Marlon Vera was given a big opportunity to halt the rise of one of the UFC’s up-and-coming stars and he did exactly that.
Between the fight, the spot on the card, the main event that would follow it, and the trash talk from his opponent and team, one of Vera’s main keys to victory was to keep his emotions in check.
“It was weird because when I was walking to the cage, there was moments that I felt I wasn’t ready,” Vera told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “It’s because I wasn’t nervous. I was so calm that I was thinking, ‘F*ck, what’s going on with me?’ In the locker room, I was hitting mitts, grappling a little bit and I was like, ‘I don’t have any feelings’. I felt like I’m there, but there were no feelings.
“Then the nerves kicked in and I was like, ‘Thank god! I was missing you guys. Welcome.’”
Vera entered the fight on a five-fight winning streak at 135 pounds, but was coming off of a controversial decision loss to Song Yadong in a featherweight bout in May.
O’Malley, who earned a contract on Dana White’s Contender Series in July 2017, had won all four of his octagon appearances—including two first-round finishes in 2020. It was his latest performance at UFC 250 that got people talking about “Sugar” more than ever before, and that led to a challenge being made to the now 25-fight veteran.
The 27-year-old had already given a verbal agreement to face a different opponent a week prior, but plans changed much to the delight of Vera since it wasn’t just O’Malley who wanted the fight, it was members of his opponent’s coaching staff—most notably Tim Welch.
“They won a fight against Eddie Wineland. I was already booked to fight [Jimmie Rivera] and they started calling me out,” Vera explained. “The coaches are calling me out. Where the f*ck do you see a high level coach doing that? A coach can have an opinion: ‘I would like my pupil to fight X guy,’ but those guys were talking sh*t. ‘Chito’s easy money,’ and blah blah blah.
“My answer to them after the Wineland fight, I told them ‘Enjoy your couple minutes of fame because as a fighter, you are sh*t.’ Guess what? They keep calling me out. He was about to become the greatest coach ever if his guys kept beating people out because that’s how media works. He’d become this massive, whatever. I f*cked up all of their sh*t.
“How I controlled myself, I don’t know what was going on inside my head. I’m pretty good at not paying attention to negativity.”
In a recent appearance on What the Heck prior to UFC 252, Vera was well aware of everything that was being said by O’Malley’s team, as well as the fighter himself. The Ecuadorian fighter would not allow the trash talk to get into his head, no matter what was said, and who it was said about—including his coaches and manager.
There was one Instagram post directed towards Vera ahead of this past Saturday night that caught the attention of his wife.
“My wife sent me a post Sean made with Snoop Dogg yelling, ‘O’Malley, O’Malley, O’Malley,’ and it said ‘Chito Vera’s girlfriend in bed with Chito,’ or whatever,’ Vera said. “I laughed. I told my wife to not even reply. Don’t give it attention because I really don’t pay attention to that stuff. But somehow I was able to f*ck him up.
“People are mean on social media because, in other sports, they can say something and get away with it. In other sports if you talk wild, you get a sanction, a fine, or money taken away from you. The UFC lets you get away with it, which is cool. I don’t mind the trash talk. I enjoy it, I actually have fun. My vocabulary was pretty bad when I won, but some people get away with things. The only problem is that you get baptized. If you want to talk wild, make sure you bring a pair of balls to the cage.”
In the UFC 252 post-fight press conference, Vera revealed that the trash talk from O’Malley’s coaching staff continued before the fighters walked to the octagon, and right before the right was about to begin.
When asked what happened, Vera went into more detail.
“I was shaking my head thinking, ‘You don’t even know what’s about to happen,’” Vera stated. “Like Dana White says, if you don’t know, now you know. I just knew something he didn’t know. Fighting is a f*ckin’ weird thing, dude. You just know. I don’t know how to explain it, I just had it inside of me.
“They kept yelling sh*t. Even Herb Dean told them to shut the f*ck up when the fight started. They’re yelling, ‘F*ck him, he’s scared.’ Why are you talking? Scared? I’m f*cking out there ready to die. I’m not letting you take money from my family. I’m not letting you take my ranking, I’m not letting you take nothing from me right now.
“If you’re talking sh*t, you better bring that same energy win or lose. If I’m insulting you, and I lose, I’m still gonna insult you after the fight.”
The finish of the fight was mired in controversy. O’Malley was shown losing his balance on his left foot but continued trying to fight through it. When an exchange led to another instance of O’Malley hitting the mat, Vera jumped on top and landed a big punch, followed by an elbow before the referee had seen enough.
Upon further review, Vera landed a hard leg kick that affected his opponent, which looks to have led to the injury getting worse. Vera felt he took O’Malley’s best shots and once fire was returned, he felt like he had broken the 24-year-old’s will.
“There’s an energy to this game,” Vera explained. “When he kicked me hard, my energy didn’t drain. I wasn’t like, ‘Oh, f*ck, he kicked me so hard, let me throw in the towel.’ When he kicked me it was like, ‘Okay, you kicked me, now you’re gonna take mine.’ I checked one of those, too, so I thought that’s where the injury came from, but it actually came from a kick.
“That’s how you break fighters: when you take the best from them and nothing happens. I kicked him and he broke. That means my conditioning coaches are doing a great job.”
Now that he has some major momentum following the biggest win of his career, Vera is happy to be spending time with his family, and getting to surf. The Team Oyama and RCVA standout is hoping to return before the end of the year.
Since the promotion already had set up a fight between he and Rivera, Vera hopes the UFC goes right back to that well.
“I believe when the UFC comes back to Vegas in November, that would be pretty cool,” Vera said.
“I’m in the rankings now and I’m looking up. Let’s get the fight done with Jimmie. That’s the fight to make.”