“Chito” needed time to put Cruz down for good, but by the fourth round he was locked in and he landed a brutal head kick that left Cruz face-down on the mat to cap off the UFC San Diego main event. It was the fourth straight win for Cruz, who entered the weekend as the No. 7 bantamweight in MMA Fighting’s 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.
“Honestly, me and my team, we really think the way he fights is kind of very low level,” Vera said. “There’s no base, there’s no good stance, all that movement side to side — we told each other, ‘We have to kick this guy’s ass.’ But by saying that, you put a lot of pressure on yourself.
“I just believe that his style is not the best style for MMA. Maybe for boxing it can work better, but for MMA you’ve got way too many weapons going. What he does well, he mixes takedowns with that movement. That’s when he’s successful. But I was like, it’s going to be hard for him to take me down, so we were pretty confident, but we knew this fight wasn’t easy.”
Cruz’s career achievements include a 24-4 record and championship reigns in the UFC and the WEC. He is legendary for his evasiveness and durability, with only one knockout loss on his record prior to his fight with Vera. That loss, a second-round TKO at the hands of Henry Cejudo at UFC 249, was hotly disputed by Cruz, but there was no debating Saturday’s finish.
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 being patient, I was taking my time,” Vera said. “I dropped him in the first round, and when I dropped him I didn’t go crazy. I didn’t try to chase the finish, I never chase the finish. I don’t have any problems standing in front of you and finding those openings.
“He comes in really good shape,” Vera added. “When you’re in shape, you can get back up and he can scramble pretty good. 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 fight. Munhoz rushed the finish and then he kind of left everything in the first round, so I just told myself, ‘I’ve got f****** four more rounds to break this guy, so don’t get crazy.’ This thing (points to head) is a motherf*****, so I was like, ‘Just stay focused and you will catch him.’”
With the impressive knockout, Vera extended his record for the 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 the likes of Petr Yan, Sean O’Malley, Jose Aldo, and Merab Dvalishvili, all of whom are set to compete in the upcoming months and could block Vera’s path to a title. Not to mention the bantamweight champion himself, Aljamain Sterling, who next defends his title against T.J. Dillashaw at UFC 280 in October.
Vera plans to keep a close eye on his peers and how the title picture develops.
“I pay attention to every single UFC, top to bottom,” Vera said. “It doesn’t matter who’s fighting, it doesn’t matter who’s first or last fight of the night, I’m watching. I like to watch. That’s the reason I love doing commentary, because I’m watching live. I can pick up the energy of the fight, I can see what’s going on in there. I’m definitely going to pay attention and I will see who they give [Sterling] next.”