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UFC Fight Night: Vera v Cruz Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC

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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC San Antonio’s Marlon Vera

Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Marlon Vera, will go to war with former title challenger, Cory Sandhagen, this Saturday (March, 25, 2023) at UFC San Antonio inside AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas.

Vera is a Bantamweight anomaly. This is the division where men like Merab Dvalishvili are more than happy to throw out several hundred strikes in a fight, generally unconcerned with their landing percentage or just how damaging those blows are. Conversely, “Chito” is the picture of efficiency. He takes his time, loses minutes and occasionally rounds, then unleashes his power shots with a ruthless precision.

Of course, it helps his strategy tremendously that Vera punches like a Middleweight. Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:

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Vera has developed into a fighter who can punish his opponent with heavy shots from every range, and he’s equally vicious when targeting the head, body and legs.

Over the years, Vera has largely adapted a pressure fighter style, seemingly in response to his earlier career defeats to John Lineker and Douglas Silva de Andrade. Something seemed to click in his mind after those losses: Vera cannot get backed into the cage and beaten up if he’s the one walking down his opponent down and beating them up. Add in the fact that Vera consistently targets his opponent’s body, and he’s an exhausting man to fight who commonly picks up steam as fights wear on.

UFC Fight Night: Vera v Cruz Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Vera’s distance and body work begin with his kicks. Primarily a Southpaw, Vera actually does great work with both legs. The classic Southpaw left kick to the open side is naturally a big weapon for him. “Chito” kicks powerfully and with good form, meaning a minimal amount of setup (i.e. a quick feint or slap of the lead hand) is all that’s required to let it rip to the liver or skull (GIF).

That’s pretty standard stuff for a Southpaw, but Vera’s front kick/teep is more unique. Vera really likes to stab his right toes straight into the gut, either as a lead leg teep or more powerful rear leg stab from Orthodox. Often, Vera will double up on the strike, poking his foe in the belly twice to interrupt any would-be counter punches (GIF).

Vera builds off his teep well (GIF). He’ll march his knees, showing one teep then throwing the other after closing a step of distance. Or, he’ll step forward after the teep, closing range into the pocket with punches or crashing into the clinch (more on that in a moment).

The biggest technical improvements to Vera’s game have come in regards to his boxing, though it’s still probably the least exceptional part of his striking. At this stage of his career, Vera fights as much from the Orthodox stance as he does in Southpaw, which opens up different offensive options. For example, Vera has really done great work with the jab and right calf kick combination, ripping up his opponent’s lead leg.

UFC 268: Edgar v Vera Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Vera’s left jab is a great punch. Since that his dominant hand, Vera’s jab carries real pop and has dropped more than one opponent. Vera will also hook off the jab, and he uses the punch to set up body shots well. Against an opponent covering up along the cage — which will happen at some point given Vera’s relentless pressure — Vera does excellent work in slapping a punch high before slipping over and ripping the liver with a left hook. From either stance, the cross to the mid-section is a big weapon for Vera as well.

Vera’s boxing looked sharp against Dominick Cruz when he did let his hands go. He interrupted several Cruz combos with a stiff jab, and later in the fight, he snapped Cruz’s chin with a crispy double jab-cross. He later ended Cruz’s night in spectacular fashion with a lovely left hand-left high kick combination (GIF), but he first made that read on Cruz’s timing after noticing how Cruz ducked out from a regular 1-2.

Finally, Vera is spectacularly violent in the clinch. The Ecuadorian athlete does well in transitioning directly from punches to wrapping up control of his opponent’s head while they attempt to retreat, allowing him to get in a free shot or two. Attacking with both knees and elbows ruthlessly, Vera makes it difficult for his opponent to tie up all his potential weapons.

An important element of Vera’s clinch attack is just how well he angles his strikes. Knees to the body can be throwaway shots that kind of glance off or fight-finishers, and Vera accomplishes the ladder by really turning his hips and leading with the point of the knee. Against Davey Grant, Vera showed off a rare diversity in elbow strikes by angling up the middle and carving his opponent up (GIF).

While many of these weapons were utilized, Vera really adjusted his strategy against Rob Font. For the first time in a while, Vera didn’t apply so much pressure, often doing his best work with counter shots. At distance, Vera began to establish himself with low kicks and jabs, but Font was still landing well with his combinations.

UFC Fight Night: Font v Vera Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

The problem for Font, however, was one of durability. See, Font is a regular human being. When people hit him hard, he feels it. Vera, on the other hand, has no such limitations. As such, he was plenty willing to fall behind on the scorecards early, get a sense of Font’s timing, then start clipping him.

Vera did a wonderful job of timing Font (GIF). He timed his opponent’s head movement with a step knee, lunging left hook, side kick to the jaw — and these are just the shots that produced knockdowns! Repeatedly, Vera proved that he had his opponent figured out, and he let him walk into big shots.


Early on, wrestling Vera to victory was a very viable path to victory. Nowadays, it’s much more difficult.

Admittedly, Vera is not impossible to take down by any measure. He stands a bit tall, throws lots of kicks, and pressures heavily — none of those elements are necessarily great for takedown defense. Fortunately, Vera’s commitment to body work helps nullify these disadvantages, as no one wants to shoot directly through a teep kick. In short, Vera can be taken down with a well-timed entry to his hips, but anything less than that is unlikely to work.

UFC 252: O’Malley v Vera Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Offensively, Vera likes to work from the clinch. Often, these trip attempts come after long exchanges of elbows, knees, and pressure in the clinch. Suddenly, Vera will switch his focus to squeezing the body lock and tying up a leg. A simple enough technique on its own, but one made more effective by this mix of tactics.

A final note: Vera is absolutely nasty with punches (GIF) and elbows (GIF) from top position.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

A jiu-jitsu black belt, Vera has eight wins via submission and many tricks up his sleeves.

UFC Fight Night: Vera v Salazar Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Vera has long been quite active from his back. He’s always throwing up his legs in pursuit of armbars and triangles, which is how he picked up his first UFC victory. Opposite Roman Salazar, Vera used the classic triangle setup of jamming an arm between his legs to isolate Salazar’s head and arm. Right away, Vera unleashed a torrent of elbows, which made it easier to secure the ideal angle and attack the arm (GIF).

When opponents try to wrestle, Vera is quick to turn to his jiu-jitsu as a means of takedown defense. He’s attacked with the guillotine and d’arce choke, but his kimura-turned-armbar victory over Brian Kelleher was particularly sweet.

As Kelleher attacked a single-leg takedown (and later high-crotch), Vera tied up his opponent’s arm in the figure four grip. Kelleher decided to complete the trip anyway into top position, but Vera immediately cranked on his shoulder and knocked him off-balance. Without Kelleher’s weight holding him in place, Vera was able to quickly rotate his hips and throw his legs into Kelleher’s face. Extending his hips right away, Vera forced the finish immediately (GIF).

UFC Fight Night: Weidman v Gastelum Photo by Ed Mulholland/Getty Images

Vera also has a pair of rear naked choke wins inside the Octagon, and his setup here is pretty simple: stun his opponent with strikes first! When “Chito” has an opponent hurt, he’s quite happy to jump the back and sink in a choke if his opponent turns away or takes a bad shot.


Vera is one of the most skilled and opportunistic finishers in the sport currently. His style very much goes against the Bantamweight mold, and he’ll again face a more high-volume foe in Cory Sandhagen this weekend. He’s continually proved he can make it work swimming upstream, however, as this could be the last scalp needed to secure a title shot.

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC San Antonio fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 7 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC San Antonio: “Vera vs. Sandhagen” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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