LAS VEGAS — Marlon Vera was convinced he was doing the right thing, even when so many outward signs pointed to the opposite.
He’d left behind his wife, his children and everyone and everything he knew in Ecuador to come to the United States to try to build a life for himself and his family.
He was raised on a farm in Ecuador, and some of his earliest memories as a child were of milking cows and doing farm work.
“I was a kid and so milking a cow was fun, but at the same time, it was work,” Vera told Yahoo Sports. “My family needed me to do the work.”
And work he did, most of his life. That work ethic has led him near the top of the UFC’s bantamweight division. It was always brutally difficult and fraught with challenges, but Vera never wavered.
On Saturday at Apex, he’ll fight the legendary Jose Aldo in a key bantamweight fight that could set him up for a massive 2021.
That he’s on the precipice of greatness is no surprise to Vera, who methodically went about building a reputation for himself in the MMA world as he supported his small family thousands of miles away.
He missed the good times, the birthdays and the anniversaries, and the big accomplishments. And he wasn’t there to comfort and console — or be comforted and consoled — in the bad times.
“It was so hard, man,” Vera said. “Every weekend it seemed like, my dad or my uncle and all the cousins with their kids, my brother with his kids, my sister with her husband, they were together and doing things and I was away. It was like, ‘[Expletive], man. I’m sacrificing everything.’ I knew what I was doing was so I could give my family a better life, but when you’re not with the people you love, it’s hard no matter what.
“I knew I couldn’t [expletive] it up. My grandpa passed away and I wasn’t there for that. I wasn’t there for my dad. I wasn’t there for my grandma. I wasn’t there for the rest of the family. And Christmas. Every single year, our entire family gets together and I was here alone in the U.S., working by myself.”
Vera didn’t want to move his family thousands of miles away from the only life they’d known until he was sure he’d had a stable job situation. And so every fight he took, there was an additional pressure on him that most other fighters couldn’t even fathom.
But going through what he did made him better for it, as he showed in a dominant victory over Sean O’Malley on Aug 15.
And it’s helped him thrive in quarantine and get better at a time when there is much uncertainty and things are extraordinarily difficult because of the pandemic.
But Vera had gone through his own personal quarantine and knew how to deal with it.
He is brimming with confidence as he prepares to face Aldo, the former featherweight champion.
“I stayed so sharp in quarantine,” he said. “I didn’t create any bad habits, like drinking or getting fat. I was training maybe harder than when the gyms are open. In the UFC, you have to be ready to take opportunities and when they offered me the [O’Malley] fight, I was so ready. I said to myself, ‘I’m going to kill this guy.’ I knew that I was doing the right things with my time.”
If he gets past Aldo, he’ll be one of the fighters to watch at bantamweight in 2021. Aldo is ranked seventh, so Vera would jump up considerably with a win.
And while he’s no trash talker, he believes fully in himself.
“No one can break me because I didn’t break in the toughest situation you ever want to be in,” Vera said. “So I know I have done the work and I have gotten myself ready for this. I am a veteran fighter now and this fight is coming at the perfect time in my life. I know to fight someone like Aldo, this is a great opportunity and I want to make everything I can of it because I know that people will be paying attention.”
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