Marlon Vera‘s nickname is “Chito,” a Spanish-language colloquialism that essentially means “shush.”
Vera quieted the crowd briefly Saturday, knocking out former two-time champion Dominick Cruz in Cruz’s adopted hometown in the main event of UFC San Diego. Vera landed a left kick to Cruz’s head, putting him out cold in the fourth round. The finish came at 2:17.
In his postfight interview, Vera told the San Diego crowd that he respects their “boy” Cruz and said that his coach, Jason Parillo, told him in between rounds to “throw a bomb after your punches and you will find him.” That is indeed what he did. Vera threw a combination, Cruz tried to duck away to his right and Vera crushed him with a left head kick.
“Props to Parillo,” Vera said. “Thanks, Coach. I love you.”
The crowd didn’t stay silent for very long, ultimately cheering the finish and Vera’s postfight speech.
The fight was a big one in the UFC bantamweight division. ESPN had Vera ranked No. 6 and Cruz ranked No. 10 in the world at 135 pounds. There are big bantamweight fights coming up in the next few months, including Aljamain Sterling defending his title against former champ TJ Dillashaw at UFC 280 on Oct. 22. “Chito” said he’s not sweating what’s next at this moment.
“At the end of the day, it’s out of my control,” Vera said. “I’m not tripping. I will keep working, I will keep kicking ass. … I will be a world champion.”
Cruz was actually ahead on the cards of all three judges heading into the fourth round, 29-28, winning the first and second rounds. And deservedly so. Vera dropped Cruz in the first, but Cruz was landing the cleaner, harder shots and using his superlative footwork to stay away from Vera’s power for the most part. Cruz also had a couple of timely takedowns that kept Vera guessing.
The momentum shifted in the third round when Vera dropped Cruz with a right hand. In the fourth, Vera caught Cruz coming in with a jab that dropped Cruz, too. Not long after, Vera connected with that highlight-reel head-kick finish, one of the best knockouts of the year in the UFC.
Vera (20-7-1) has won four straight fights, most recently a unanimous decision victory over Rob Font in April. The Ecuadorian fighter, who lives and trains in Southern California, knocked out former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar with a front kick at UFC 268 last November.
Vera, 29, has won nine of his past 11 fights overall and his 10 UFC bantamweight finishes are the most in division history. Cruz (24-4) is arguably the greatest bantamweight fighter in MMA history. The Arizona native, who has lived and trained in San Diego for well over a decade, won the WEC bantamweight title for the first time in 2010 and became the first UFC bantamweight champion when WEC was folded into the UFC a year later.
Cruz, 37, has been hampered over the years by several major injuries but was on a two-fight winning streak coming in. “The Dominator” has only ever lost to fighters who have held a world title prior to Saturday: Henry Cejudo, Cody Garbrandt and Urijah Faber.