UFC Vegas: Vicente Luque returns from life-threatening injury with big win
Josh McNally

Just one week ago, Cody Sandhagen faced Rob Font at 140lbs in the main event of UFC Nashville. It was booked as Sandhagen's expected opponent Umar Nurmagomedov was ruled out with an injury and done so on such short notice that neither contestant has enough time to make their regular 135lb bantamweight limit.

With Sandhagen known for his flashy offense and Font tapping into his Puerto Rican heritage to become a point-blank boxer, it was expected the two men would put on an explosive fight that would make up for the lack of meaningful divisional stakes.

Instead, they set the record for combined lowest strikes landed in a five round bout (43) and spent 25 minutes grappling. As that skill is neither man's forte, it was a distinctly mid-level contest; rather than thank Sandhagen and Font for agreeing to fight on short notice to save the Nashville event, UFC boss Dana White walked out halfway through.

Post-show, Sandhagen revealed that he had entered the match with a severe elbow injury and decided to wrestle with Font for safety reasons.

Although it went unstated, he did so because of what happened to Stephen Thompson on July 29 at UFC 291: when Thompson's opponent missed weight by three pounds, the fight was scrapped. When he then declined facing another opponent on 72 hours' notice, his fight was cancelled – and he didn't get paid.

Rafael dos Anjos throws a left punch at Vicente Luque. /Zuffa
Rafael dos Anjos throws a left punch at Vicente Luque. /Zuffa

Rafael dos Anjos throws a left punch at Vicente Luque. /Zuffa

If Sandhagen's situation sounds desperate, consider Vicente Luque. At a UFC Vegas event on August 6, 2022, Luque suffered his first career KO loss to Geoff Neal and spent a year on the sidelines. Only on July 26 this year was it revealed that this is because he suffered from a subdural hematoma, a condition commonly known as "brain bleeding" in which blood escapes from a rupture in the brain and starts filling the skull, clotting and putting pressure on the brain in a manner that can lead to death.

Only then, 18 days away from his fight with Rafael dos Anjos, was Luque given clearance to fight, meaning he had been training and in preparation while the NSAC deemed him ineligible due to the potential dangers of his very serious condition.

Knowing this made the first round terrifying to watch. As if trying to prove a point, Luque met with RDA in the middle of the Octagon and began a firefight. At 38, with 46 fights under his belt and fighting at welterweight – which is to say 20lbs heavier than in his lightweight prime - dos Anjos isn't the warrior he once was, but he still packs a punch.

As soon as the former lightweight champion entered ascendancy, Luque forced RDA into the clinch against the cage and shot for a takedown. Whether it was because he was scared of taking more damage to his head or not is unknown, but shooting with a BJJ black belt is a risky. In fact, RDA quickly locked in a choke.

Vicente Luque catches Rafael dos Anjos with a high kick. /Zuffa
Vicente Luque catches Rafael dos Anjos with a high kick. /Zuffa

Vicente Luque catches Rafael dos Anjos with a high kick. /Zuffa

But then Luque powered out and ended the round on top, and this set the tone for the remainder of the fight.

Well aware that he was less technically skilled than dos Anjos but, as a natural 175lb fighter, much stronger, Luque put himself into wrestling range and goaded his opponent into wrestling with him, then out-muscled him with counters and short, sharp boxing.

As the rounds progressed, Luque racked up control time up against the fence and on the mat. By round 4 he was well in the lead, and in round 5, RDA knew he had to swing for the fences to get a win and ended up getting smothered in his rival's grappling.

Vincente Luque ultimately won by unanimous decision (46-49, 47-48, 47-48). But was his new fighting style an adaptation to a tough opponent in Rafael dos Anjos or a reaction to his brain bleed? When he was interviewed afterwards, his phrasing hinted at everyone's worst suspicions: "For me, it's a miracle to be here."

Fighting is Luque's career, he's dedicated his life to this sport - but he shouldn't have to consider his death just to earn a paycheque.

[Header: Referee Mark Smith raises Vicente Luque's hand following his victory over Rafael dos Anjos in the welterweight main event of UFC Vegas: Luque vs. Dos Anjos at the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. on August 13, 2023. /Zuffa

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