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UFC Vegas 51: Luque vs. Muhammad 2 - Fights to make

All the best, most interesting, and unquestionably coolest fights the UFC needs to book following their latest event in Las Vegas, NV.

Vicente Luque lost to Belal Muhammad at UFC Vegas 51.
Vicente Luque lost to Belal Muhammad at UFC Vegas 51.
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Sometimes it’s the cards nobody talks about that continue being the cards nobody is going to talk about. UFC Vegas 51: Muhammad vs. Luque 2 looked bad on paper, and was pretty poor in execution. An event filled with brutal fouls, grinding decisions, and a main event that ended up carrying little in the way of competitive drama.

So, has Belal Muhammad officially staked his claim to being the welterweight ‘dark horse’ title threat? Is Pat Sabatini ready for a big jump up in competition? And why did the UFC do Brandon Jenkins like that?

To answer those questions – but nothing else – I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methodology from the UFC of years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. Hopefully, by following that model, a few of these bout ideas will actually make it off the page and into the Octagon. Now, let’s get to the fights!

BELAL MUHAMMAD

It may not be pretty, it may not be fun, but there’s no denying that Belal Muhammad knows how to win at the highest levels of the sport. Few competitors—even among the elite—are so careful in their game-planning, or consistent in their drive to get results. Luque got his kind of fight, on the front foot, working his way into range with feints, looking for counters. But Muhammad’s constant movement meant the ‘Silent Assassin’ could never find the timing to let his hands go the way he needed to for victory. And the excellently timed takedowns whenever Luque truly got comfortable sealed what was, ultimately, a pretty straight forward victory.

After the bout, Muhammad called for a fight with Colby Covington. But, those who read my UFC 273 Fights to Make post will know exactly where I stand on the next booking for ‘Remember the Name.’ Gilbert Burns may be coming off a rough loss, but that was in a absolute barn-burner slugfest against Khamzat Chimaev. A fight that did little, if anything, to dispel the idea that ‘Durinho’ is one of the best welterweights in the world today. What’s more, he was in Luque’s corner, trying to coach his fellow Brazilian to victory over Muhammad on Saturday. Muhammad vs. Burns is a perfect chance for Burns to avenge his teammate, or for Muhammad prove that he’s on his way to an eventual title shot.

VICENTE LUQUE

Vicente Luque isn’t about to drop out of the running in the welterweight division. He’s too fearsome a puncher to entirely fade away from the conversation when it comes to high level fights that fans want to see. That said, though, this does feel like another serious setback to his potential status as a title challenger. This is the second time he’s reached the cusp of contender status, only to fall short against an opponent who offers a consistent, crafty game-plan to his pressure and counters.

Personally, I’d love to see Luque take on Jorge Masvidal, a battle of two men who do their best work punching in the pocket, and are well known for their extreme durability. But, it’s hard to know just when we might see ‘Gamebred’ back in the Octagon right now. Otherwise looking at the top 15, there’s really only two clear options. The first is a rematch against Stephen Thompson; a chance for Luque to get back a hard loss or for Thompson to prove he’s still the same fighter he was in 2019. The second is a fight with Sean Brady—which feels much more like a potential sacrifice for the sake of a talent on the rise. That said, I’ll still go with the first time booking. Luque vs. Brady is a great way for Brady to make his name as a contender, and a chance for Luque to prove he can stuff some takedowns.

ANDRE FIALHO

It wasn’t all one way traffic, but ultimately Fialho had just the kind of performance he needed to bust up Miguel Baeza and get the win. The man has some slick boxing and a ton of power. Give him an opponent that will stand inside with him and he can make some waves. This being the welterweight division, there shouldn’t be any shortage of those kinds of dudes hanging around. Mike Malott and Jack Della Maddalena spring immediately to mind, but I like the idea of Carlston Harris a lot. Mocambique may be fresh off is first career loss, but he’s still a hell of a difficult test with his wild punching offense and a clinging wrestling game. And losing to Shavkat Rakhmonov isn’t a huge knock against anyone. Harris vs. Fialho seems like a surefire thriller, for however long it lasts.

PAT SABATINI

An absolutely dominant performance for Pat Sabatini. TJ Laramie started out well, competing in the wrestling and grappling scrambles. But once Sabatini started to force his game just a little bit, he was able to repeatedly chase Laramie to the mat and turn small takedown victories into complete positional dominance and lots and lots of GnP. The end result is another one-sided victory for Sabatini, and a growing sense that he’s ready for a serious step up. That could be someone like Ryan Hall (or I even saw people suggesting Bryce Mitchell), or how about Lerone Murphy? Murphy’s faced a row of killers on his way up the division, with a whole lot of fantastic grapplers especially. Sabatini would only continue that trend. A good chance for Sabatini to upset one of the division’s top prospects. And an opportunity for Murphy to keep building that resume. Murphy vs. Sabatini sounds like a true challenge for the Philadelphian.

