The stakes couldn’t possibly get any higher for Marlon “Chito” Vera at UFC 292.
Not only does his upcoming fight against Pedro Munhoz represent a chance to get back in the win column following a disappointing performance against Cory Sandhagen in March but he’s also potentially got a lot riding on the main event between bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling and Sean O’Malley.
Right now, Vera stands as the only loss on O’Malley’s resume and if he wins the title on Saturday, that sets the cage for a massive rematch between the two rivals.
“That’s just money right there and I don’t leave money on the table,” Vera said about fighting O’Malley again. “If we go and win this Saturday, we can fight November, December, next month, any time. It’s a great payday for both and it’s business.
“If we win on Saturday night, that fight’s happening. The rest of the top five can just sit and wait. It’s business.”
That statement might rub some bantamweight contenders the wrong way but Vera isn’t exactly wrong when it comes to a potentially lucrative matchup with O’Malley that could sell a whole lot of pay-per-views.
The biggest hurdle to prevent that from happening would be Munhoz handing Vera his second straight defeat or O’Malley coming up short against Sterling. When it comes to his own fight, Vera plans to introduce Munhoz to his special brand of violence but he admits that O’Malley has a big mountain to climb if he actually plans on dethroning Sterling as champion.
“If we talk about the last 10 opponents of each guy, Aljo had the hard road,” Vera said. “He went from a guy that people don’t really want to see fight to get a title shot, winning the belt in a way that people didn’t like [against Petr Yan] but he went through the hard way. He keeps winning and there’s a lot of things that happened along the way. A lot of people thought he got handed the decision with Yan the second time, then he fought T.J. [Dillashaw] and T.J. was hurt.
“A lot of s*** going to the guy but he keeps winning. He keeps maintaining that belt so good for him.”
As for O’Malley’s record, Vera can’t argue with the criticism that he’s avoided walking a murderer’s row to get a title shot at UFC 292 with only a single win over anybody ranked among the top 15 bantamweights in the world.
Actually, O’Malley’s win over Yan from this past October is the only victory he maintains against anybody on the current UFC roster.
“They did a little bit of a boxing record for O’Malley,” Vera said. “I mean when they set me up to fight him the first time, it was pretty much his first test. You can say whatever the f*** you want to say, you still got TKO’d, the referee still pulled me out so I don’t cause too much damage. I mean you can say whatever you want but the facts are there.
“Then he fought Munhoz, it was an eye poke and then he went straight to fight for a No. 1 contender against in No. 1 guy in Yan at the time. It was striker versus striker but one is pretty big for the other guy so it’s tough but style wise it was perfect for him. Good for him. Some people got to go a little harder than others.”
Still, anything is possible in the fight but Vera is honest enough to admit Sterling should be successful even if an O’Malley win would be better for his own career.
“In terms of on paper, Aljo should win,” Vera said. “But it’s a fight and if [O’Malley] lands first — he punches hard, I’ve been in front of him. I know he’s got power, he’s got good speed but the arsenal is very limited in my opinion. He’s a one at a time type of guy and we’ll see if he can really fight.
“But if he wins, it makes my life a little easier. I can also jump the ladder just like he did and I know it’s business so either side, I’m cool. I’m focused on f****** Munhoz. That’s all I need to work about until Saturday. After that, we’ll figure it out.”