Jason Silva – USA TODAY Sports
In terms of ranked rising contender’s in a truly stacked welterweight division, finisher Vicente Luque stands out as arguably the best. The New Jersey born striker has amassed a hugely impressive 10-2 record in the Ultimate Fighting Championship already, and returns to the East coach this weekend in his stiffest meeting to date.
The 27-year-old stands opposite one of the best natural strikers the division has seen in recent years, Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson. Despite the task Luque is facing in overthrowing the more than competent striker, Luque meets the North Carolina native in the patchyest form of his career. Thompson was narrowly outpointed by Darren Till in Liverpool, before he suffered his first professional knockout loss to Anthony Pettis in March. Luque, enters the affair in a particularly rich vein of form. Six wins in six which included a gruelling test against Mike Perry in Uruguay recently. All in all, Luque meets ‘Wonderboy’ at arguably his best, and the latter’s worst.
Vicente Luque falls into the same bracket as UFC 244 headliner Jorge Masvidal – a dangerous boxer, with good movement, but if his route to exchanges requires major setup, he struggles. When Thompson met Masvidal at UFC 217, the karate expert stuck on the outside and simply outpointed the American Top Team ace for three rounds. Even before his sudden loss to the former UFC lightweight best Pettis, Thompson dictated the pace and stuck on the edge of the pocket effectively.
In his real ‘coming out’ party, ‘Wonderboy’ lodged a first round stoppage of one-time welterweight best Johny Hendricks. Oklahoma puncher Hendricks has incredible stopping power, evident from his finishes of Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann, but against Thompson, he struggled massively with the distance maintained. This is an aspect of the fight I believe Luque may find difficult to manage.
Matching his striking prowess, Luque also brings with him, a very underestimated and somewhat sneaky submission arsenal. Against Niko Price, Hayder Hassan and Alvaro Herrera, TUF feature locked up D’Arce’s and an anaconda finish. The predominant striker by way of Brasilia, tends to only jump to his submission grappling when he has an opponent stunned. When paired with Thompson, the possibility of closing range and clipping the lateral mover with hooks is quite slim.
Against the highly technical Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards, Luque was forced to his back on three separate occasions, and out landed in terms of total strikes. In his Ultimate Fighter finale meeting with Michael Graves, Luque was also systematically exposed during wrestling exchanges, with Graves forcing the New Jersey native to the canvas seven times. Thankfully for Luque, Saturday’s opponent, Thompson, doesn’t pose a significant wrestling threat compared to previous opponents.
At Madison Square Garden, the 27-year-old must make this contest an unsightly one for the fans of Thompson’s karate style. The inability to close distance early and often leaves Luque at the mercy of a point-fighting match. ‘Wonderboy’ presents one of the most poised controllers of distance, and countering striking, IF allowed the time to setup his strikes. Aggression, controlled aggression is a must for Vicente Luque, or he faces the prospect of a similar fate to the aforementioned Masvidal, Rory MacDonald and Patrick Cote.