‘Chito’ Vera refuses to overlook Cory Sandhagen

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Marlon Vera’s gotten comfortable in the spotlight.

He looked more at home than ever Wednesday morning at the UFC presser, where he answered a barrage of reporters’ questions about Saturday’s bantamweight showdown against Cory Sandhagen at UFC on ESPN 43.

Entering his third consecutive main event bout, “Chito” handled questions like the seasoned veteran he is, confident but cautious.

“Just the fact that there’s a guy preparing himself to beat me up,” Vera said of Sandhagen, “I’ve got to be worried about him.”

Focused on the task at hand

When questions about crowded rankings and potential title fights float toward the stage, Vera’s wise to avoid giving the illusion that he’s overlooking a very game Sandhagen.

“Why put so much energy on things that are not in front of you?” Vera asked a reporter. “You can’t talk about three or four guys when you have one guy in front of you.”

Spoken like a true veteran, respectful of his opponent and focused on the task at hand. Plus, Vera’s performances speak for themselves.

Winner of 10 of his last 12 fights, Vera’s been on a vicious tear, turning heads with highlight knockouts of UFC legends Dominick Cruz and Frankie Edgar. Vera also battered and bloodied Rob Font and Davey Grant throughout convincing unanimous decision victories.

Vera’s most recent loss was to former featherweight champ Jose Aldo, who backpacked Vera to a unanimous decision victory in Dec. 2020. Before that, Vera was on the losing end of a highly questionable split decision loss to a visibly defeated Yadong Song in May 2020.

Going for UFC gold

With those setbacks in the rearview mirror, a title fight is most certainly on the horizon if Vera can handle business this weekend. While the Pride of Ecuador isn’t fixated on that future, he made it clear that he fully intends to bring UFC gold—and an entire production team—to South America.

“That’s everything to me, get the belt, bring it back to Ecuador and eventually one day defend my belt in Ecuador,” he said. “Why not?”

A UFC event in Ecuador? It’s not so farfetched. After all, the previously unfathomable idea of a skinny scrapper from Chone, Manabí, Ecuador, fighting for a UFC title has become a very real possibility for the No. 3-ranked bantamweight in the world.

Rise of the Latin American fighters

If Vera can complete his rise to the UFC crown, he’ll be the latest success story of a fighter development effort that sparked on The Ultimate Fighter Latin America in 2014. Vera was one of 16 Latino fighters to compete in that inaugural season. Mexicans and current UFC champions Yair Rodriguez and Brandon Moreno are also TUF alumni.

“It’s a huge motivation,” Vera said of watching his fellow Spanish speakers win titles. “It makes me happy to see it’s reachable…I want to be a world champion and join them in that.”

If Vera can successfully add to his resume a victory over a former title challenger in Sandhagen, it’d be hard to make an argument that Vera shouldn’t be next in line for his shot at the throne.

‘Only dying’ will keep Vera from title

Current No.1 contender Merab Dvalishvili refuses to fight friend and current champion Aljamain Sterling, and Vera already beat No. 2-ranked Sean O’Malley, despite “Suga Show” refusing to admit defeat to this day.

A date with destiny is seemingly inevitable, but Vera—a modern-day hippie who microdoses mushrooms and ruminates in daily ice baths—plays it cool.

He insists he lives in the moment and focuses on one fight, but the ultimate goal doesn’t change.

Vera dreams of becoming champion.

“If I put something in my mind, only dying would stop me from reaching it,” he said. “Besides that, I’m on it.”

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Jonathan Andrade is a longtime sports reporter based in Southern California. A graduate of Cal State Northridge, Andrade was a full-time newspaper reporter in Ventura County for six years. While covering all sports throughout his career, Andrade gravitated to the storylines of MMA. Away from writing, Andrade enjoys time with his wife and son, and produces a YouTube channel all about reselling.

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