin with.

Against Fiziev, Dos Anjos struggled to keep up with the speed and variety of the young and talented Muay Thai fighter. RDA’s age showed as he was caught casing Fiziev around and being a second or two too slow on his counters. He showed in his following fight that, unless he’s noticeably slower than his opponent, RDA can still beat many in this division in dominating fashion.

Unbelievably, the 38 year old with 46 professional fights is the more consistent and predictable fighter. Luque, 31 and still in his prime, could come out and look like his former self which would be a difficult matchup for RDA. If Luque can stay on the outside, use leg kicks and lateral movement, RDA will likely get caught chasing yet again. However, if Luque stays on the center line, decides to box in the pocket with Dos Anjos, and allows the fight to go at RDA’s preferred pace, Luque won’t show RDA anything he hasn’t seen before. I know it’s a risk picking a fighter 7 years older and would prefer to get him at plus money but I’ll take RDA in this one. I think Luque has lost a step and this fight will look more like RDA vs Moicano with the veteran out-boxing his opponent and strategically landing takedowns late in rounds.

Best Bet: Dos Anjos to win (-115)

Joe Pounders

Rafael Dos Anjos has been a battle-tested ranked veteran of the sport in both the lightweight and welterweight divisions. His well-rounded game with notes of elite grappling makes him a tough test for anyone to pass, and while he is 38 years old and has 33 UFC fights, he has yet to show signs of significant regression.

Winning three of his last four fights, most recently a win over Bryan Barberena, Dos Anjos is looking to solidify himself in the welterweight division and earn a top 5 contender with a win here. To do so, he will likely need to use his underrated striking early in the bout to close distance and wait for an opening to shoot a takedown. He has shown the ability to successfully blend his southpaw boxing into successful wrestling, and if he does so here, he has the top game to control Luque on the mat and work to find an opening for submission or inflict damage with ground and pound. Given both the striking and grappling mandate patience, it will be pivotal for Dos Anjos to trust his veteran ability and not rush into anything, because if he does, then the tread on his tires accompanied by his opponent having thunder in his fists may prove to be a catastrophic error. If, however, he is patient, then he has the proven ability to wrestle his way to victory here.

Prior to his downward spell in the UFC having lost to Belal Muhammad and most recently, Geoff Neal by KO, Luque was on a short list of near championship contending fighters given his 14-3 record in the UFC to that point. But, as with Dos Anjos, the miles on his fight career may be creeping up on him, as his arguably best chin in the organization proved faulty in his last fight.

While Luque may no longer be able to enter the octagon with the utmost trust in his durability, he does have more than enough offensive skills to make him dangerous for nearly anyone in the division. On the feet, as stated above, Luque throws with ill intentions and has immense power in doing so. On the mat, being a close friend to Gilbert Burns, it comes to little surprise to know he is quite comfortable there, but, he has shown the ability to be kept there by elite wrestlers which is of concern here. If he can show the ability to be more defensively sound in distance management to negate deep takedown shots, then he has the skills necessary to stuff ancillary shots. And if kept on the feet, the speed and power advantage should be in his favor which are two critical advantages when facing an opponent with as much wear and tear on the tires as Dos Anjos has here.

As the line suggests, this fight is quite difficult to predict. While I believe either man here can secure the win, I do trust the consistency Dos Anjos has displayed in recent fights far more than what has been shown by Luque. I expect Dos Anjos to use his technically sound boxing to find openings against Luque, and if he can avoid the big power shots of Luque, then I expect him to find an opportunity to shoot a takedown, secure ground position, and rack up control. Because of this, I am electing to go with him here, and because Luque is tough as nails accompanied by him having sound submission defense, I am choosing to up the odds and take Dos Anjos by decision.

Bet: Rafael Dos Anjos by decision

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