Will Vicente Luque be the same all-action fighter in his return?

The UFC Vegas 78 main event features two warriors in every sense of the word. There are times we distinguish fighters from mixed martial artists, but these two welterweight combatants are clearly both.

When Rafael Dos Anjos (21-12 UFC) walks to the Octagon this Saturday night, it will be his 47th professional fight. Nobody has spent more time competing on the UFC stage than the 38-year old Brazilian. The former lightweight champion is the only fighter ever to amass over eight hours of fight time in the UFC. That’s even more remarkable considering Dos Anjos’ career started with two consecutive losses, putting the fighter in danger of being cut close to 15 years ago. Incredibly, Dos Anjos is still here looking to break into the welterweight rankings with a win over 10th-ranked Vicente Luque.

Luque (14-5 UFC) is in the midst of a two-fight losing streak himself. He climbed as high as No. 5 in the rankings by winning 13 of 14 fights, but recent adversity has his career at a crossroads. His recent slide started when Luque dropped a decision to Belal Muhammad, but it was his last loss to Geoff Neal that has bettors hesitant to back one of the division’s most feared finishers. For the first time in his career, Luque was on the wrong end of a knockout. Sooner or later, you are going to get a dose of your own medicine when you constantly attack with the fearless aggression of Luque. It’s what happened next that makes his return so unique. Luque actually suffered a brain bleed in his bout with Neal, resulting in a 12-month medical suspension and mandatory clearance from an independent neurosurgeon.

While Dos Anjos is fighting to retain relevancy and break records as the sport’s true iron man, Luque is fighting to prove he has much more left to give. The odds have been relatively stable throughout the week with Luque remaining a slight underdog. It’s an unfamiliar position for the welterweight, who has closed as the favorite in 18 of his 19 UFC fights. Is the market shorting “The Silent Assassin” or should his last fight serve as a warning sign for bettors?

Rafael Dos Anjos looks on before a fight with Renato Moicano at UFC 272. (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

Rafael Dos Anjos -125 vs. Vicente Luque +105

Luque’s willingness to initiate violence has been one of his greatest attributes as a professional fighter. His ability to excel while fighting fearlessly is what makes him so dangerous. He will also hold a significant size and reach advantage against Dos Anjos. If his last bout with Neal never happened, this fight would appear tailor-made for Luque. The problem is, the fight did happen and the result was disastrous. At his core, Luque is an action fighter that’s going to go out on his shield regardless of the risk. There are always questions whether a fighter returns from a knockout loss more timid, but I don’t plan on seeing that on Saturday night. More times than not, when fighters attempt to re-engineer their approach, they eliminate the part of their game that made them so successful. They end up looking unsure of themselves and reactive, which is an impossible way to beat the best in the sport.

Luque is going to fight as if he is the same fighter he always was, and that could be a big problem if his durability is on the decline. It feels crazy questioning that aspect after only one knockout, but sometimes that’s all it takes in this sport to initiate a fighter’s decline. There isn’t a path to victory for Luque that doesn’t involve taking clean shots. He isn’t going to out-grapple Dos Anjos, and his defensive metrics don’t paint a pretty picture. Per Richard Mann, Luque eats 5.51 significant strikes per minute, which is the 13th highest among ranked fighters. The fight is -165 to end before the judges get involved, so considering he is the underdog, it’s clear the finishing ability isn’t totally on Luque’s side.

Dos Anjos will look to equalize Luque’s forward pressure by changing levels, and use his chain wrestling to put him on his back. Dos Anjos averages 2.05 takedowns per 15 minutes, which equates to 3.42 over a five-round fight. Control time has always been a focus for the BJJ practitioner. He has successfully taken down his opponent between 4-6 times in each of his last four wins. This gives the smaller Dos Anjos another outlet to win rounds, slowly taking Luque out of his game, hoping his impatience leads to an opportunity for a submission.

For the live betting audience, Dos Anjos’ ability to land takedowns in Rounds 1 and 2 will be an early indicator if the fight is going to go his way. The threat of the takedown can be even more valuable than the takedown itself. Luque does a solid job getting back to his feet, but if defending grappling advances is consistently interrupting his momentum, his porous striking defense will deteriorate in the later rounds.

Ultimately, Luque has parts of his game that are very exploitable for a veteran like Dos Anjos. Both fighters are going to come forward and use their kicks to control distance and set the tempo early. Dos Anjos’ ability to counter his opponent’s pressure with his wrestling is going to be the difference in the fight. Over five rounds, Dos Anjos will have plenty of opportunities to put Luque’s chin to the test, while also delivering enough damage from control positions to score points. As Luque feels the pressure to make something happen, I expect Dos Anjos to stay disciplined, take advantage and secure the victory. Best Bet: Dos Anjos -125

Stats provided by ufcstats, sherdog, and Richard Mann

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