Money, fame, personal grudges, legacies and competition are just some of the things that may motivate the fighters entering UFC Fight Night 84 in London, England.
But for one fighter, the opportunity to see his daughter smile is what drives him to step inside the cage Saturday night against Davey Grant. Marlon Vera is fighting in hopes to earn enough money to pay off a costly surgery for his 4-year-old daughter, Ana Paula.
"God willing, if everything goes well in this fight, I'm thinking of staring the operation after the fight. I'm going to try to ask for help, if the UFC can help me or not but with or without help I'm going to do it anyways. I'm going to invest my money because I want to see my daughter smile," Vera said.
Ana Paula was diagnosed with Moebius syndrome, a rare neurological condition that affects the muscles that control facial expression. This means that children born with the condition lack facial expressions, including smiling.
"We found out in the clinic when she was born," Vera said. "It was something very hard, something that broke my heart because every father wishes a healthy child, but in life things happen for a reason, and God always has plans for all of us and those are the things that make me strong and make me fight."
Maria Paulina Escobar, Vera's wife, gave birth to Ana Paula a year into Vera's fighting career, when he was 18 years old.
"My wife was 17 years old. She was a year younger than me, but my wife has been a huge pillar in my career," Vera said. "She's one of those women that are born to be a mother, that are born to be a wife. It wasn't hard for her to be a mother, to have two children at such a young age. It wasn't hard for her to leave a club, the life of an adolescent. Ever since Ana Paula was born, she was a mother 100 percent; she changed her life from one day to another without being affected, without suffering. Not everyone is lucky to have a great woman beside them."
And three years later, Vera received the chance to represent his home country of Ecuador in the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America, the UFC's hit reality television show. That season began filming in May 2014, and it was the first season of TUF that exclusively featured Latin American fighters.
During one of the first episodes of the show, Vera's dream, to one day see his daughter smile, was made known. In the last episode of the season, Vera was brought into the famous room where UFC president Dana White usually sits down with the TUF coaches to talk about numerous things, including the matchups that make up the show's tournament. When Vera walked in, White greeted him and gave him news that made Vera break into tears.
"Your daughter is going to see a doctor here in Las Vegas and she's going to get evaluated," White said. "You're a great kid. We like you very much and we'll get this thing sorted out for you."
Although the UFC flew Vera's wife and daughter from Ecuador to Las Vegas and had his daughter examined by a doctor, things didn't progress past that.
"Well, the UFC helped us with that, they examined my daughter and reviewed her, but after that, it like remained on stand-by, and I don't know what they're going to do," Vera said. "I don't know if they are going to continue with the process, but after this fight [against Grant] I'm going to make the attempt to get it done."
Even though "Chito" intends to take action regarding his daughter's condition following his fight with Grant, he wants to know if the UFC is still on board and still wants to take care of his daughter as said in the show back in 2014.
"Of course that's going to be my first step, to ask them if they are going to participate in this and to see if they want to help me out," Vera said. "If the case is yes, I'll be grateful for life, but in case they can't do it or they don't want to participate, there is not going to be a problem. I'm just simply going to make the attempt and I'm sure I will do it. Besides, the UFC has always treated me well, so we'll have a good relationship."
Ana Paula might not understand the rules and techniques that make up her father's work, but she knows her father will have to travel to do his job.
"Yes, she's already beginning to understand," Vera said. "She now tells me, ‘Daddy, don't go, stay,' but she knows that dad needs to go and do his job. It gives me strength to win the fight and to come back to tell her, ‘Dad won, dad made it' so I have a clear motivation. I know that I've trained hard and I'm ready to do this. My kids don't affect me at all; they only fill me with motivation."
With the motivation from his family and his country of Ecuador, Vera is determined to see his daughter smile.
"It‘d be the biggest accomplishment in my life," he said. "It's something I've been waiting on and I want to do it now in this moment. It's the reason why when I step on the Octagon, I step in to win."