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Marlon Vera of Ecuador prepares to fight Rob Font in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 30, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
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Marlon "Chito" Vera Always Keeps The Same Intensity

Bantamweight Title Challenger Marlon "Chito" Vera Took The Long Road To His First Shot At UFC Gold At UFC 299: O'Malley vs Vera 2

Long before the bright lights and attention associated with headlining a UFC pay-per-view event, Marlon “Chito” Vera fought anyone and everyone on the streets of Ecuador seemingly for the sake of throwing hands.

“I was fighting in the street for free almost every week,” Vera recalled. “I love to fight, and I was very welcoming of a fistfight, so if someone got mad, I was like, okay, let's go fix it outside. I just grew up fighting.” 

Most things have changed since then for the married father of three, who will get his chance to become a UFC champion this weekend when he faces Sean O’Malley for the bantamweight title in the main event of UFC 299 in Miami. But one thing hasn’t, and that’s Vera’s belief that fighting will lead to a better life – not just for him, but for his family.

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“I'm not doing this for the followers, I'm not doing this for the fame, I'm not doing this for the material stuff,” said Vera. “Granted, I have a bunch of material stuff, but things I like, things I grew up thinking I want one day. But, at the end of the day, you do it for the core, you do it for the family, you do it for the smile of those kids you do it for.”

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Vera’s priorities are obviously in the right place, and a win over O’Malley will secure his family’s future even more, but getting here wasn’t easy, especially considering that Vera didn’t come from a mixed martial arts hotbed in Ecuador. And while even getting to the point where he could earn a UFC contract via The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America was an accomplishment, once he joined the roster, there were more mountains to climb.

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“It took me a while to figure it out,” said Vera, who lost his Octagon debut to Marco Beltran in 2014. “Because of my fighting experience, I was at a low level in terms of everything. I was pretty ballsy, I had decent jiu jitsu, but I didn't know how to fight. I was pretty lost there. I was just trying to figure it out, see what we can do here. And at the beginning, it was hard. It was confusing because I was like, okay, I see all these guys are high level; how I can get there? So it took me a while for that.”

Marlon Vera | Top Finishes
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Marlon Vera | Top Finishes
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Vera went 4-4 in his first eight UFC bouts, and that .500 record didn’t put Vera on the radar as a future title challenger, but there was something special about the tenacious bantamweight who had left his home country and went at it alone with his wife Maria Paulina and their growing family.

“Back then, it's just you,” he said. “You're fighting paycheck to paycheck, and if somebody comes with the toughest fight on short notice, you're not even thinking about it. You're thinking about winning, but you're thinking more about making money so you can stay in the U.S. and keep working here. People got to understand when you come from a different country, you're not from here. It is not like you can go to your mom’s house and eat lunch and leave your babies with your auntie. That don't happen. You're by yourself with your family, so every little dollar counts. And back then it was like, you need a fighter, call me, I need to fight.” 

WATCH: Dominick Cruz Breaks Down O'Malley vs Vera | UFC 299

But starting with his win over Wuliji Buren in 2018, the tide began to shift. Vera’s profile began to rise, he steadied himself, and the wins began piling up. Regardless, when he was matched up with unbeaten rising star O’Malley in August 2020, “Chito” was the underdog, the next victim on “Suga” Sean’s hit list.

Marlon Vera of Ecuador kicks Pedro Munhoz of Brazil in a bantamweight fight during the UFC 292 event at TD Garden on August 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Marlon Vera of Ecuador kicks Pedro Munhoz of Brazil in a bantamweight fight during the UFC 292 event at TD Garden on August 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Vera wasn’t interested in playing victim, though, and after taking out O’Malley’s leg with kicks, he finished the fight on the mat with ground strikes. The injury put that shadow of a doubt in O’Malley’s head as to the validity of the loss, but Vera had no such doubts.

”I beat him,” said Vera. “I knocked him out, and I know he's been saying for the last three years that he didn't lose, but what the f**k should I say? He was sleeping when I was elbowing him in the face. So I won the fight. He's still defeated in his mind.”

Free Fight | Marlon "Chito" Vera vs Sean O'Malley 1

O’Malley bounced back, and three years and three days after his lone loss, the Montana native won UFC gold, halting Aljamain Sterling in two rounds to take the bantamweight crown. And he had no qualms about making his first defense against the only man to beat him.

Main Event Preview | UFC 299: O'Malley vs Vera 2
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Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

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Main Event Preview | UFC 299: O'Malley vs Vera 2
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As for Vera, this title shot wasn’t gifted to him. Following the win over O’Malley, “Chito” went 5-2 with wins over Davey Grant, Frankie Edgar, Rob Font, Dominick Cruz and Pedro Munhoz. He’s a contender now, and on Saturday, he hopes to add the title of champion to his resume.

It’s just like the old days. Only the amount of people watching has changed.

MMA Coaches Break Down O'Malley vs Vera 2

“I keep the same intensity,” said Vera. “When I'm walking there it is for my life. I'm fighting for my family, I'm fighting for my kids, I'm fighting for my wife. And you don't always win. But when I'm walking into it, I'm not thinking about losing. I'm not thinking about giving you an inch, I'm not thinking about giving you nothing. I will break you. And this one specific guy, I'm going to break Sean, he's going to quit.” 

Order UFC 299: O'Malley vs Vera 2

UFC 299: O'Malley vs Vera 2 took place live from Kaseya Center in Miami, Florida on March 9, 2024. See the final Prelims & Main Card Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass