In the biggest fight of his career, Ecuadorian bantamweight Marlon "Chito" Vera delivered in highlight-reel fashion, scoring a fourth-round knockout of former UFC and WEC champion Dominick Cruz.
The bout headlined Saturday's UFC on ESPN 41 event at Pechanga Arena in San Diego, Calif.
Cruz, typically a quick starter, was aggressive at the opening bell, pushing forward with a high kick and then adding punches behind. Cruz's movement-based style was on display early, and he even scored a brief takedown, though he was unable to secure top position. As Cruz was gaining momentum, Vera did grab his attention by dropping him with a left hand, briefly slowing the assault, though not for long.
Late in the frame, Cruz scored another takedown, but he was forced to back away when Vera threatened with an armbar shortly before the bell.
Cruz was again aggressive to start the second, stringing together punching combinations while also chopping at the legs. Vera would counter when his opponent would stay in the pocket, but Cruz didn't remain stationary all too often. Instead, he remained the more active fighter in terms of movement and punching volume, mixing up his targets between the body and the head.
Cruz again opened with lengthy flurries in the third, attacking with impressive volume. Vera struggled to find the mark as often, though a devastating right hand did briefly put his opponent to the canvas. Still, Cruz popped quickly back to his feet and resumed his attack, sticking and moving and keeping Vera guessing on what was coming next. That said, Vera finally did seem to settle into a better rhythm as the round wore on.
Cruz drove forward for a takedown early in the fourth, though Vera sprawled well to stay upright. Shortly after, a Vera jab sat Cruz down, though he was up quickly and back on the move. He would soon make a critical error, though, missing on a jab and dipping off to his right, where Vera fired up a left high kick that landed clean to the head and sent Cruz face down to the floor, ending the fight at the 2:17 mark of the frame..
Vera (22-7-1 MMA, 14-6 UFC), who entered the contest ranked No. 5 in the UFC's official bantamweight rankings, scores an impressive victory with the result and will now see how a few other ket contests at 135 pounds play out as he tries to work his way to his first UFC title shot.
"I came to the sport to be a world champion," Vera said after the win. "I have the heart. I have the work ethic, and now I have the people that will get me there.
"Whatever happen in those fights, I believe it's all about performance. Whoever has the best finish, the flashiest one, will get a title shot. At the end of the day, those are things we can't control, so I'm not tripping. I will keep working, I will keep kicking ass, and Ecaudor, I'm going to be a f-cking world champion."
Cruz (24-4 MMA, 7-3 UFC) sees a two-fight win streak snapped with the setback.
Full UFC on ESPN 41 results include:
- Marlon Vera def. Dominick Cruz via knockout (high kick) – Round 4, 2:17
- Nate Landwehr def. David Onama via majority decision (28-28, 29-27, 29-27)
- Yazmin Jauregui def. Iasmin Lucindo via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
- Azamat Murzakanov def. Devin Clark via TKO (punches) – Round 3, 1:18
- Priscila Cachoeira def. Ariane Lipski via TKO (punches) – Round 1, 1:05
- Gerald Meerschaert def. Bruno Silva submission (guillotine choke) – Round 3, 1:38
- Angela Hill def. Loopy Godinez via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Martin Buday def. Lukasz Brzeski via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
- Nina Nunes def. Cynthia Calvillo via split decision (28-29, 29-28, 30-27)
- Gabriel Benitez def. Charlie Ontiveros via TKO (punches) – Round 1, 3:35
- Tyson Nam def. Ode Osbourne via knockout (punches) – Round 1, 2:59
- Josh Quinlan def. Jason Witt via knockout (punch) – Round 1, 2:09
- Da'Mon Blackshear vs. Youssef Zalal declared a majority draw (29-28, 28-28, 28-28)
This story first published at SI.com/MMA.