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From Ecuador to the Cage; Exclusive Interview with UFC Fighter Marlon “Chito” Vera

AJ Camacho

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Marlon “Chito” Vera’s UFC story would be a Cinderella Story deferred. As the 2014 member of the TUF: Latin America cast, Vera drew people in with his noble story of a young prize fighting father trying to pay for his daughter’s surgery with nothing more than grit, hard work, and fists. Viewers responded well and people had high hopes to see his story resolve itself over the course of the show. 

Vera’s daughter suffers from a rare congenital neurological disorder known as Möbius syndrome. Möbius syndrome is characteristically known for its facial paralysis which prevents sufferers from showing facial emotion. The overall health and intellect of the child is fine, but the social repercussions for being unable to smile can be gut wrenchingly detrimental for a child’s social development.

People with Möbius syndrome are sometimes incorrectly disregarded as being unintelligent or anti-social, by those unfamiliar with the condition, due to their inability to relate to people with facial gestures and cues. Most of us take for granted the power to emote, the power to smile. For these children, a myriad of social doors are closed and barriers placed up by people who don’t understand the condition and presume the worst. For this reason, Chito has been vocal about the struggles of his daughter and his goal in earning the money needed to afford her the crucial surgery she needs to be able to smile and articulate her face.

But we wouldn’t see our Willy Wonka golden ticket ending in TUF. After an amazing and devastating up kick KO victory in the earlier rounds, Chito was soon sidelined due to a skin infection and prevented from continuing with the show. Despite his inability to compete, Dana White was clearly impressed, annnouncing to Vera that the UFC would cover his daughter’s medical costs. Addittionally, the UFC would secure Chito for his UFC debut against Marco Beltran at UFC 180 back in November of 2014.

The Marco Beltran fight was to be Chito’s big coming out party, but that conclusion would slip through his fingers once again. After a grueling and hard-fought three rounds of fighting, Beltran would win the debatable unanimous decision win putting Chito’s career in the UFC into question. We would have to wait until UFC Fight Night 73, where a demoted non-televised prelim Chito would earn a Submission of the Night worthy armbar victory over Roman Salazar. A prelim fighter winning submission of the night is an uncommon and rare occurrence with only 17% of the non-televised prelim fighters being capable of achieving such a feat. The win would secure Chito’s placement in the UFC and award him $50,000 to ease some relief from the struggle and the grind of a prize fighter’s life.

“I was fighting on the street, I was fighting in school, I was fighting in the clubs… I loved to fight but I lost every single fight before my [MMA] debut.”

[Chito was kind enough to sit down with me for a chat as we discussed his path from Ecuador to the UFC, his winning submission, his street-fighting days, and what exactly a “Chito” is. The following is an excerpt from the full-length interview which can be heard at the embedded link at the bottom of the page.]

How does someone like you fall into MMA. I mean it’s obviously not a big sport in Ecuador, but how did you discover it?

So, how I discovered the UFC… my coach is a Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt and a Muay Thai coach. So he started to train me in boxing and all that stuff. And I started to [watch] the UFC and the first fighter I saw was GSP. And I was like, ‘Damn, this is the best guy in the world. I want to be like this guy when I grow up.’

So I started when I was 17 and my first… fight was when I was 17 and I won by armbar. So I start to train really, really hard and to take this seriously after my first MMA fight. This is my life, you know, I fight my whole life.

I was fighting on the street, I was fighting in school, I was fighting in the clubs… I loved to fight but I lost every single fight before my [MMA] debut. [Which] is funny because I was fighting in the street and I was losing. Getting punched in the face, I was like “Ohhh, this guy kicked my ass!”

So I was loving the sport but [I was doing real bad]. So I started to train real hard.

“I prefer [Chito as] a nickname rather than “The Killer”, or some stuff like that.”

[I’ll be honest, I was a bit embarrassed that I didn’t know what Chito’s name meant. I have a cousin we called Tito and even a great uncle who’s name was Chito but for the life of me, I have no idea what Chito meant. In a state of Hispanic-shame I texted my mother for the answer. She had no awnser for me, which lead to her calling up my grandmother to discuss Uncle Chito and his curious name. The best they could figure out was that the name was short for Jesus… as in “Hey, Zeus”. That didn’t make much sense given the context of Marlon’s name. So I was left alone without any research information to just ask the question.]