MOUNIR LAZZEZ

Exactly the kind of bounce-back Lazzez needed after a miserable loss to Warrley Alves in January of 2021. Loosa came well prepared for a high paced kickboxing bout, but just couldn’t quite match the depth of technique and power that Lazzez carries on the feet. The result was a fairly commanding clean sweep on the judges score cards and a reaffirmation of Lazzez’s status as an interesting talent on the rise. That could put him in the cross-hairs for fights with Ian Garry, Jeremiah Wells, Phillip Rowe, or Matthew Semelsberger. Of those, Wells seems like the most dangerous, so it’s the one I’m going to go with. A tank of a man with lots of power and some solid takedowns against Lazzez’s rangy boxing attack? Should be a good test for both to see if they can keep taking steps toward the top 15. Lazzez vs. Wells is a banger at 170 lbs.

DEVIN CLARK

Knight put a serious scare into Clark, showing up at full heavyweight size—and clearly strong as an ox—for their inter-divisional clash. But, credit to Clark, he put his head down, took his lumps early, and fought through Knight’s power to get to dominant wrestling positions. All to the extent that he was able to turn some late clinch control into a couple huge hooks that dropped Knight in a heap. Alongside the bout, the booth made it clear that Clark wants to head straight back down to light heavyweight, so I won’t entertain the idea of him fighting up a division again.

Assuming that all goes as planned, then, there’s one obvious fight for Clark to take: Khalil Rountree. Rountree’s striking is even more ferocious than Knight’s but, he’s also had just as many problems fighting off talented wrestlers. Can Clark keep the momentum going? Or will Rountree rack up another crushing KO. Clark vs. Rountree is an ideal next bout for both men.

DRAKKAR KLOSE

Fans rarely get to see a mismatch that heavy inside the Octagon. Jenkins tried to stay elusive early behind a bevvy of low kicks, but once Klose found space to fire his right hand, he more or less tuned Jenkins up for 3-straight, solid minutes. If it hadn’t been for Volkanovski’s recent fight against Chan Sung Jung, this would have been one of the most definitively one-sided prolonged ass-kickings I’d seen in a minute. A great showing for Klose in his return, who immediately took the mic to call out Mark O. Madsen. I don’t know that I love the style clash; Klose could fight someone like Mateusz Gamrot, Brad Riddell, or Bobby Green. But if he wants to fight Madsen, then it’s exactly the kind of step up that Madsen needs, so why not book it? Mark O. Madsen vs. Drakkar Klose is fine if it’s the fight Klose wants.

HEILI ALATENG

I figured Alateng would have the power edge here over Croom, but the ‘Mongolian Knight’ decided to really overstate the case—dropping Croom with a heavy hook combo less than a minute into the first round. That marks the first victory for Alateng in the Octagon since 2019, and should line him up for another bout with an entertaining action fighter. That could mean Victor Henry, Javid Basharat, or Chris Gutierrez. Of those, I think Basharat is the fight I’d most like to see. The Xtreme Couture fighter got a terrific UFC debut win over Trevin Jones, who has his own slow-paced, power-punching style. Alateng is a bit more active, a bit more well rounded, should be a small step forward with a similar kind of style. A good much up for Basharat, and a chance for Alateng to start stringing some wins together. Alateng vs. Basharat should be a scrappy fight.

OTHER BOUTS: Caio Borralho vs. Aliaskhab Khizriev, Gadzhi Omargadzhiev vs. AJ Dobson, Miguel Baeza vs. Nicolas Dalby, Mayra Bueno Silva vs. Josiane Nunes, Wu Yanan vs. Julija Stoliarenko, TJ Laramie vs. Bruno Souza, Ange Loosa vs. AJ Fletcher, William Knight vs. Chris Barnett, Pannie Kianzad vs. Stephanie Egger, Lina Lansberg vs. Jessy-Rose Clark, Brandon Jenkins vs. Charlie Ontiveros, Rafa Garcia vs. L’udovit Klein, Jesse Ronson vs. Viacheslav Borshchev, Martin Buday vs. Rodrigo Nascimento, Jordan Leavitt vs. Ignacio Bahamondes, Trey Ogden vs. Erick Gonzalez, Sam Hughes vs. Cory McKenna, Istela Nunes vs. Oliveira/De Paula loser, Kevin Croom vs. Marcelo Rojo