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Staff Predictions: Marlon Vera vs. Dominick Cruz | UFC on ESPN 41

Staff Predictions: Marlon Vera vs. Dominick Cruz | UFC on ESPN 41

Marlon Vera inside the Octagon

A bantamweight bout between Marlon Vera and Dominick Cruz is this weekend’s UFC main event in San Diego, California.

UFC on ESPN 41 takes place this Saturday night, with a total of 13 fights scheduled to take place at the Pechanga Arena. Vera vs. Cruz will fight for five rounds in the main event.

Vera will step into the cage after three consecutive wins against tough bantamweight contenders. Earlier this year, Vera defeated Rob Font by unanimous decision, following his wins over Frankie Edgar and Davey Grant in 2021.

After a two-fight skid, Cruz has returned to winning form with victories against Pedro Munhoz and Casey Kenny last year. His unanimous decision win against Pedro Munhoz won “Fight of the Night” honors.

As always, our team of expert analysts is here to bring you full fight breakdowns, predictions, and the latest betting odds before UFC on ESPN 41.

Betting Odds

Former two-time champion Dominick Cruz will enter this weekend’s UFC main event as the betting underdog. Cruz is currently listed as a +195 underdog against Vera, who can be found at -245 odds.

  • Dominick Cruz: +195 (BetUS)
  • Marlon Vera: -245 (BetUS)

Staff Picks

Michael Pounders

Marlon “Chito” Vera is currently on a three-fight win and is sitting at #5 in the bantamweight rankings. Chito stands with a tall Muay Thai stance and a high guard, almost a permanent Philly shell, where his chin and temples are protected at all times until he decides to engage. This form is important because Vera is happy to walk right through combinations, especially combinations intended to score points in contrast to combinations intended to damage, so he can get into his preferred range and land a heavy combination of his own.

Vera has excellent power and is able to throw his power shots without needing to load up or create his own openings. Instead, Vera tends to walk his opponent down, allow them to hit his guard, and counter with devastating power. Vera’s fight against Font was the pinnacle of this unique but effective style. Font was winning several minutes of the rounds until the final 60 seconds, where Vera let his hands go, connected on Font’s chin, and dropped him several times. Even though Vera was significantly out struck, it was Vera who walked away with minimal damage and a unanimous decision win. Beyond Vera’s persistent and powerful combination striking, he has a snapping and thudding calf kick that can immobilize his opponent, making them easier to hit.

Furthermore, even tough Vera’s recent surge has been on the back of his striking, he is a talented grappler and solid wrestler. Vera has a strong clinch game. He can hold his opponents with a Thai clinch and unload knees with velocity and ferocity. Then, if the clinch transitions to the mat, Vera is a decorated submission fighter with a variety of slick submissions in his arsenal. The only concern for Vera is how he’ll do in fights where his heavy counter shots don’t significantly hurt his opponent. Vera relies on damage over output and if he can’t land or the judges don’t see the damage as impactful enough, Vera has lost decisions by being outpointed on the feet. 25 minutes is a long time to last in a locked cage against someone as dangerous as Vera, though.

Dominick “The Dominator” Cruz is on his way to being a UFC hall of famer, as a fighter and possibly as an analyst. Even though his fight style and announcing tendencies are often criticized, the bottom line is the guy is successful. Cruz is an incredibly cerebral fighter who has a clear strategy before every fight. He sees angles, possible avenues for attack, and openings in his opponent’s game that few others can identify. Dom is also known for his patented unique, figure-eight footwork. Cruz is in constant motion from the first to the last second of the fight, circling in and out of range, cutting angles, and doing what high level strikers do: hitting his opponent and making it difficult for them to hit him back.

Cruz has elite cardio, even at 36, is still fast on his feet, and unloads a high amount of volume over five rounds. Cruz is at his best when his footwork, head movement, and hands all sync up into one and he can counter with quick combinations while his opponent is frustratingly hitting air. Cruz also often implements a savvy veteran move and likes to grapple toward the end of rounds. Especially when the round is close, Cruz will look to clinch or shoot a takedown to seal the round. While he is a primary striker, his grappling game is well rounded and effective, both offensively and defensively. The biggest, and possibly only, question for Cruz is his age. Because he is so reliant on movement, cardio, and high volume, at a certain point, his age will restrict his ability to implement his style.

In this fight, the other question is how Cruz will deal with Vera’s power. Cruz was dropped by Pedro Munhoz in his most recent fight, and while Munhoz once had top tier power, at his age, the decided power advantage would go toward Vera. Said plainly, if Munhoz can drop Cruz, if Vera finds the chin, Cruz will likely go down again. However, Cruz is a future hall of famer for a reason and has one of the best fight IQ’s in the business; so, I don’t foresee Cruz making a mistake and creating an easy opening.