You’re nickname, Chito. What does that mean? Because I asked my mom and my grandmother, and apparently I have an uncle Chito but it’s like short for Jesus or something and I don’t think that’s the same in Ecuador as it is in Mexico. So What does the nickname Chito mean?

Okay, Chito means like – my second name is Andreas. When I was a kid and people ask me for my name, I just say, “Andreacito” like a little name.

Gotchya, the diminutive form…

Yeah, it’s like a diminutive [version] of the name. Like a little name, Andreas/Andreasito but as a kid I would say AndreaCHITO. [I picked it] as a fight name because my family always called me that since I was a kid.

I prefer [Chito as] a nickname rather than “The Killer”, or some stuff like that. Stuff like “Assessino”, that’s not for me.

“This money is going to be really good for me because I can train without the pressure [of needing] money.”

[$50,000 can go a long way. But for the life of a prelim card professional fighter this is not vacation caviar money. This is gym, ham, eggs, take care of the kids, and “keep the lights on” money. I wondered, would $50,000 magically change Chito’s life overnight?]

Congratulations with your recent submission win over Roman Salazar at UYFC Fight Night 73.

Thank you man, it was a tough fight…

And you got submission of the night for that, right – for the armbar?

Yeah, I got it.

And have you been able to use the bonus money for good use yet?

I will use this money to pay my camp, to pay [for] school for my daughter, to support my daughter… I have to keep working hard. This money is going to be really good for me because I can train without the pressure [of needing] money. I will use [the money] for me and my family, to pay my camp, my coaches, and to be ready to [come] back soon. I want to fight before the year ends. I want to fight in December or November, I will be ready for that.

How tough is it in Ecuador, to be able to afford training and just living… is it tough there?

In Ecuador, the toughest thing is that we don’t have MMA gyms… we don’t have a lot of MMA fighters. So it’s hard for me and my coach because we are alone here. We don’t have a lot of partners we try to train in every place in my home, in my coach’s home. It’s really hard to be a fighter here in Ecuador because everybody love soccer and everything is around soccer.

I have in my hands and on my shoulders the pressure of changing the history of MMA in the country and in Latin America. It’s really hard to be a fighter here because we don’t have the support of the big [corporate] brands to support us.

“…the first thing I will do, is put the biggest elbows in your face.”

[Ultimately, though, this all comes down to that fateful arm bar that won Chito his win over Roman Salazar and subsequently the $50,000 Submission of the Night Bonus. At the time, some would think that Chito’s triangle attempts were tenacious but frustrated. His chain of submission attacks appearing more like stubborn hail mairy passes followed with vengeful elbow strikes from his closed guard.

However, if you were thinking this you would be mistaken. Chito expands and describes one of his favorite submission setups. Here’s a hint, it starts with slamming your elbow into their face…]

I noticed in your fights, you use a lot of overhooks and wrist control to setup your triangles and stuff like that. It’s a very MMA guard that you use.

My coach [Frank Vidal] is a Jiu-Jitsu black belt but he’s not going to teach me a berimbolo or rolling stuff that we don’t need. My coach have a real MMA Jiu-Jitsu. My coach, every single day on the computer watching techniques about Jiu-Jitsu for MMA because that is what I need. I’m not going to make a berimbolo because [my opponent] will break my face.

What are some of your favorite setups for the triangle in closed guard?

My favorite thing in the triangle is – the first thing I will do, is put the biggest elbows in your face. Because if I just use the technique from Jiu-Jitsu he is going to escape from [my triangle]. If you put big elbows in his face, try to cut his face, he is going to come more into the triangle.

Oh wow, so you’re keeping his posture in because he’s avoiding your elbows and keeps ducking into your guard.

Yeaaaaah. You have to break the posture to finish the guy. The position is first and then goes the submission. You know, I am a ground fighter but I am the ground fighter that can fight the stand-up. I was trying to stand with [Salazar] but he refused to stand up and fight. I was ready to fight stand-up and he started to put me down. My coach say, “Okay, he don’t want to fight stand-up, go finish the fight on the ground and put some serious elbows in his face. Make him pay.”

