It took “Chito” time to put Cruz down for good, but by the fourth round he was locked up and he landed a brutal headbutt that left Cruz face-down on the mat to cover the UFC San Diego main event It was the fourth straight win for Vera, who entered the weekend as the number 7 bantamweight in MMA Fighting Global Rankings.
At the evening’s post-fight press conference, Vera was asked if there was anything about Cruz’s unique standup style that confused him, and he downplayed the difficulty of the matchup.
“Really, me and my team, we really think the way he fights is very low level,” Vera said. “There’s no base, there’s no good attitude, all that side-to-side movement — we said to each other, ‘We’ve got to kick this guy’s ass.’ But in saying that, you are putting a lot of pressure on yourself.
“I just think his style is not the best style for MMA. Maybe for boxing it can work better, but for MMA you have too many weapons. What he does well is he mixes takedowns with that movement. That’s when he succeeds. But I thought it was going to be hard for him to take me down, so we were pretty confident, but we knew this fight wasn’t going to be easy.”
Cruz’s career achievements include a 24-4 record and championship reigns in the UFC and the WEC. He is legendary for his elusiveness and durability, with only one knockout loss on his record before his fight with Vera. That loss, a second round TKO at the hands of Henry Cejudo at UFC 249, was hotly contested by Cruzbut there was no discussion of the end of Saturday.
Vera actually had Cruz hurt on a couple of occasions earlier in the bout, but he exercised caution as opposed to rushing in for a finish.
“I was just patient, I took my time,” Vera said. “I knocked him down in the first round, and when I knocked him down I wasn’t mad. I wasn’t trying to chase the finish, I never chase the finish. I have no problem standing in front of you and finding those openings.
“He’s coming in really good shape,” added Vera. “When you’re in shape, you can go back and he can bar quite well. So when I dropped him the first time in the first round, the first thing that came to my mind was what happened in the [Cruz vs. Pedro] Munhoz battle. Munhoz rushed the finish and then he kind of left it all out in the first round, so I just said to myself, ‘I’ve got f****** more rounds to break this guy, so don’t freak out.’ This thing (points to head) is mother f*****, so I was like, ‘Just stay focused and you’ll catch him.'”
With the impressive knockout, Vera extended his record for most finishes in UFC bantamweight history to 10. His past three wins have come against ranked opponents (Cruz, Rob Font, Frankie Edgar) and he has one of the strongest cases for a title shot in his division.
However, there are several contenders in the same range, including lookalikes Peter Yan, Sean O’Malley, Jose Aldoand Merab Dvalishvili, all of whom are set to compete in the coming months and could block Vera’s path to a title. Not to mention the bantamweight champion himself, Aljamain Sterlingwho later defends his title against TJ Dillashaw at UFC 280 in October.
Vera plans to keep an eye on her peers and how the title image develops.
“I pay attention to every UFC, top to bottom,” Vera said. “It doesn’t matter who’s fighting, it doesn’t matter who’s the first or last fight of the night, I’m watching. I like to look. That’s why I love doing commentary because I’m watching live. I can catch the energy of the fight, I can see what’s going on there. I’ll definitely keep an eye out and see who they give [Sterling] next.”