A popular narrative in this fight is how Vera’s devastating leg kicks will matchup against Cruz’s famous footwork. I, however, think this fight comes down to Vera’s clinch game. Rather than chasing Cruz around the cage for 25 minutes, a fight that would heavily favor Cruz, I’m expecting Vera to cut the cage early with threats of power shots, and clinch Cruz to immobilize him. Vera will be much stronger and has more damaging shots in the clinch. In the end, I think Vera is going to damage Cruz with clinch knees and the ever-so-often power shot. Cruz will look to float like a butterfly for 25 minutes but that just means Vera has 25 minutes to sting like a bee.

Pick: Vera to win by knockout (+210 odds at BetUS)

Joe Pounders

Marlon “Chito” Vera is becoming one of the largest enigmas in the UFC from my own personal perspective. What I mean by this is that Vera was, at one time, a beloved fighter of mine given his resiliency, tenacity, and underappreciated talent in the octagon. But, perhaps to his credit, the under-the-radar talent that I once fell in love with has now flipped 180 degrees, to now, a hype train that may earn him a title shot with a win over Cruz.

Rather than patting myself on the back for recognizing the high-end talent of Vera, I have morphed into a viewer that desires even more out of him. To best illustrate this newfound desire, look no further than his last fight against former top 5 bantamweight, Rob Font. In that fight, Font was winning nearly every round of the 5-round affair, but at certain moments throughout each round, particularly at the last-minute mark, Vera would significantly hurt Font to the degree that netted him the clearcut 10-9 score on the judges’ cards. While damage inflicted against Font is both impressive and somewhat expected given the talent of Vera, I find myself frustrated and concerned that the over-patient style and trust in his damaging strikes over landing with output may result in him losing close fights.

While I believe having a negative UFC career strike differential accompanied by a sub-1 TD landed average throughout his career is a recipe for losing a close fight, Vera’s elite power, creative strikes, world-class chin, and underrated grappling – when he elects to do so – is a recipe for title-contending status. So, when forecasting the future of Vera, it is inherently difficult given the contradicting self that he is. Regardless of the difficulty, the high-end talent is apparent, and perhaps most importantly, so too is his confidence.

Saying a fighter has confidence in himself would be an understatement for Dominick Cruz. Being a former WEC and UFC Bantamweight Champion, I’m hard pressed to attack the, at times, overconfidence Cruz exudes. Moreover, when you look at the HOF talent that he has repeatedly beat throughout his long-tenured fight career, how can you blame him for speaking with so much confidence, and at times, with arrogance?

Beyond the confidence in himself from a historical perspective, Cruz has backed what he has preached, as he is coming off a FOTN victory over the always dangerous, Pedro Munhoz. In that fight, Cruz did what he always seems to do: weaponize cardio through insane movement and peppering-like strikes to wear down his opponents. Let me reiterate once more, Cruz has one of the best cardio’s in the UFC, and more importantly, knows how to weaponize it.

The interesting aspect of Cruz’s weaponization of cardio is that he primarily does so on the feet contrary to merely wrestling his way to victories, albeit he will repeatedly shoot in takedowns to test the mental aspect of the opposition as well as further gas them out. Mixing in takedowns, with the main intent on cardio and the mental side of the fight is genius by Cruz given his best two weapons at this point of his career are cardio and insane intellect.

The foundational attributes of Cruz are some of the most admiring I can think of, but there are negatives to his game. Primarily, Cruz lacks the ability to threaten his opponent with fight-ending ability. Doing so allows his opponent to have confidence throughout the fight if they have trust in their gas tank, and if so, they can eventually trust they will land a powerful blow. Wearing punches, at this point in his career, is something Cruz has struggled with and is a problem when facing an opponent as lethal as Vera is.

Similarly, to the Vera v Font fight, I expect this bout to be Cruz winning the output battle, but Vera to land the heavy blows. Whie both men have the capability to get the fight to the mat, each can get off the mat somewhat easily. So, believing this fight to be a striking affair, I ultimately elect to side with the fighter who has the better durability and far greater danger – Vera. I do this not because I favor power over output, but instead, because Vera has shown to possess extreme danger with know-how on how to inflict said danger. Moreover, while Cruz moves extremely well in the octagon, he has shown he can eventually be hit, and his durability is a major concern as he continues to age. For these reasons, I believe Vera will eventually find a finish and continue his impressive run up the bantamweight division.

Pick: Vera by KO (+210 odds at BetUS)

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