“There is no celebration, there is not party for me.”

[Despite his recent success, Marlon made it clear that he is not ready to relax and celebrate. He wants to get back into the cage as soon as possible entering immediately back into training once again. If his future is anything like his recent wins, then he’s sure to see all of his hard work pay off.]

And on Monday, I make my first run and I start to eat well again. There is no celebration, there is not party for me.

Are you trying to get on that (Fight Night) Monterrey card in November?

That card is really good but if I could fight in the US again, I would love it. There’s two cards.. there’s McGregor vs Aldo and Cowboy vs Dos Anjos in Orlando. Orlando would be a good place for me because [of the short distance] everybody from Ecuador… could fly to watch my fight.

For a full-length version of the interview and the raw audio, follow this link here:

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Dana White

Dana White gives update on Conor McGregor and the lightweight division

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The top end of the UFC’s lightweight division is thriving. Dustin Poirer defeated former division champion Anthony Pettis, in dominant fashion. Tony Ferguson won the lightweight division’s interim title by carving Kevin Lee from his back. Safe to say, no everyday person would ever want to see Khabib Nurmagomedov down a damp and dark alley. Don’t forget, the gutsy performance of Eddie Alvarez stealing Justin Gaethje’s undefeated record away.  The division is thriving like gas attempting to escape a shaken champagne bottle.

On Friday, UFC President, Dana White, spoke to Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports, about a number of topics. One, which came up fairly quickly; Conor McGregor and his stranglehold on the lightweight belt. The pair began talking about recent performances inside the octagon when the illustrious name of, Khabib Nurmagomedov, came up. White claimed, “Conor always finds a way to win. When he hits you, you go…”. Then speaking of the potential bout between Nurmagomedov and McGregor, “I love that matchup but, Tony Ferguson is the interim champion. Conor and I haven’t really figured out when he’s coming back and what’s going on…”. He continued, “I don’t think Conor wants to fight until August, but if he waits until August or September, that’s around two years since the belt has been defended and that can’t happen”.

Iole followed up by asking, due to circumstances, does McGregor owe it to the sport to defend his title? The UFC president agreed, “And to the other fighters. Not only to the sport but, to the other fighters. This is a game of time… when you’re a professional athlete, time is your enemy and we can’t let this thing go on forever and not give other guys the opportunity. Tony Ferguson has been around for a long time and has earned his dues, Khabib has earned his dues… Conor has done very well, he’s made a lot of money, and if he decides that he doesn’t want to fight again for another however long that’s up to him… but, the belt has to move on… we gotta figure some stuff out here in the next couple months”.

It only makes sense that the UFC wants progression in the one-hundred and fifty-five lb. division. Even without their massive revenue generator, the division must move on. Athletes like Nurmagomedov may be relatively unknown outside the MMA community in the United States but, his official Instagram page holds 3.2 million followers.  While Tony Ferguson may not hold online notoriety, he does have an exciting style. A style that could win a good many of fans, the more exposure he receives.

For White, one of these two men must fight for the division’s championship title. When asked about what is next, he stated, “As long as Conor is willing to fight by March, we could do Khabib versus Tony and then the winner fights Conor… or Conor doesn’t wanna fight and wants to sit out till next fall. Then we would have to make Khabib vs. Tony for the title”.

Time can be the only truth serum in this particular situation. The UFC brass has spoken of forcing McGregor to vacate his lightweight title for some time. Yet, nothing has happened. On the other hand, it would be more than surprising to see the division’s belt sit on the shelf for another year. Considering it all, including the status of contenders and depth of the division, the bottleneck created by one man never ceases to amaze.

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Exclusive: Neil Magny: “It’s going to come down to fighting tooth and nail”

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On Saturday, December 30th, Neil Magny steps back into the Octagon as he takes on the returning Carlos Condit. Magny’s had a rough past couple of months as the 6’3 welterweight has alternated wins and losses as well as fighting a lot less than usual. Magny was known as one of the most active fighters on the UFC roster until injuries started to take away from his time in the cage.

Welcoming Magny back to the cage is a man who is also making his return after a long layoff, Carlos Condit. Fans and even Magny have been waiting a long time for the fight to come together.

