Marlon Vera is savoring the climb to the top of the bantamweight division.
Currently No. 6 at 135 pounds in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings, Vera is set to face Cory Sandhagen (No. 4) in the main event of UFC Vegas 69 on Feb. 18. While reigning UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling is yet to book his next challenger, Vera isn’t currently in the equation as Sterling is expected to fight either Henry Cejudo or Sean O’Malley next.
That situation sits just fine with Vera, who considers his relationship with the UFC to be rock solid and expects the matchmakers to gladly grace him with a title shot in the future.
“It’s all good,” Vera said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I know I’m going to be a world champion. Out of my heart, not just f****** talking, not just becoming a f****** influencer for beating somebody these days — I really believe deep down in my heart I’m going to be a world champion. I’m going to hold a UFC belt someday.
“I’m in a rush? No dude, I’m f****** 30 years old. I just turned 30. I’ve got my best years ahead of me. Just keep doing what got you here, which is consistency, work. We all have a different path. Some people talk their way in. Some people kick their way in. It’s just a matter of time until I get the belt. The world knows it, I know the UFC knows it. I know it.
“I do know for a matter of fact they f*** with me,” Vera continued. “I’m talking about the UFC, they like me. They do want me to hold the belt, so I’m like, why get all crazy? I’ve been handling my career pretty good. Winning, kicking ass, and whatever I ask, they give it to me. So we’re chilling.”
Vera has been one of the best bantamweights in the world for the past few years, scoring marquee wins over Dominick Cruz, Rob Font, Frankie Edgar, and O’Malley. Since dropping a decision to Jose Aldo, Vera has won four straight fights and has already made a compelling case to be the No. 1 contender.
However, instead, he finds himself up against a one-time interim title challenger in Sandhagen, one of the most dangerous fighters in his division. To Vera, there was no hesitation when it came to the proposed headliner.
“Never expecting anything from nobody but myself in this f****** beautiful life,” Vera said when asked about having to fight Sandhagen. “I knew about this fight since pretty much a month after I beat Cruz. I asked Sean [Shelby], I saw him the APEX while I was on commentary, I was like, ‘Hey man, I don’t want to f****** break your balls, I’m probably guy No. 20 talking to you today, just tell me what you think is going to happen next. Let’s just have a conversation.’
“I don’t like to go and ask the UFC for s***, because think about it: Everyday somebody calls and asks and says they want this, they want to negotiate, they want to renegotiate, I’m not like that. I like to earn my f****** bread. I just put people out, work my ass off, and keep going. So I went back to Sean Shelby and what I knew about this fight, he told me, ‘Really, my only opening right now is the February main event.’ I was like, ‘Sounds pretty sexy.’”
Ideally, Vera would have liked to have fought a third time to close out 2022, but the timing didn’t work out. As it is, he refuses to complain about being passed over for a title shot, even with Cejudo potentially earning one coming out of retirement or O’Malley sneaking past him after a controversial split decision win over former champion Petr Yan.
Vera only stresses about what he can control.
“There’s a lot of chances after the way I beat Font, the way I beat Cruz, the way I beat Edgar, that pretty much guarantee a title shot, but things can shake out so many ways,” Vera said. “Cejudo’s coming back. Former champ coming back that never lost the belt, even if he won the belt against Marlon Moraes? Is that legit? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s still you winning the belt. I don’t care if you win it against grandma. You have the belt, you’re the champ, the guy retires and is coming back.
“O’Malley beat Yan. Controversial or not, at the end of the day, a win is a win, you move forward. So things shake out pretty crazy. So I can sit down and cry and be like, ‘Oh, I earned it.’ F*** all that. I’m like, you want me to kick some guy’s ass, put it in front of me. I f****** get the job done and I move forward in life. I can expect a lot of things, but I also can’t control all the things. I don’t really trip when things like this happen. If I’m healthy, I can do anything, so thank God for that.”
Even with the knowledge that nothing is guaranteed for him, Vera has allowed himself to imagine what a 2023 run to a UFC title might look like.
“I put it like this, Aljo’s fighting Cejudo sometime in March,” Vera said. “I beat Sandhagen in February, they make the winner of that versus O’Malley in June or July, I’m fighting for the belt in November, MSG. That’s sexy.”