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UFC San Diego: Vera vs. Cruz preview - Does the ex-champ have one more run in him?

Get the scoop on the UFC’s main card action out of San Diego, headlined by former bantamweight kingpin Dominick Cruz looking to prove he still has it against KO artist Marlon Vera.

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Dominick Cruz punching Pedro Munhoz at UFC 269
Dominick Cruz punching Pedro Munhoz at UFC 269
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

While there’s several contests hardcore fans will take an interest in for UFC San Diego, it’s really a one-fight card at its heart. Fortunately, it’s a pretty damned good fight. Two-time former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz is making the most out of what appears to be his last gasp at a title run. However, since he lost to Henry Cejudo over two years ago, he gets what is easily his biggest challenge in Marlon Vera. The native of Ecuador has been on a violent tear as of late, putting together his talents as he makes his own run up the bantamweight ladder. If Vera loses, it’s unlikely to be the last chance for him to climb back into contention. It appears unlikely the same could be said about Cruz. I’d say this contest has gone under the radar as it could be one of the last opportunities we get to see one of the sports all-time greats in Cruz.

For the prelims preview, click here. For an audio preview, click here.

Marlon Vera vs. Dominick Cruz, Bantamweight

There’s no doubt the ravages of age and injury have begun to take their toll on Cruz. While he has won every single non-title fight he has ever participated in, he hasn’t looked like the same fighter who reigned over the division on two separate occasions. He barely squeaked by Casey Kenney and was put on his ass by a Pedro Munhoz punch. Given Kenney hasn’t won a fight since that time and Munhoz has firmly established he’s on the outside looking in when it comes to the elite of the division, many take that as enough proof that Cruz shouldn’t be taken serious as a title contender. However, those same people seem to forget one major piece of the puzzle: Cruz won those fights.

Long considered one of the smartest fighters in the sport, there may not be a more studious combatant than Cruz in any combat sport. Aware of what he’s capable of, Cruz enters every contest with a well thought out plan for how he can best win the fight. His unorthodox standup with a heavy emphasis on lateral movement is designed to be difficult to prepare for, though many would argue the stress put on his knees from the style is what has contributed to his knee issues. Regardless, given the unpredictable nature of his standup, Cruz has been considered one of the hardest fighters in MMA to land a clean punch on. Cruz will gladly point out to anyone that not getting hit is a big part of winning a fight after all.

However, Kenney and Munhoz both landed their offense at a rate higher than anyone else previously had been able to outside of Henry Cejudo. Then again, both of them are also greater volume strikers than Vera is. In fact, Vera set the record for negative striking differential in a winning performance when Rob Font landed 112 more significant strikes than Vera did this past spring. That isn’t to say Vera hasn’t improved his output. He may have been in the negative against Font, but he still landed 159 punches of his own.

That said, the reason Vera won is due to his impressive power. He knocked Font to the mat on three occasions and hurt him several other times. He’s always been an opportunistic striker, but his timing has never been better than what it is at this point. It isn’t just his punches either. He can kick the legs out from his opponents – though Sean O’Malley will deny it – or land a kick upside their head with a high probability of putting them to sleep. With Vera’s exceptional timing and Cruz losing a step, many believe Vera having five rounds to find a finish works in his favor.

I happen to disagree. Cruz hasn’t utilized his wrestling as much as he did in his heyday, but it’s hard to believe he can’t score a takedown when he absolutely has to. Vera has improved his takedown defense vastly from when he first came into the UFC, but it’s hard to forget about Frankie Edgar winning their fight until he wasn’t. That included several takedowns with a good chunk of control time. Plus, Cruz’s output and conditioning has always been top notch. It’s plausible Cruz’s chin isn’t what it once was, but there’s no signs it has deteriorated to the extent of Edgar’s chin. Throw in Vera’s habit of operating off his back for long stints and I feel confident in going with the older fighter. While I’d say Vera wins more fights against those in the top ten of the official rankings than Cruz, styles makes fights and Cruz is a difficult matchup for Vera. The former champion keeps his title chances alive with a workmanlike performance. Cruz via decision

