UFC San Antonio: Vera Looks to Hold Ranking in Dynamic Bout with Sandhagen

Marlon Vera, UFC
Marlon Vera, UFC 268 ceremonial weigh-in Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

Marlon “Chito” Vera is on a hot streak at the right time, but he has a tough assignment in Cory Sandhagen who has his own title aspirations on the line at UFC San Antonio.

Marlon “Chito” Vera refuses to be overlooked.

Not actively, anyway.  The Ecuadorian dynamo’s appeal is partly because of his laissez-faire attitude to the politics of the title picture as he focuses on staying busy and delivering show-stopping performances every time out.  It is an approach that has served him well over the past several years as he is 10-3 since 2018 in the ultra-competitive bantamweight division.  If timing is everything, then Vera is arguably finding his moment just as it was meant to be.  A professional since 2010 and an Ultimate Fighter: Latin America veteran who was forced out of the tournament due to an illness, “Chito” is now hitting his stride at his athletic prime of 30 years-old.

Vera’s only stumbles in recent years have come in competitive bouts with Yadong Song and now Hall-of-Famer José Aldo.  Those are outweighed by his impressive victories as he’s bested Davey Grant, Rob Font, and stopped former champions Dominick Cruz and Frankie Edgar.  While the latter bouts stand as his career-best highlights, he also notably holds a victory over current title challenger incumbent Sean O’Malley to further make his case as the most deserving contender (on paper) for a shot at the championship.  Rather than wait to see how it all plays out and play the game of politics, he has elected to continue his assault on the division in continuing to take bouts as the other contenders wait on the sidelines.

Cory Sandhagen has ascended to the elite level of the bantamweight division in recent years, but has found himself as the odd man out in the race for the belt.  “The Sandman” has had as competitive a run as anyone in the division, and he’s delivered in his share of showcase opportunities as he knocked out former champion Edgar and former title challenger Marlon Moraes in the first round.  While he faced his share of challenges, he also won his most recent bout, a headliner against Yadong that ended due to a doctor stoppage caused by a cut delivered by Sandhagen’s elbow.

But while Sandhagen has been must-see television, he’s also faced his share of adversity.  His loss to future champion Aljamain Sterling in a title-eliminator might have been his most personally frustrating.  He also came up short in a razor-close decision to former champion TJ Dillashaw and on six weeks notice was unable to overcome the challenge of another former title holder in Petr Yan.  Sandhagen would have a layoff of nearly twelve months before his next fight, and in the interim contenders like Vera and O’Malley rose to the top of the division.  This makes Saturday’s opportunity all the more important.  A victory bounces Sandhagen back to the front of the line with fresh matchups against the top four in the division, but a loss pushes him further out of the picture.

Saturday’s winner in most any other weight class would be looking at a title shot, but the depth at bantamweight is a different shark tank entirely.  Sterling and former champion Henry Cejudo are scheduled to fight in May while surging contender O’Malley is waiting in the wings.  That leaves both Vera and Sandhagen to potentially face surging contender Merab Dvalishvili unless they also plan to wait out the title picture in hopes of securing a fight for the belt.