I love this fight, this a fight I’ve been chasing for nearly two years now,” Magny told MMA Latest. “The fight’s going to be happening this Saturday and I’m excited for it.”

Condit hasn’t competed since he lost to Demian Maia back in August 2016. The Jackson-Wink product lost via first round rear-naked choke, the loss prompted a semi-retirement that left everyone unsure if he would ever return. The time spent away from the cage could potentially bring upon the universally hated “ring-rust”.

Not at all,” Magny said as he shot down any talks of ring-rust. “I mean, if anything, I would be more affected by ring rust than he is. I mean, I’m a guy who likes to compete all throughout the years. This is the least amount of fights I’ve had in a year- in awhile- I don’t think the ring rust will be a factor at all and I can’t let that allow me to think that this fight will be easier because of that.”

With Condit’s return being the big story in this fight, it’s easy to think Magny’s been swept under the rug. The fan-favorite has been loved for his tendency to turn every fight into a brawl and putting everything on the line. The hype and excitement haven’t lead Magny to believe he’s being overlooked.

Not all,” Magny says with a shrug. “I don’t feel like I’m being overlooked in this fight at all. There’s a lot of pressure, a lot of hype around Condit going into this fight. But yeah I don’t consider it a bad thing at all. I know I’m focused on what I need to do and I spend most of my time focusing on that rather than the other possibilities or what media attention is drawn to that kind of thing.”

Condit’s tendency to turn his fights into brawls is something Magny’s comfortable with, as technique and advantages tend to fly out the window. The Colorado native is honest about where his strengths are.

This is a fight where it’s going to be a fight and turn into a brawl and were going to fight tooth and nail,” Magny said. “Going into this fight I don’t have the grappling advantage, the submission advantage, I don’t have the significant striking advantage. So anywhere this fight goes it’s not going to be one guy just outclassing the other guy. I know it’s going to come down to fighting tooth and nail or anything that will win this fight. So that’s something that I’m looking forward to the most- going out there and allowing this fight to go down successfully.”

Magny’s rough patch continued in his last fight when he lost to former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos by submission. While a good chunk of fighters have a tendency to dwell on losses, Magny’s moved on and, more importantly, he’s learned from his mistakes.

I could backtrack and pick the fight apart and find a thousand things I did wrong and things I could’ve done differently,” Magny begin to explain. “But at the end of the day, it is what it is. There’s nothing I can do to change the outcome of the fight, all I can do is make sure I’m as prepared as I can be for this fight. That’s what I’ve been spending my time focusing on as well as covering every angle going into this fight mentally, physically, and emotionally. Everything I need to do to be successful in this fight I’ll do it.”

Although Magny’s moved on from the loss, that hasn’t stopped him from making changes in his lead up to fights.

Since my last fight one of the main things I changed in my training camp was the use of a sports physiatrist,” Magny said. “I noticed for these last four fights I got myself into tough positions all three have been lackluster fights that I wasn’t too proud of. Coming into this fight we’ll be sure to work on all angles and we’ll see if the talks and working with a sports physiologist will make a difference. I have no idea but the thing about it is that I want to be as prepared as possible.”

Welterweight contender Kamaru Usman claimed that Magny was going to fight him, that is until Magny accepted the fight with Condit.

No, nothing was ever set for Usman and I to ever fight,” Magny said. “I was in a position where I was coming off a loss and it didn’t matter who I fought next. I was just eager to get that nasty taste out of my mouth from the last fight. So he’s done his usual call me out on Twitter call me out on Instagram wherever he could I was just like ‘meh whatever, if you really want to fight me I’m available, I’m interested in doing it right away’ so why not take the matchup sooner and get the taste out of my mouth.”

Although the fight with Usman isn’t happening, the fight with Condit definitely is. So what does Magny predict?

I see me going out there and just winning any way I see,” Magny said. “Whether its a decision where we go back and forth and go all out war, or me getting the TKO, submission, or knockout. I mean, I’m just looking forward to going out there and getting my hand raised.”

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UFC 219’s Dan Hooker: Fighting in Perth Would Be an “Ideal Situation.”

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New Zealander Dan ‘The Hangman’ Hooker is somewhat of a UFC veteran these days. On the 30th December Hooker will make his eighth UFC appearance, facing Marc Diakiese at UFC 219 in Las Vegas.

