UFC San Antonio: Marlon Vera has surged to top of bantamweight division thanks to an indomitable work ethic

Marlon Vera scored the biggest win of his career in his last fight, knocking out former champion Dominick Cruz in the fourth round of their bout in San Diego. Cruz is an almost certain future Hall of Famer and one of the greatest fighters in MMA history. A win over Cruz still means something, even at this stage of Cruz’s career.

No one would have discouraged him if Vera had decided to go on a celebratory tour after the bout. But Vera was back to work almost immediately because he’s learned that being the best in the world at something never comes easily.

Friends and acquaintances wanted to high-five him and celebrate with him. But he knew that if he really wanted to be the best in the world, he needed to get to work, and fast.

And so, a short while after the KO of Cruz, Vera was back grinding away in the gym, trying to perfect his game.

“In this business, you put your entire life on the line and you have to push very hard,” Vera said. “The win over [Cruz] showed me that the work I have been putting in this whole time was for a good reason. I knew I had to not only keep it up, but push even harder. You have to understand how you got there and not let yourself get trapped in the noise or trapped in the recognition. You have to keep going and take the attitude, ‘F*** the noise.’ Really, that’s it.

“Everyone loves to hear praise and be told how good they’re doing, but this business is one of never-ending work. Don’t get trapped in that crowd. Keep working and, really, understand that you shouldn’t pay attention to anything that doesn’t help you get better at reaching your goals. I don’t pay attention to the external stuff. I focus on maximizing my talent and being the best I can possibly be.”

On Saturday, he’ll need to be plenty good because he fights Cory Sandhagen in the main event of UFC San Antonio (7 p.m. ET, ESPN). Sandhagen is a formidable foe who, like Vera, has a string of impressive victories to his credit.

Vera understands that Sandhagen has been working for months specifically to find a way to defeat him. And so he’s put his heart and soul into doing the same, making himself the best he can be so that his arm is raised when the fight with Sandhagen ends.

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 13: Marlon Vera of Ecuador reacts after his knockout victory over Dominick Cruz in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Pechanga Arena on August 13, 2022 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 13: Marlon Vera of Ecuador reacts after his knockout victory over Dominick Cruz in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Pechanga Arena on August 13, 2022 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Marlon Vera said the secret to his success in the UFC’s crowded bantamweight division is a willingness to work incredibly hard day after day. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images)

Vera loves the process almost as much as he loves fight night itself. MMA is a sport that lends itself to improvement since even the most active fighters compete only three or four times a year. There is a lot of time to hit the gym and fix one’s weaknesses and improve on one’s strengths.

“I love the challenge of getting better every day,” Vera said. “A lot of athletes or fighters put so much into one tournament or competition or fight and they perform well and win but they forget that, guess what, when Monday morning comes around, you have to go out and do it all over again. You have to keep pushing and that can be tiring. It’s almost like the moment the competition is over, you have to begin to build up for the next one, and for some people that can be difficult. But if you want to be the very best, it’s what you have to do.”

Being so single-minded does have its benefits. He’s learned the value of hard work, he says, and it spills over into other areas of his life.

He’s a devoted husband and father, but says it’s not by accident.

“Being a father, being a husband, you don’t always have all the answers,” he said. “When a problem comes up, we have a discussion. This is life. You have to figure it out. It’s not simple. You have to work at getting better. You have to work at becoming a better husband, a better father, a better brother and a better son, because I understand it’s an everyday thing. You have to work to be better in relationships and solve problems.

“It’s not like, if you’re good on Monday and you bring some flowers that you can be a piece of s*** on Tuesday. It doesn’t work like that. Every day you have to try to be a better person and having that discipline and work ethic being a fighter helps you develop helps you to solve the problems you may face in your real day-to-day life.”

His problem on Saturday is solving Sandhagen. He’s confident he’s put in the work that will allow him to be successful, but he also knows that there are no guarantees.

His motto ought to be, “Keep pushing” because that is what he so often does.

“It’s a daily grind and not every day is going to be great,” Vera said. “Your best on this day may not be as good as your best on some other day, but you have to push and keep doing that best you can on every day. And when you do that regularly, that’s when the good things start to happen.”