At age 27, exciting UFC bantamweight Marlon Vera refuses to accept the adage that Saturday's pay-per-view co-main event slot at UFC 252 opposite "Sugar" Sean O'Malley is the biggest fight of his career. Vera also doesn't believe his role is simply to provide strong opposition as a stop on O'Malley inevitable rise to superstar fame.
Vera (15-6-1), who saw his five-fight win streak snapped in May when he dropped a disputed decision to unbeaten Song Yadong, isn't here either to talk bad about the eccentric O'Malley or call him overrated simply for the massive social media following the 25-year-old has acquired in such a short time.
The native of Ecuador, affectionately known as "Chito," has about as simple a focus as one can imagine when he steps foot inside an empty UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas.
"I don't f---ing care about none of that shit," Vera told CBS Sports' "State of Combat" podcast this week. "I'm just focused on one thing which is win fights and make money. The rest just comes by.
"I don't give a f--- if you have 1,000 followers or no followers; I'm not a social media person. I don't get caught up in that bullshit. To me it's about f---ing people up, having highlights and cashing the checks. That's what I'm all about."
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Vera's aggressive and flashy style is expected to be the perfect test as to whether O'Malley's unique combination of speed, power and eccentricity is as dangerous as it is marketable. A native of Montana, O'Malley (12-0) returned in March following a two-year USADA suspension to deliver highlight-reel finishes of Jose Alberto Quinonez and Eddie Wineland.
O'Malley looked so great in his comeback bid and garnered so much attention in doing so that it quickly became clear it would be hard for UFC to keep him away from the larger title picture the more he won, regardless of the fact that 135 pounds is overflowing with new and old talent in the aftermath of former champion Henry Cejudo's abrupt retirement.
This fight has all the makings to be the perfect catapult for O'Malley into top-10 matchups and main event opportunities while getting a gauge of just how strong his commercial value really is while sharing the marquee with Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier before their heavyweight title trilogy bout.
In one sense, Vera could very well end up playing the role of Chris Leben to O'Malley's Anderson Silva from the standpoint of being evenly dangerous and flawed enough to be the perfect opponent for the future star to use to help make his name. What we don't yet know is whether Vera ends up being the perfect Kryptonite, instead.
Leben had been unbeaten in the UFC and riding a six-fight win streak when Silva dismantled him in 49 seconds in 2006 for a spectacular UFC debut. Vera, on the other hand, is a six-year Octagon veteran and has fought a active 14 times since making his UFC debut yet only recently over the last two years saw his overall game evolve to the level of getting people's attention.
The fact that Vera believes he was rewarded by UFC despite taking home such a close loss against Yadong shows him that he's getting ever so closer to legitimate title contention. And in case you're wondering, Vera doesn't believe he lost the Yadong fight.
"Of course you are upset. F--- the judges but, at the end of the day, there's nothing I can do about it," Vera said. "I wouldn't change anything. I won the fight. I broke the guy, I walked him down and put on the pressure. I landed more. I can't sit down and think about it and [start] crying. It's done. What is done is done. To me, it's all about moving forward.
"But it gave me a bigger and better fight in a co-main event. So that says the UFC is treating me like a winner because Song Yadong doesn't even have a fight. Probably, he don't want to fight because he got f---ed up."
Vera credits O'Malley's punching power and timing as the reason he's undefeated, saying, "he's very good at what he does." He also sees flaws he plans on exploiting but refuses to do anything but praise the popular O'Malley for getting such a big push by the UFC before he has recorded the kind of big wins that typically get you there.
"A lot of people are upset about that but guess what? Every fighter that is upset about it is people that don't have attention, they have a shitty name and are boring," Vera said. "Good for this guy. He is doing a good job on everything from fighting to marketing and talking. Why would you hate that? That would make me a hater and I don't get along with haters. I like positive people who grind and go forward. Why am I going to hate on someone who gets all of the attention of the world?
"How [else] do you get attention? By beating up people and that's what I do."
Vera describes the excitement in Ecuador ahead of this weekend's fight as nothing short of hot and says he relishes in the pressure that comes with reaching the high expectations put on him by his countrymen. Vera is not only after the money to provide for his wife and three children, he's expecting to "skip a lot of steps" climbing the 135-pound rankings by using the value of O'Malley's name to help him get a top-five opponent with a win.
If Vera's demeanor and fighting style make him seem fearless, it's actually not true and it's the secret to what drives him.
"I'm afraid of not performing. I'm afraid of being a lazy person and not pushing myself," Vera said. "That's why I wake up every and look in the mirror because I'm afraid of becoming a f---ing loser who doesn't have anything in his life. That's something that nobody can teach you. You need to have it in your heart and soul. I'm happy God has given me those skills. He gave me the best skills I believe a man can have which is a strong mind and a strong heart.
"I'm expecting a fight so wherever the fight goes, I'm going to be ready. My wrestling is sharp, my striking is crispy and my ground is killer. Wherever we go, I'm going to fight. I'm bringing cardio, strength and a big pair of balls to go deep."