UFC on ESPN 34 Predictions: Vicente Luque vs. Belal Muhammad 2 staff picks, betting odds, fight preview
Vicente Luque and Belal Muhammad will go head-to-head in a rematch at this weekend’s UFC on
Luque vs. Muhammad 2 is the main event of the UFC fight card taking place at the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas, Nevada, this Saturday night. The pair previously fought at UFC 205 back in 2016 and it was Luque who came out on top with a first-round knockout victory.
This Saturday’s fight card also includes five other main card bouts and a preliminary section featuring eight fights.
Read on for our full staff predictions and analysis before Luque vs. Muhammad 2 and get our staff predictions and picks before the main event. Also, find the latest Luque vs. Muhammad UFC betting odds right here.
- Luque: -180
- Muhammad: +155
Luque and Muhammad offer the potential for both an exciting and a grueling fight as both men really have no quit between them and have shown the ability to rally through bloody and drawn-out wars in the octagon. Both men are also very well-rounded so expect a full spectrum of martial arts demonstration. Both men tend to prefer boxing as their primary means of striking, although Luque mixes in elbows and knees a bit more, the latter of which often comes once he finds his opponents hurt. He likes to use the jumping knee as an entry point as his opponent is backed to the cage, where he can then land his elbows and dirty box, but before any of this, he actually utilizes very long boxing. Belal likewise does best with his hands, although also chains in some nice kicks. His game plan is usually to push forward and box his opponent in against the cage with lateral strikes, wide hooks and straights negates their movement. IN response they have to explode away while Muhammad efficiently hunts them down again and eventually shoots.
Both men are very good grapplers, but the threat comes from different areas. Muhammad is a better wrestler, his go to takedowns often being deep double legs, but he will transition to a low waist lock or high crotch to finish by lifting and dumping his opponent. He then consistently breaks them down by slowly passing and peppering with low impact shots enough to create openings, but which also add up over time. Luque, although also deadly in top position with good ground and pound, is likely the most dangerous in the front headlock position, as his go to submissions are between Anacondas and Darc chokes. The biggest worry for Muhammad constantly looking to shoot as he did most recently against wonderboy would be getting caught by Luque in his most deadly position.
Ultimately on the outside, Luque is a bit crisper and cleaner in his striking but Muhammad sets a bit of a better pace and is a bit more mobile. Both men will want to dominate the center of the octagon so that is the first battle. If Luque can do so I think he lands the more damaging and precise shots and puts Muhammad off of his game enough that when shooting the opportunity for the submission will be there at some point. If Muhammad earns the center, Luque could be in for a longer night, defending takedowns against the cage and having to rally back at points. Of the two possibilities, I think that Luque is a bit more educated in his striking, and in the early exchanges he will earn enough respect that begins to control things.
Prediction: Luque to win
Luque is an extremely well-rounded fighter who doesn’t just use his varied skillset to win fights but to end them. Of his 21 wins, 11 have come by KO/TKO and 8 have come by submission. On the feet, Luque perpetually moves forward. He walks behind a jab but is willing to throw one to land two. This is because Luque has what might be the best chin in the entire UFC. He can eat clean shots, barely react, and throw a combination in return. When he lets his hands go, Luque can strike with high volume, accuracy, and power. He typically takes a more boxing-heavy approach, keeps his combinations tight, and hunts the chin of his opponent. If the fight hits the mat, Luque is a talented scrambler and submission artist. Often having the edge in strength, Luque is able to stuff takedown attempts or reverse position in a scramble. If he is stuck in bottom position, Luque has a variety of submissions in his arsenal that he can use to end the fight, even from his back. Essentially, Luque is one of the most dangerous fighters in the division regardless of where the fight takes place. His primary weakness is getting outworked, whether on the feet or in the clinch. If someone can neutralize Luque’s offense, they can volume or pressure their way to a victory.