  • There’s a LOT of hype around David Onama. The 28-year-old has only three appearances in the UFC, but has flashed more than enough of his physical gifts to convince many he’s going to be a fixture in the top ten of one of the deepest divisions in the sport for a long time. Possessing a large frame for featherweight, plenty of power, and tight punching combinations, Onama is not someone to take lightly in the least. Sure, he could use some more polish on his wrestling game, but he doesn’t stay down long if the fight does hit the ground and he’s more than functional there if he’s the one choosing to hit the mat. Regardless, given Onama’s impressive standup, the anticipation is that he’s going to have to fend off several takedown attempts from Nate Landwehr. Of course, while Landwehr has the wrestling chops to succeed in that approach, the wild man has preferred slugging things out in hopes of picking up some bonus money. The results have been mixed. Once Landwehr gets his juices flowing, it takes a Mack truck to put him down. Throw in the fact that he isn’t lacking for power himself and I wouldn’t be surprised if he were able to successfully upend Onama. However, Onama doesn’t have as much mileage on his body and is the more technical striker of the two. Those factors leave me feeling confident the favorite gets the job done. Onama via decision
  • Mystery is the name of the game for the pair of strawweights making their debut. By far the bigger mystery is Iasmin Lucindo. At a reported age of 20, Lucindo has fought across all sorts of weight classes, fighting as high as featherweight as recent as last year. The names on her resume aren’t all that impressive either, leaving a lot of reason to distrust what the film shows. She a lot of physical tools, showing good power, but is lacking a lot in the technical sense. That said, she does have some wins over DWCS alumni, but those are also the fights that I haven’t been able to find film on. Yazmin Jauregui isn’t much older at 23 and has fewer fights on her record, but those fights have come against more established competition. Plus, the film is available for her toughest opposition and the Mexican native looks like she’s had the proper training to avoid hitting a wall as she faces better athletes. In other words, I would expect Jauregui to piece up Lucindo all day in the pocket. That said, the guess here is Lucindo’s ground game is more advanced. The issue would be getting the fight to the mat. There have been more than a few Brazilian’s with spotty records to hit the UFC over the years. Some have surprised, others have petered out in a hurry. I’m not sure where Lucindo will fit, but I like more of what I see from Jauregui, so she gets my pick. Jauregui via decision
  • Coming off a Performance Bonus winning debut that allowed him to remain undefeated, you’d think the hype around Azamat Murzakanov would be at a nadir. Nope. Murzakanov was losing his fight with Tafon Nchukwi heading into the third round before a flying knee instantly reversed his fortunes. The ability to end a fight at any point is factor of his game that has been well established. The issue is that will be more difficult to rely on as he climbs the ladder. Being undersized and struggling to get his decorated wrestling game going thus far in his UFC career doesn’t help his outlook. That hardly means he should be counted out against Devin Clark. The six-year UFC veteran finally picked up his first finish in the organization this past spring, that coming DEEP into his fight with William Knight. In other words, Clark doesn’t have the same ability as Murzakanov to land a one-hitter-quitter. That said, Clark is one of the better conditioned members of the division, typically looking to grind away with a clinch battle and takedowns. That has been stifled by bigger opponents with a modicum of wrestling ability. Murzakanov can wrestle, but I wouldn’t say he’s bigger, despite his stoutness. There are still holes in Clark’s game and he has been finished plenty through his career. Despite that, he also appears to be at the top of his game, the sinews of all phases of the fight game effectively connecting. I think he’ll have enough to secure a hard-fought win. Clark via decision
  • There have been flashes of what earned her the nickname of the Queen of Violence, but Ariane Lipski hasn’t come close to living up to her previous reputation. For whatever reason, Lipski has been reluctant to let her fists fly, resulting in her getting outworked on the regular. When Lipski has secured UFC wins, it’s been on the basis of her exercising large quantities of grappling control. There is some promise in knowing that she does have some grappling competency, but that’s not fighter the UFC was expecting when they signed her. They’re giving her the best chance to return to her previous form by pitting her against Priscila Cachoeira, the division’s preeminent brawler. Cachoeira is tough as nails and throws with plenty of power, but she’s also reckless as all get out and a subpar athlete. Lipski isn’t an elite athlete, but she’s far superior to Cachoeira, not to mention technically superior. If the version of Lipski we saw prior to signing with the UFC shows up, there’s no doubt she secures the W. If the version of Lipski we’ve seen in the UFC shows up, there’s still a chance she wins based on her superior grappling, something Cachoeira is lacking in. When this fight was originally planned for last weekend, I was picking Lipski. However, the weight miss in combination with her suffering from COVID during her camp and not being medically cleared has me favoring Cachoeira this time around. Cachoeira via decision
  • He’ll never be a contender. At this point, he’s probably never going to break into the official UFC rankings either. But damn it, if Gerald Meerschaert isn’t one of the craftiest members of the UFC roster. Undoubtedly a minus athlete by UFC standards, Meerschaert relies heavily on his experience and next level submission abilities to maintain his roster spot. Despite his impressive wits, that doesn’t mean he’s impossible to put down. I did say he’s unlikely to break into the official rankings after all. In fact, Meerschaert has been put to sleep on several occasions. That’s a bad omen for him given Bruno Silva has a long history of put away his opponents. In fact, prior to his competitive loss to future title contender Alex Pereira, Silva was riding a seven-fight win streak, all of them seeing him getting the finish on the basis of his punching power. Granted, most of Silva’s stoppages have come after he puts his opponents on their back and he dishes out his vaunted GnP. That means he’ll have to risk taking the fight into Meerschaert’s world if he hopes to secure a finish in his usual fashion. While Silva’s grappling Isn’t one of his strengths, it isn’t the weakness it used to be either. He’s tussled with several talented grapplers in recent years and avoided getting caught. Granted, none of them are Meerschaert either. Regardless, if Silva gets Meerschaert down, I’m guessing it’ll be through violent means and Meerschaert won’t have his wits fully about himself. That doesn’t mean the tricky submission specialist won’t nab something on pure instinct, but Silva’s own extended experience should be enough for him to avoid the type of trappings Meershaert’s opponents typically fall to. Silva via TKO of RD1