Ecuadorian bantamweight contender Marlon Vera has gradually moved his way up the ranks at 135 pounds. But on Saturday night in San Diego, “Chito” staked a legitimate claim for a shot at championship gold with a huge fourth-round knockout of former champion Dominick Cruz.
The bout, which headlined UFC on ESPN 41 at the Pechanga Arena, pitted the surging Vera against wily former champ Cruz, who stated pre-fight that he still has what it takes to reach the bantamweight summit once again.
But it was Vera whose fight-finishing ability came to the fore in the latter rounds to add his name to the list of elite contenders in arguably the UFC’s most talent-rich weight class.
Cruz started well, using his movement and boxing to settle into a familiar rhythm. But even during the early stages when he was second best, Vera still showed glimpses of his power. A left hand dropped Cruz for a brief moment in the first round, while the Ecuadorian also showed off some of his grappling skills as he looked to lock up an armbar submission in the closing seconds.
Cruz continued to look the more comfortable fighter through the second round, but Vera picked up the pace in the third and started to find his range in a round that he took on each of the three judges’ scorecards.
But Vera ensured those cards would not be called upon as, in the fourth round, he hit the jackpot with a huge head kick.
Vera identified Cruz’s ducking exits to his right after throwing shots, and countered brilliantly with a perfectly-timed left high kick that sent the former champ face-first into the canvas at the 2:17 mark.
CHITO WITH THE HEADKICK FOR THE WIN! 🤯#UFCSanDiego pic.twitter.com/FStSrwXNIT
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) August 14, 2022
It showed that Vera, after enduring a tricky first two rounds, had seen enough of Cruz in the flesh to spot his tendencies, and found the perfect counter to claim the knockout victory.
“I came to the sport to be a world champion,” Vera told Daniel Cormier after his victory.
“I have the heart, I have the work ethic, and now I have the people that will get me there.
“Whatever happen in those fights, I believe it’s all about performance. Whatever happened in those fights, I believe it’s all about performance. Whoever has the best finish, the flashiest one, will get a title shot.
“At the end of the day, those are things we can’t control, so I’m not tripping. I will keep working, I will keep kicking ass, and Ecuador, I’m going to be a f-cking world champion.”
UFC on ESPN 41: Official Results
- Marlon Vera def. Dominick Cruz via knockout (head kick, punches) – Round 4, 2:17
- Nate Landwehr def. David Onama via majority decision (28-28, 29-27, 29-27)
- Yazmin Jauregui def. Iasmin Lucindo via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
- Azamat Murzakanov def. Devin Clark via TKO (punches) – Round 3, 1:08
- Priscila Cachoeira def. Ariane Lipski via TKO (punches) – Round 1, 1:05
- Gerald Meerschaert def. Bruno Silva via submission (guillotine choke) – Round 3, 1:39
- Angela Hill def. Lupita Godinez via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28,29-28)
- Martin Buday def. Lukasz Brzeski via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
- Nina Nunes def. Cynthia Calvillo via split decision (28-29, 29-28, 30-27)
- Gabriel Benitez def. Charlie Ontiveros via TKO (punches) – Round 1, 3:35
- Tyson Nam def. Ode Osbourne via knockout (punch) – Round 1, 2:59
- Josh Quinlan def. Jason Witt via knockout (punch) – Round 1, 2:09
- Da’Mon Blackshear vs. Youssef Zalal ruled majority draw (29-28, 28-28, 28-28)