Edging ever closer to a title shot, Marlon Vera will look to make a statement when he faces former champion Dominik Cruz in an all-action bantamweight main event match-up at UFC San Diego on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
Featherweights feature in the co-headliner at the Pechanga Arena, where Ugandan finisher David Onama plans to add Nate Landwehr to his highlight reel, while Devin Clark collides with the undefeated Azamat Murzakanov at light heavyweight.
A strawweight scrap between promotional newcomers will see another unbeaten prospect in Yazmin Jauregui take on Iasmin Lucindo, plus Ariane Lipski and Priscila Cachoeira clash at bantamweight and veterans Bruno Silva and Gerald Meerschaert meet in the middleweight division.
MAIN CARD (from 1 AM Sunday SA time):
Marlon Vera (1.40) v Dominik Cruz (2.95) (Bantamweight)
Ranked fifth and eighth respectively, Vera (19-7-1) and Cruz (24-3) will deliver mixed martial arts of the highest order in the five-round headliner.
Both men are highly-skilled, tactically astute and on a roll. Vera’s in his prime, rattling off three big wins to break into the top five for the first time, while Cruz – considered by many the greatest bantamweight of all time – has claimed back-to-back wins to prove that at 36 and having had more than his fair share of injuries, he’s still among the very best.
The Vera that’ll step inside the Octagon this weekend is the best version yet. He’s always been dangerous but wasn’t quite able to put it all together before his current three-fight win streak. The 29-year-old’s decision win over Davey Grant was solid, but it’s his last two performances that solidified his coming of age.
His dismantling of former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, which he capped off with a highlight-reel front kick KO, was a wicked warning shot to the elite and his five-round masterclass against Rob Font in April was his best performance yet. In what was his maiden main event, he pummelled Font in a crisp, accurate and ruthless striking clinic.
So, “Chito” still throws with bad intentions and packs impressive power that’s seen him score seven knockouts, however, he now fights with controlled aggression behind a game-changing new weapon in the form of a piston-like jab. He also has excellent jiu-jitsu, which has netted him eight wins by submission.
Cruz has built a Hall of Fame career on unorthodox movement and being a tactical genius. No one moves like the UFC’s inaugural bantamweight champion, who frustrates foes by zigzagging in and out of range at awkward angles.
“Decision Machine” is a more accurate nickname for the legend than “The Dominator” as 16 of his 24 wins came on the scorecards. The last of his seven knockouts dates back to 2015 while he only has a solitary submission win as he’s all about perpetual motion.
Historically hard to hit, a drop in speed has seen opponents get off on Cruz more in recent years but he’s as tough as they come, having only been TKO’d once – when he challenged then-champion Henry Cejudo in 2020. He’s also only been submitted once, by arch-rival Urijah Faber all the way back in 2007.
Younger, faster and firing on all cylinders, Vera’s time is now. A one-and-a-half-inch reach advantage will further help him consistently hit the ever-moving target that Cruz is en route to a decision victory.
Nate Landwehr (3.35) v David Onama (1.31) (Featherweight)
One of the African aces making a name for himself in the UFC, Onama is skilled violence personified. All 10 of his wins are by stoppage (six knockouts and four submissions), half of which came in the first round.
The Ugandan star, who has a single blemish on his record (a decision loss to Mason Jones in his UFC debut), makes a quick turnaround having submitted Garrett Armfield last month and is eyeing his third win in a row.
Landwehr (15-4) secured a thrilling submission victory over Ludovit Klein last time out but has alternated between wins and losses in all four of his fights in the UFC. He packs a punch (nine knockouts) but absorbs far too many strikes (5.96 per minute), which saw him get slept in both of his Octagon losses.
Onama is the more dangerous and explosive fighter on top of having a two-inch height and reach advantage, so bank on “The Silent Assassin” to continue his stoppage streak.
Yazmin Jauregui (1.43) v Iasmin Lucindo (2.80) (Strawweight)
It’s once in a blue moon that two UFC debutants are given the spotlight of a main card fight, which speaks to the potential of these two strawweights and what they’ve done to get here.
Jauregui has been flawless in her professional career, outclassing all eight of her opponents and knocking out six of them. Lucindo (13-4) has more experience and has won her last seven. Her heavy hands have earned her eight knockouts but she prefers to dominate her opponents on the ground.
Stepping in on short notice for Istela Nunes puts Lucindo at a disadvantage, which coupled with Jauregui’s crisper striking and good grappling should see the latter get her hand raised by decision.
Devin Clark (2.25) v Azamat Murzakanov (1.66) (Light Heavyweight)
Holding an undefeated record of 11-0 with nine finishes, Murzakanov is a surging and sophisticated striker. “The Professional” made his UFC debut in style in March, blasting Tafon Nchukwi with a flying knee to notch knockout number eight and is relishing what’s his toughest test to date this weekend.
Clark (13-6) is a seasoned campaigner in the UFC, having fought the likes of former champion Jan Blachowicz, Aleksandar Rakic and Anthony Smith, and it’s that experience that makes him such a fascinating challenge for the rising Russian.
Having said that, “Brown Bear” has a lot of holes in his game. Five of his six losses came by stoppage as a result and an intelligent and versatile striker like Murzakanov should capitalise on those openings and keep his unbeaten streak intact.
Ariane Lipski (1.44) v Priscila Cachoeira (2.75) (Bantamweight)
Two of the more aggressive and lethal fighters in all of women’s MMA, this is going to be a thriller. The Brazilians were meant to collide last weekend, but Lipski (14-7) weighed in 2.5 pounds over the flyweight limit. The bout will now be contested at bantamweight.
Both ladies are fearless strikers with six knockouts, but they go about punishing their opponents differently. Lipski is machine gun-like in her output and accuracy while Cachoeira (11-4) is more like a shotgun with her power.
While she possesses that stoppage power, Cachoeira tends to load up and leaves herself open to counter strikes. That’s a double whammy against “The Queen of Violence”, who’s known for piecing up her foes.
Lipski also has a dangerous ground game in her back pocket that gives her more paths to victory, however, her faster hands and feet – along with her two-inch reach advantage – will see her out-strike Cachoeira. Considering “Zombie Girl” has never been knocked out, Lipski will most likely get it done by decision.
Bruno Silva (1.32) v Gerald Meerschaert (3.35) (Middleweight)
This is a good old-fashioned striker versus grappler battle dialled up to 11. Whichever way you slice it, it’s safe to say this one won’t go to a decision as Silva (22-7) is a knockout artist with 19 KOs to his credit whereas Meerschaert (34-15) has no less than 26 submission wins.
Silva had a seven-fight win streak snapped in his last bout but even in defeat, he proved what a high-level striker he is as he became the first and only man to go the distance with former kickboxing world champion Alex Pereira, who’ll be fighting old enemy Israel Adesanya for the title later this year after making quick work of Sean Strickland at UFC 277.
If Meerschaert can get the fight to the ground, there’s every chance he’ll cash as a big underdog but his chin hasn’t been the same since his brutal knockout loss to Khamzat Chimaev and he’s bound to get caught chasing the takedown.