Marlon Vera had Dominick Cruz’s number on Saturday.
“Chito” took time to take Cruz down for good, but in the fourth round, he was stuck and he received a brutal head kick that left Cruz face down on the mat to close out the UFC San Diego main event. It was Vera’s fourth straight win, who went into the weekend as the No. 7 Bantamweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings.
During the press conference after the night’s fight, Vera was asked if there was anything about Cruz’s unique stand-up style that confused him, and he downplayed the difficulty of the matchup.
“Honestly, me and my team, we really think the way he fights is at a very low level,” said Vera. “There’s no base, there’s no good posture, all that side-to-side movement – we said to each other, ‘We need to kick this guy in the ass.’ But by saying that, you’re putting a lot of pressure on yourself.
“I just believe his style is not the best style for MMA. Maybe it works better for boxing, but for MMA you have way too many weapons. What he does well, he combines takedowns with that move. Then he is successful. But I was like, it’s going to be hard for him to take me down, so we were pretty confident, but we knew this fight wasn’t easy.”
Cruz’s career achievements include a 24-4 record and championships in the UFC and WEC. He is legendary for his evasion and durability, with only one knockout loss on his record prior to his fight with Vera. That loss, a second-round TKO by Henry Cejudo at UFC 249, was hotly contested by Cruz, but there was no discussion of Saturday’s finish.
Vera had hurt Cruz a few times before in the fight, but he was practicing caution instead of rushing in for a finish.
“I was just patient, I took my time,” Vera said. “I dropped it on the first lap and when I dropped it I didn’t go crazy. I didn’t try to chase the finish, I never chase the finish. I have no problem standing in front of you and find those openings.
“He’s getting into really good shape,” Vera added. “If you’re in shape, you can get back up and he can scramble quite a bit. So when I dropped him the first time on the first lap, the first thing that came to mind was what happened in the [Cruz vs. Pedro] Munhoz fight. Munhoz rushed to the finish and then he left everything behind on lap one, so I said to myself, ‘I have four laps left to break this guy, so don’t freak out.’ This thing (points to head) is a motherf***** so I was like, ‘Just stay focused and you’ll catch him.’”
With the impressive knockout, Vera extended his record for most finishes in UFC bantamweight history to 10. His last three wins have been against ranked opponents (Cruz, Rob Font, Frankie Edgar) and he has one of the strongest fallen for a title shot in his division.
However, there are several contenders in the same streak, including Petr Yan, Sean O’Malley, Jose Aldo and Merab Dvalishvili, all of whom will compete in the coming months and could block Vera’s path to a title. Not to mention the bantamweight champion himself, Aljamain Sterling, who goes on to defend his title against TJ Dillashaw at UFC 280 in October.
Vera plans to keep a close eye on his peers and how the title photo develops.
“I pay attention to every UFC, top to bottom,” said Vera. “It doesn’t matter who’s fighting, it doesn’t matter who’s the first or last fight of the night, I’m watching. I like to watch. That’s why I like to comment, because I watch live. I can pick up the energy of the fight, I can see what’s going on in there. I’ll definitely keep an eye out and I’ll see who gives them [Sterling] The next.”