Marlon Vera might just be the most dangerous man in the UFC bantamweight division.
After a slow start to his fight in the UFC San Diego main event, Vera delivered an absolutely brutal head kick that blasted Dominick Cruz and sent him face-first to the canvas in a heap to end the night. Cruz’s nose may never be the same after Vera’s foot essentially rearranged his face with the kick, with the fight officially being stopped 2:17 into the fourth round.
“It was hard to find the low kicks,” Vera explained about the finish. “In the fourth round, coach told me, throw a bomb after the punches and you will find him.”
That’s exactly how it played out, but before the knockout, Vera had his hands full with a game Cruz, who was fighting in front of his hometown crowd on Saturday.
It was a fast start from Cruz that saw him come out of the corner guns blazing as he looked to establish his dominance early while keeping Vera on his back foot. Vera stayed composed early, throwing a perfectly timed counter left hand that sat Cruz on the canvas momentarily until the former bantamweight champion bounced back to his feet.
Cruz recovered quickly from the knockdown as he continued blitzing Vera with rapid-fire combinations while also mixing in a late takedown. That nearly backfired when Vera threw an armbar attempt that forced Cruz to scramble free before getting back to his feet again.
Cruz continued to display blinding speed and volume on the feet as he looked to out-land Vera in every exchange. In return, Vera tried to set up his power punches but was still reacting to what Cruz was doing, which typically left him a step behind in many exchanges.
Cruz continued to act as the aggressor and landed on-target, but then Vera evened the score with a stunning right hand that connected flush on the chin. Yet again, Cruz dropped to the canvas, but he got back to his feet almost as quickly.
As Cruz kept moving on his feet, Vera stayed patient, waiting for the right moment to throw punches while also attempting to set up his kicks. When Cruz ducked out of the way as a combination came flying at him, Vera saw the opening he needed to launch the fight-ending kick.
The foot connected flush with the face as Cruz toppled to the canvas, forcing the referee to rush in to save him before Vera could punish him further. It was an unbelievable finish, as Vera became only the second fighter to finish Cruz with strikes and the first person to ever hand him a loss in a non-title fight.
More importantly, the win moves Vera that much closer to a title shot of his own, although he’s not losing any sleep about how quickly that might happen because he knows eventually he’ll get there.
“I came to this sport to be a world champion,” Vera said. “I’m not tripping. I will keep working and I will keep kicking ass. I’m gonna be a f****** world champion.”