No matter what sport you pick, whether it be individual sports like fighting, golf and track or team sports like football, baseball, basketball and hockey, the vast majority of athletes at the professional level are so gifted that the mere mortals among us can’t comprehend it.
None of us will hit a golf ball like Tiger Woods or a baseball like Mike Trout, throw a pass like Tom Brady or engage in a jaw-dropping slugfest like Gilbert Burns and Khamzat Chimaev did on Saturday at UFC 273.
And then there’s Vicente Luque, the UFC’s fifth-ranked welterweight who on Saturday faces sixth-rated Belal Muhammad in a rematch in the main event of UFC Vegas 51 at Apex.
On the surface, it looks like Luque is the thoroughbred that all of these other elite athletes clearly are. But no less an authority than Luque himself said he’s no elite athlete.
He didn’t get into the game as a highly touted guy who was good at everything he tried. It was a long, hard and grueling journey to this point, where he’s main eventing in the UFC for the first time in his career.
“I don’t know, but it’s funny,” Luque told Yahoo Sports. “I wasn’t a super talented fighter, you know? I didn’t start off as a talented guy.
“I just really enjoyed MMA. I wanted to be a professional fighter. I wanted to become a champion one day. And that made me work hard and get to where I am. So in that beginning, maybe that lack of talent kind of cost me a little bit on some fights. But my effort and my dedication overcame that. And then I built what I needed to get to where I am right now.
“I mean, I had a rough start. But I was tough enough to survive that, and keep on going, and now have this great career.”
Luque turned pro in 2009 and went 2-2-1 in his first five fights. He joined the UFC in 2015 and lost his debut on “The Ultimate Fighter” finale to Carlos Alexandre Pereira.
He later lost to Michael Graves in his third UFC fight, putting him at 1-2 in the UFC and 7-5-1 overall and, one had to think, getting pretty close to the chopping block. Luque, though, wasn’t deterred.
He’s not the kind to throw his hands up and quit. He wasn’t blessed with the physical gifts like many of his peers, but he was doggedly determined and loved MMA so much he just kept forging ahead.
“A lot of people say I’m hard-headed,” Luque said. “And I’m definitely hard-headed. And it brought me to where I am now. So I don’t know, it’s just something that I proposed to myself when I was 15 years old. I decided I was going to be an MMA fighter, a UFC fighter, and I’m going to be champion. That’s what I’m going to do until I can’t do it anymore.”
Luque has developed into a legitimate title contender. Since that ignominious loss to Graves, Luque has gone 14-2 with his only defeats to No. 2 Leon Edwards and No. 7 Stephen Thompson.
In his last four fights, he’s stopped Niko Price and Randy Brown and submitted ex-champion Tyron Woodley and Michael Chiesa with D’Arce chokes.
He goes into the rematch with Muhammad as about an 8-5 favorite at BetMGM and looking like he’ll be in a title match with a win on Saturday and perhaps one more.
He was forged by the hard times. He never got down on himself, never questioned his ability and simply committed to keep trying until he got it correct.
As seen by the results, that he has done.
“I don’t try to keep [the negative thoughts] out,” Luque said. “The thing is, I’m a really positive guy. And I always try to see the best. Negative thoughts don’t even come into my mind. And whenever I feel, like, pressure, for example, pressure is something that motivates me. So sometimes, people look at this fight and say ‘Hey, it’s a rematch. You beat him the first time, so you’ve got to go in there and beat him again.’
“In a way, that’s building pressure. I got to do something, you know? I’ve got to show everybody how good I am. But then again, it’s an opportunity for me to train harder, for me to get ready and know that Belal is going to come in and and try to get that win back. That just motivates me more. So the pressure, I always turn it into motivation and ways for me to get even more ready for this fight.”