Ask Marlon Vera what sparked his mixed martial arts career and he'll tell you that he had a screw loose. Perhaps some problems simply require more unique (and painful) solutions.
"Chito" finds his name atop the marquee this weekend in a fight that draws far more eyeballs than the street fights of his youth. Vera was once the troublesome teen that plagued his parents. Now, he's ever so close to reaching the pinnacle of the sport and a world title opportunity when he takes on former champion Dominick Cruz in the main event of UFC San Diego.
"They thought I was just finding excuses to not go to college. They thought I was just f---ing around and using fighting as a kind of excuse to just be a f---ing problem. I was bringing a lot of problems to the house," Vera told CBS Sports. "I would fight, go to jail and break things. I wasn't the type of kid that would steal or do dumb shit like that. But if you gave me a [chance to] graffiti, I'd probably draw a dick in somebody's house. I had too much energy. Growing up trying to do f---ed up things for fun. When I look back, I said, 'Well that was not fun.'
"So in the beginning, [my parents] were like, 'God, this kid is just trouble. We don't want this kid to learn how to fight. That would be bad.' But actually, that was a solution to my problems. When I started training to fight, everything went away. Alcohol went away and cigarettes went away. Many opportunities to do drugs went away. I realized that if you want to be a fighter, you have to become an athlete."
Check out the full interview with Marlon Vera below.
Vera slowly worked his way up through South and Central America beginning in 2012 before finally getting the UFC call in 2014. Still a raw prospect, Vera started just 4-4 inside the Octagon before he received devastating news.
In 2018, Vera's daughter, Ana Paula, underwent surgery for a rare congenital neurological condition called Moebius syndrome. The condition causes facial paralysis and prevents the forming of facial expressions. As a consequence, Vera did not see his daughter smile for the first seven years of her life and the condition would require an expensive surgery.
Vera raised most of the $80,000 required through fighting, but nearly $20,000 was raised by the MMA community through GoFundMe. Vera described his daughter's birth as a "turning point" in his MMA journey.
"When I saw her, especially with the condition she had, I was like, 'I cannot let this kid down.' We cannot be another young couple that breaks up and couldn't find a way to figure it out," Vera said. "That's what really makes me proud when I really was able to stay with my wife, to keep the baby, to make sure the baby's good, to work for the baby. I owe everything to that kid because when she came into my life, I changed everything around me for her."
Vera was so driven to gift his daughter a smile that he feared the surgery might cost him his competitive edge.
"In the beginning, I was a little afraid," Vera said. "[I thought] I'd stop fighting after the surgery because I was like, 'This is this bigger than a world title. You're really making sure your daughter can smile for the rest of her life.' The thought came into my mind. I was a little worried that I'd stop pushing once she got the surgery. But thank God I have this good mentality and good work ethic. That was just one to step in my life and I'm glad I kept going and I kept dreaming high because the surgery was the first thing. Even before we bought a house, that money -- I will never say 'spent' -- I invested in my daughter. It was money I would have used for a down payment for a house. This is way bigger than a house."
Now, as he prepares for a fight that could get him into title contention and be able to financially support his wife and daughter better, Vera continues to stay focused on himself and his own preparation.
"I don't make monsters out of men. I don't think there's any impossible fight," Vera said. "But also I don't think there's any f---ing easy fights out there. This is not easier than Rob Font, Petr Yan, [Aljamain] Sterling, all of them are just as hard. It's all about how you show up. How you lead from start to finish. This is not about these guys, it's about me being consistent."
*Author's note: some of the quotes have been tweaked for clarity