After about a 20-minute conversation with Marlon “Chito” Vera, who on Saturday at Pechanga Arena faces former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz in the main event of UFC San Diego, I can safely say that he doesn’t give af***.
He doesn’t give af*** about:
Cruz’s reputation as the greatest bantamweight of all time in MMA and as one of the greatest MMA fighters, period, regardless of weight class.
What fans think of his online persona.
Those who question the way he’s approached the Cruz fight.
That one-time rival Sean O’Malley jumped ahead of him after a no-contest with Pedro Munhoz to get a fight with No. 1-ranked Petr Yan.
Numerous and sundry other issues about life and MMA.
“I keep it real, man,” Vera said. “I haven’t done anything to him. He hasn’t done anything to me, but this is like two men fighting over the only piece of meat. Dominick Cruz is a legend, and he’s done a lot in and for this sport, but I don’t give af***. I’m going to get in there and finish him. That’s my job and I don’t give af*** what anyone else thinks.”
Now, Vera is one of the hottest fighters in the division. He’s won three in a row since a loss to Jose Aldo, decision victories over Davey Grant and Rob Font sandwiched around a knockout of Frankie Edgar.
It was the win over Font that really clarified that Vera had become a legitimate title contender. Vera dropped Font three times in a compelling battle to win a unanimous decision.
He was and remains rightfully proud of the win, not only just for getting it, but by making a statement in the way he did so.
“That was a huge statement because no one before that had broken Font down the way I did,” he said. “He’s a big, powerful guy and I heard from everyone how dangerous he is. But I don’t give af***. I trained like a madman so I could go in there and kick his ass. No one has done that to Font before.
“I showed I don’t have to play a character or engage in a lot of [social media] bull s*** to get a big fight and win that fight.”
That got him the bout with Cruz, the former champion who at No. 8 is ranked three slots behind him. It came after Yan turned down a fight against him, he said.
Cruz’s style is complicated and Vera knows it’s not going to be easy, but he’s never once expected a fight to be easy. The competition is fierce, he said, even against opposition the public doesn’t see as dangerous.
He said the key to winning is blocking out the external noise and the beliefs of others.
“You can’t let people who aren’t going to get into that cage and do it themselves impact you and what you do,” he said. “Really, it’s me versus me. I have to control the things I know how I control: How I prepared, if I trained as hard as I could, if I do what my coaches want me to do. Those are the things that matter. The only thing that matters is who is in front of you and what you do about it.
“If someone says I had a masterful performance [in my last fight], I say thanks. But it doesn’t matter, to be honest with you, because it’s in the past. I’m very happy now in my life because I know that I’m going out there and I’m training as hard as I can and I’m not putting s*** in my body and I’m not getting drunk or any of that. I don’t give af*** about partying. My body is everything to me in this sport and so I take care of it at all times.”
The key for him, he said, was getting a full-time head coach. He added the estimable Jason Parillo as his head coach before the Grant fight and it’s been the final piece of the puzzle, he said.
Parillo, who had been on his team for years, puts everything together and covers all bases and it’s on Vera to execute. He doesn’t care — really, you know by now that he doesn’t give a you know what — about what anyone thinks of his arrangement.
“I think I’m better now because of my attitude and what I have put together,” he said. “You ask me about what Dominick said about me? I don’t give af***. I’m asked about [O’Malley] maybe getting a title shot before me. Same thing: I don’t give af***. I swear to God, I don’t care about any of that.
“Some guys try so hard to be cool and they hope to be famous and they forget what matters most. For me, it’s being in the best shape I can be and going out there and fighting my ass off for 25 minutes or however long it goes.”