Marlon Vera isn’t one for moral victories or for sitting in a dark room and brooding for days after a loss. He takes the mantra of a soccer goalkeeper after giving up a goal:
“You just got to let it go,” said Vera of his March loss to Cory Sandhagen. “Because if you hold on to those things, you won't be able to grow, then you won't be able to become a better version of yourself. To me, it was like, yeah, that's a s**tty night, but it's part of life. It's part of shaping my soul and my character to become better. I'm like, yeah, you know what, you looked like s**t, f**k it. And just go in there the next time around, make it better and get the job done.”
The next time around for “Chito” is Saturday night against fellow bantamweight contender Pedro Munhoz. Despite dropping the split decision nod to Sandhagen, Vera remains in the top ten at number six, and with a win against Munhoz, he could be in the immediate title picture, especially if headliner Sean O’Malley, who Vera beat in 2020, defeats Aljamain Sterling for the belt. That’s motivation, though chasing another win always does the trick to get Vera amped up.
“I feel like a win puts you in the conversation for anything,” he said. “And if we talk about O'Malley fighting for the belt the same day, he has a win over one guy (Petr Yan) and is fighting for the belt. He has a no contest against Pedro Munhoz to earn a number one spot. So, at the end of the day, you’ve got to win. That's all you need.”
For Vera, it is more than winning, though. It’s getting the bad taste out of his mouth from a loss to Sandhagen where he simply didn’t look like the same fighter who won his previous four bouts over Davey Grant, Frankie Edgar, Rob Font and Dominick Cruz.
Marlon Vera | Top Finishes
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Marlon Vera | Top Finishes
“I'm glad that you say that you didn't get to see the usual me because in all my pro career, I never came with an excuse. I never came with, ‘Oh, this happened, or my diet or my family or my coaches.’ Never, never. Even if I actually came to a fight with an injury, win or lose, I never talked about it. It's just better not to talk about it because everything looks at it like an excuse. But particularly that day, I was flat. The engine was just not going. And on that night, I really had to have a strong mentality of ‘Let's man up, let's say f**k the way I feel and let's try. And I tried. I feel like whenever we watch the fight, the hardest punches were landed by me. I caught his head with an elbow, and yes, he took me down in the first two rounds, but then, it was just a s**tty fight all over. If I'm fighting a guy that is feeling the way I was feeling, I put that guy out in another dimension. He's kind of running around and just barely doing enough to get the round, but good for him. He won the fight. I lost the fight. I'd rather win a thousand times like that than just lose a fight. So I was sad because I put so much into this and I didn't fight the way I was feeling weeks before the fight. And that hurts. It hurts to lose. But I guess you can use that anger and that pain and the darkness to just come back with something beautiful.”
It's times like that when you remember that this isn’t just about two people punching each other in the face. It’s called mixed martial arts for a reason, and the arts are a big part of Vera’s life, in and out of competition. As of late, he’s drawn inspiration from MMA fan Action Bronson and country star Zach Bryan, both of whom he’s gotten to know in the course of his travels.
“He was just writing and putting out music videos when he was in the military, kind of not giving a f**k; that's just pure talent,” said Vera of Bryan. “He didn't know he had that talent until he figured it out. He wasn't trying to be a musician. He was just putting music for fun out there and all of a sudden it went viral and good for him. That’s like, ‘Oh, I got balls, but I don't know how to fight.’ And, all of a sudden, you win a UFC fight. That's pretty much the vibe he gave me. Right. He just went and put a couple of videos out and went viral.”
Now he’s one of the biggest country music stars out there, and he’s doing it all his way, much like Vera’s journey in mixed martial arts. The Ecuador native has that style and “it” factor to him, and that will serve him well long after he hangs up the gloves. But the 30-year-old isn’t thinking about the next chapter yet.
“All I want is to be a world champion,” Vera said. “That's all I want. For now, it's all or nothing on being a world champion.”