The card is a marquee event with some of the biggest names in the sport competing, but Hooker isn’t letting the magnitude of the event affect his preparation.

“It’s something you can look back on tell people you fought on a big card in Las Vegas, so it’s a milestone,” the Kiwi explained. “But when you’re focused on it you have to take every fight as just another fight. You can’t let the moment overwhelm you, or distract you.”

Hooker admitted to not knowing much about his opponent, Englishman, Diakiese, when the fight was announced. “I hadn’t seen him fight before we got matched, but he’s a big name in the UK so I’m looking forward to it”

Twenty-seven year old Hooker is just happy to fight. He had planned on fighting in Sydney this past November. “I had an infection in my knee which ruled me out of Sydney. I’m glad they can get me on [a card] before the end of the year.”

The Kiwi last fought at home on the UFC Auckland card in June, defeating veteran Ross Pearson with a devastating knee that KO’d his foe in round two. A fight that proved he belonged with the best in the world.

“It’s where I believe my skills are at. I’m showing everyone else what I know I’m capable of,” he said of the fight. “I think I’m capable of much more so I’m looking forward to getting back in there and doing it all again.”

The Pearson bout was Hooker’s first in the UFC’s lightweight division, having fought his first six bouts at featherweight, ten pounds below at 145 pounds. Hooker now intends to make 155 his home, and isn’t concerned about size difference.

“I’m not going back to 145, 155 is where it’s at. I’m more likely to go up than down,” Hooker said. “I just feel my skills have caught up, even if someone is carrying more size than me, I can beat them with my skill.”

There has been scrutiny in recent times due to weight cutting in the sport and new rules have been implemented by the UFC and various commissions to make to process safer. But not much is different, according to Hooker.

“It hasn’t changed anything. The bigger guys are still here and still cutting the same amount of weight.” Hooker also expressed his concern that more divisions would do more harm than good.

“You might get the opposite effect where guys are coming down even further, thinking its not ten pounds of weight, it’s only five pounds. Everyone needs to move up a weight class and fight at their natural weight. Lifestyle wise and longevity wise it’s going to pay off.”

A big reason why 155 is where it’s at is because of Conor McGregor. McGregor is currently the champion in Hooker’s division, yet he has been inactive for over a year and shows no signs in returning any time soon. Hooker isn’t holding his breath on the prospect of the Irishman fighting again.

“I’m not getting off the couch with a 100 million dollars in the bank, I’ll tell you that. I’ve never seen a fat lion running around chasing antelope in the desert, it just doesn’t happen,” Hooker joked.

While Hooker doesn’t see the UFC stripping McGregor anytime soon, he’s indifferent about the use of interim belts in the UFC. Tony Ferguson is the current interim champion in the lightweight division and Hooker thinks he should be next in line.

“The UFC have offered Tony [Ferguson] to defend his interim title. Defending an interim title is where I draw the line. It should be your golden ticket to a title shot, or don’t hand it out”

Interim titles aside, the stage is set for the New Zealander at UFC 219 in front of a large global audience. He aims to make his way up the lightweight ladder towards a prestigious top 15 spot on the roster.

Hooker is one of a few New Zealand based fighters making a run in the UFC. Shane Young made his debut this year, as did Luke Jumeau. Both often train alongside Hooker at City Kickboxing in Auckland. Hooker also suggested that the undefeated striker, Israel Adesanya will be next Kiwi fighter to join the UFC roster.

“The New Zealand market has quite a big talent pool and we’re able to get multiple New Zealand fighters in the UFC. It’s a really good sign.”

As for 2018, Hooker isn’t looking too far ahead as the nature of the sport of MMA means an injury can be just around the corner. If Hooker does come out unscathed – and victorious – then he has a plan in mind.

“I’d like to fight as soon as possible. I’d like to catch up to the Aussies and New Zealanders who got to fight in Sydney and will be fighting in Perth. If I can catch up in Perth then that would be the ideal situation.”

The Perth card would certainly make sense for Hooker. A win against Diakiese would give him his first win streak of his UFC career and set him up for even bigger fights in 2018. For now, Hooker is focused on his English opponent and ending his year on a high.

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