Marlon Vera has no plans of letting the biggest opportunity of his career go to waste this Saturday night.
“Chito” squares off against former featherweight champion Jose Aldo in the co-main event of UFC Vegas 17. After handing rising bantamweight prospect Sean O’Malley his first career loss – a first-round TKO win at UFC 252 in August – Vera thought the UFC might try to rebook a fight with top-10 bantamweight Jimmie Rivera.
As the days went on, the 28-year-old started to feel like a career-altering fight could be heading in his direction.
“I kind of had a feeling that Aldo was in the conversation. (Dominick) Cruz was (also) in the conversation,” Vera told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “Rivera wasn’t in the conversation because everybody knows that he’ll run away from me his whole life. I knew that months ago, years ago. With Aldo, they told me, ‘There’s a good chance you could fight him. You’re coming off a big win, he just lost (his last fight) for the title.’
“It was kind of a fight that made sense. I’m a f*ckin’ nerd so I see how things work with the UFC. This is a chance for him to prove he can still beat the up-and-comers, and this is a f*ckin’ chance for me to send him home and for me to say, ‘Hey motherf*ckers, I’m coming to be a world champion.’ We both have a big opportunity and I’m not gonna let him off the hook. When I found out Aldo was the guy, I was like, ‘F*ck yeah, let’s do it. Let’s do it tomorrow.’”
Vera hasn’t rested on his laurels in any way since the win over O’Malley. He’s continued to put in the work and having the chance to face a legendary champion has turned the dial up even more.
“I’m excited because this is a chance to show my improvements and a chance to climb the ladder,” Vera said. “This is a chance to put on a f*ckin’ hell of a fight and I love that. I love how we’re gonna be locked in a cage. Somebody’s gonna cry and somebody’s gonna laugh afterwards. It just excited me. It excites me a lot to be in that position against somebody like that.”
The Ecuadorian standout has had—like most of the world—an interesting 2020. Vera had three fights cancelled due to opponent injuries and event cancellations due to COVID-19 concerns. He took a featherweight matchup with fellow 135er Song Yadong in May and was on the wrong end of a controversial decision, which ultimately snapped his five-fight winning streak at the time.
From going to a big spot against O’Malley to an even bigger spot against Aldo, most fighters would feel the pressure. For Vera, nothing changes.
“This is probably the worst matchup for him,” Vera explained. “It’s just another day at the office for me. It’s a name, it’s Dec. 19, and it’s a f*ckin’ fight. When they lock the cage and after Bruce Buffer is out of the cage, I’m gonna go f*ckin’ fight my ass off. I’m willing to hurt this guy and I’m willing to take it to win. I’m not gonna shy away and, like the samurais say, I’m accepting death in order to achieve victory. I’m not f*cking around with that.
“I’m coming and I’m coming in hot. That was my post when I announced the fight. I’m coming in red f*ckin’ hot.”
Following a unanimous decision loss to Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 237, Aldo made the move down to the loaded bantamweight division. “Junior” lost a debated decision to Marlon Moraes at UFC 245 in December 2019, but was granted an opportunity to fight Petr Yan for the vacant 135-pound title at UFC 251 in July.
While the fight was competitive early on, Yan put Aldo away in the fifth round via TKO. Although Aldo enters the matchup in the midst of the longest skid of his career, Vera understands the challenge that stands in front of him and what a victory could ultimately lead to.
“He’s a f*ckin’ great fighter and he’s a tough guy,” Vera said. “He’s not a mismatch for nobody. He’s been fighting huge [names] his whole career and I’m not thinking it will be anything else but a hard fight. I’m doing everything possible in training, to improve, even asking all my coaches separately what I can do to get better. I’m an open book. I’ll let them write anything they want and I tell them what’s the best of it. I wake up every morning thinking there’s something to be done.
“And my family, they understand: my wife understands, my kids understand that this is for them. I’m not trying to win a fight because it’s cool to win. F*ck, who am I fighting? It’s stressful. And then when you’re fighting, you might do this, you might get hurt, but at the same time I love it. And I love them more than I love myself. It’s all for my family. It’s gonna be a hell of a fight. I’m good, and he’s good everywhere, too. We’re gonna have a great fight.”
The fight with O’Malley was met with some trash talk—before and after the matchup—and a bit of gamesmanship from the previously undefeated Contender Series alum. With Aldo, Vera will get the exact opposite. Whether Aldo comes in completely respectful, or goes completely off-script, it’s all the same to Vera.
“If you talk sh*t to me, I can play the game. If you don’t talk sh*t to me, I could care less,” Vera stated. “I’m gonna try to kill you anyways. I’m not here to make friends and be cool with anybody. I’m here to make money and, one day, become a world champion. It’s all the same for me and whoever is in front of me is gonna be in for a long night.”
Following Yoel Romero’s release from the promotion, UFC president Dana White stated that there could be upwards of 60 total cuts from the company over the coming weeks. With Aldo having his back against the wall, Vera was asked if he feels that he—along with MMA fans around the world—is likely to see the best version of the former champion we’ve ever seen on Saturday.
“I hope so, so I can see where I am but at the end of the day, I’m gonna push every single limit that I have on myself and I’m gonna break this guy,” Vera explained. “I’m gonna walk through him and I’m gonna stalk him. I’m gonna do it. Just like all of my fights, I’m gonna fight like a f*ckin’ motherf*cker. I’m gonna put it on him.”