UFC on ESPN 43’s Marlon Vera: Title shots are given out based on ‘whatever the f*ck UFC wants’

SAN ANTONIO – Marlon Vera doesn’t see much rhyme or reason to the way UFC title shots are decided these days. However, he thinks that probably plays to his advantage.

Vera (20-7-1 MMA, 14-6 UFC), who meets Cory Sandhagen (15-4 MMA, 8-3 UFC) in Saturday’s UFC on ESPN 43 headliner at AT&T Center on ESPN following prelims on ESPN+, is one of the more popular fighters in the bantamweight division, has a finish-heavy fighting style, a country behind him in Ecuador, and an attitude toward the fight game that personifies what the UFC should be about.

Currently riding a four-fight winning streak that includes knockouts of former champions Dominick Cruz and Frankie Edgar, “Chito” would likely put his case over the top if he beats Sandhagen. He’s not certain, though, because he knows UFC is not a meritocracy.

Despite the fact that he holds a TKO win over Sean O’Malley, “Suga” is probably still in front to challenge the winner of the UFC 288 title fight between Aljamain Sterling and Henry Cejudo. There’s also Merab Dvalishvili, who has won his past nine fights.

Vera doesn’t know exactly how the landscape at 135 pounds is going to play out, but he does know he won’t be included in any major short-term plans unless he wins.

“The way that the rankings are done, it’s really hard to predict,” Vera told MMA Junkie and other reporters at Wednesday’s media day. “You’ve got O’Malley at No. 1 after he beat (Petr) Yan. Now you’ve got Merab at No. 1 after he beat him. Yan wasn’t at No. 1 after his last fight, but you beat the guy then you go to No. 1? So it really doesn’t f*cking matter. You can be No. 10 and fight for the title. It’s whatever the f*ck UFC wants to do at this point. I’m OK with that.”

Vera points to Cejudo’s title shot against Sterling at UFC 288 on May 7 as an example of the promotion’s selective decision making. He thinks Cejudo is getting some special treatment but can’t complain about it, because he would happily accept that treatment if the shoe was on the other foot.

Instead, Vera intends on taking the long and tough road to the top. He said his life begins and ends with Saturday’s showdown with Sandhagen, and he’s prepared to his best possible ability to get the win.

“Just the fact that he’s a guy preparing himself to beat me up, I’ve got to worry about it,” Vera said. “I wake up every morning thinking there’s a lot of jobs to get done. It doesn’t matter who is in front of me. I just focus on getting better, and I’ve been showing that fight to fight.

“I feel like people start looking past things like, ‘This is what I want after. This s who I want to fight.’ You can’t predict fighting. Even if you get to the ‘Mystic Mac’ level, you can predict maybe three times. You can’t predict it forever.”

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC on ESPN 43.