The UFC returns to Houston, Texas this weekend for UFC 265. The Toyota Center will welcome a full capacity crowd, along with a very exciting card of fights. Headlining the event is the interim heavyweight championship bout featuring Derrick Lewis and Cyril Gane. However, also on the main card, a matchup of top welterweights Michael Chiesa and Vicente Luque should produce fireworks.
In this bout, Michael Chiesa will face off with Vicente Luque. Both Chiesa and Luque are top fighters in the division, ranked #5 and #6, respectively. Along with this ranking, both guys step into the octagon on winning streaks, and both will hope to get closer to a title opportunity with a win Saturday night. Let’s break down what got these fighters to where they are today, along with their skills and style, before giving a breakdown and prediction for this fight.
How Chiesa Got Here
Michael “Maverick” Chiesa comes into this bout playing the role of the veteran. The former TUF winner started his UFC career at lightweight in 2008. After going 8-2 to start his promotional career, Chiesa would move up to welterweight after two submission losses. This was clearly the right move, as Chiesa is still able to use his size to his advantage in the welterweight division. Riding his strong grappling game, Chiesa has gone 4-0 since the move up.
Chiesa primarily relies on his grappling when he is in the octagon. Using his offensive wrestling, size, and strength, Chiesa usually controls his opponents in grappling scenarios, usually leading to ground and pound or a submission to close the fight. With 11 of his 18 wins coming by submission, it is clear that this is a strategy that works for Michael Chiesa.
How Luque Got Here
Vicente Luque is one of the most well-rounded fighters in the division. The Brazilian has great striking, including great boxing and Muy Thai kickboxing. Along with the danger he poses on the feet, Luque also has exceptional BJJ skills. Using this balanced approach, Luque has performed, coming in with a 13-3 UFC record. Currently, he is on a three-fight finish streak, with two TKOs and a submission.
Perhaps the most dangerous attribute of Vicente Luque is his striking. Combining great technical skills with his natural power, Luque will have a clear advantage in the stand-up game on Saturday night. Along with this stand up striking, Luque has also proven to be very dangerous from dominant positions on the ground. Using his power, he can finish fights with ground and pound. Alternatively, he can use his BJJ skills to hunt submissions, making him a tough opponent for anyone.
This bout is one of those clear matchups of grappling vs striking. The game plan for these two competitors is pretty straightforward. Chiesa will look to get takedowns and dominant position early. From here he will look to soften up Luque, grind out points, or hunt submissions. On the other hand, Luque will look to defend the takedown and keep the fight standing. If he can do that, it won’t be long before he can catch Chiesa and hurt him.
In my opinion, Luque’s path to victory is much clearer than Chiesa. If he can defend the Chiesa takedowns, he will likely be able to out strike Chiesa in all areas. However, Luque has shown a bit of a weakness in his wrestling. If Chiesa can get takedowns, we may see an interesting battle of BJJ skills. However, the key to this fight will be who can establish their pressure. Both guys like to keep their opponent moving backward with aggressiveness (whether it be takedowns or striking). Whichever man can keep their opponent on the defense should be able to execute their gameplan more efficiently.
With that, my prediction basically comes down to who I think will be the aggressor Saturday night. Luque, in his last fight with Tyron Woodley, showed great calculated aggressiveness. He was aggressive, but also very technical and patient, picking his shots before finally closing in on Woodley’s neck. Luque’s power also gives him a big advantage when the fight is standing. He will be the most powerful welterweight Chiesa has yet to face, and poses a huge threat on his feet.
Another important factor is whether Luque can defend Chiesa’s takedowns. Personally, I think that as long as Luque can delay the takedowns of Chiesa it will be enough for him to get the win. For example, if Luque can just keep the fight standing for two- or three-minutes a round, I think his striking advantage will help him find a win and another finish. With that, my prediction is Vicente Luque by 3rd round TKO.
Another big storyline behind this bout is that both of these guys pose potential fresh challengers for dominant champion Kamaru Usman. Both fighters are highly ranked contenders and have win streaks of their own. Potentially, the winner of this bout, especially if someone were to pull of a finish, could be in line for a title shot or title eliminator fight. It will be interesting to see how this dynamic plays into the fight, as this is a massive opportunity for both fighters.
This fight is just one of many that have high stakes on the UFC 265 card. With an interim championship on the line, along with great, competitive matchups on the entire card, this event should be another success for the UFC. We shall see who emerges victorious and picks up momentum in this fight and all the rest Saturday night.