When considering pressure, Muhammad comes to mind. He is currently on a 6-fight win streak, largely on the back of weaponizing his cardio and out-thinking his opponent. Muhammad is a talented, fundamental, and relentless wrestler. From the first second of the fight to the last, Muhammad crashes distance, gets in tight, and makes a MMA fight into a grueling war of attrition. His typical approach is to pump a jab out early to find range and continue moving forward to press his opponent up against the cage. From here, Muhammad will clinch, keep head position, and look to drag his opponent down. He averages 2.2 takedowns per fight but only at a 33% clip. This is because he is as successful treating the clinch as a kind of vertical takedown, where Muhammad can apply pressure with his head and chest while controlling his opponent. If the fight to the mat, Muhammad is a position over submission type of fighter. He lays heavy, drains the cardio of his opponent, and grinds out the round on top. He is suffocating on the mat and rarely makes mistakes that create submission or get up opportunities. Muhammad is able to implement this grueling and grinding style because of his elite cardio and fight IQ. The primary weakness of Muhammad is his striking. He can strike well enough to get in tight but often does not do much damage or land with high accuracy. His striking is more a method to wrestle than a method to win.
Common consensus would be that if Luque keeps the fight standing, he’ll get a finish or a wide win. If Muhammad can get it down, he’ll likely win. I see half of that statement as true. If Luque can keep the fight on the feet, his striking is so far and away beyond Muhammad’s that Luque should win convincingly. However, while Muhammad is a top-tier wrestler, because of Luque’s submission game and natural strength, I see the grappling exchanges being closer than some expect. In the end, I like Luque to do damage on the feet and create enough scrambles to neutralize the neutralizer himself.
Prediction: Luque to win
Luque is a calculated killer inside the octagon. What I mean by this is that no matter where the fight ensues, he has the skills necessary to finish his opponent at any moment – 11 of his 21 wins are by TKO/KO and 8 of his 21 wins are by submission. This description of a “calculated killer” coupled with the impressive track record of success, against elite competition, is perhaps all that is needed to understand the threat he is when in the octagon.
Although the description is all that is needed, diving into the details of how he fights will aid in predicting the winner in this specific matchup. On the feet, Luque has athletic in-and-out movement. When he moves inside, he has heavy combinations with his hands, resembling that of fellow elite welterweight, and his close friend, Gilbert Burns. Often, Luque has the ability to keep the fight in a dirty boxing range, given his chin will hold up against any attacks. Continually, when in close, grappling presents itself to Luque if he elects to change the direction of the fight. This change of direction does not occur often – average 0.64 takedowns per fight – as Luque has had a significant amount of success on the feet; but, Luque, being an elite submission artist, does have the capability to offensively wrestle which is often only done by the truly elite submission artists in the UFC. In total, Luque has the power, ground game, chin, and success over the strong competition – he has won 10 of his last 11 fights – to truly warrant him a title-caliber challenger in a very tough division.
Since having lost to Luque back in 2016, Muhammad is on an impressive run up the welterweight division in his own regard, as he is 10-1-1 in his last 12 fights. Interestingly, Muhammad has finished just one of his wins since 2017, which is drastically different from the style of fighting of Luque.
Knowing Muhammad is a decision-type fighter is not surprising whatsoever, as he elects to put his opponent through a grueling 15-minute affair knowing doing so maximizes his best attributes as a fighter. What I mean by this is Muhammad employs an elite combination of non-stop pressure that is finished by takedown after takedown. He does this to not only control the fight but also, to weaponize his elite cardio. This desire regarding how to fight further illustrates the single-greatest attribute Muhammad has inside the octagon – his intelligence.
Often, Dominick Cruz, the former bantamweight champion, is touted as being the most cerebral fighter in the UFC; but, Muhammad has a strong case for being put in the same category as Cruz as he understands how to transition natural intelligence into a fighting tool. This ability is extremely unique, and thus, makes him a difficult fight for anyone that faces him, as he leaves his ego at the door and elects to choose the path of least resistance for him to secure the victory – clinch-wrestling contrary to staying on his feet. The reasoning for this, particularly against the top of the division, is that Muhammad lacks the power and overall striking acumen to match his opponent; thus, if his opponent can stop the clinch-wrestling attack of Muhammad, he will likely find it difficult to win if kept on the feet.
On paper, the skills of Luque should be able to prevent the non-stop clinch-wrestling attack of Muhammad. And, if done, the disparity in talent on the feet greatly favors Luque in this matchup. But, I find myself trying to trust Muhammad’s intelligence to find an alternate path to victory if need be. Although I find myself trying to trust Muhammad, I cannot overlook the elite talent of Luque, particularly with knowing his fight-ending submission game coupled with him having the skills to get off the mat from a defensive position if needed. So, although I love the cardio and intelligence Muhammad weaponizes in the octagon, I anticipate Luque combating the main grappling attack and keeping the fight standing, and if done, Luque will have tremendous success.