Dominick Cruz is going up against Marlon Vera, and Aljamain Sterling believes it will be a close fight, but he is leaning against the former champion. In the main event of Saturday's UFC on ESPN 41, which will take place at Pechanga Arena in San Diego, California, Cruz (24-3 MMA, 7-2 UFC) will take on Vera (21-7-1 MMA, 13-6 UFC). The card is broadcast on ESPN and is available to stream on ESPN+. Sterling, the current UFC bantamweight champion, believes that fight might produce a No. 1 contender, and he believes that Cruz will be able to outpoint "Chito" if he is successful in avoiding heavy strikes from "Chito."
“I’m not saying Cruz is definitely for sure going to win,” Sterling said. “It’s going to be a close fight. But I think Cruz is going to edge him out in each one of the rounds. I don’t think he’s going to be there to get clipped, because if he does get clipped, I think his chin is very suspect – and we saw that with the Pedro Munhoz fight when he got dropped early with those two shots. And mind you, Pedro hits hard. “I’ve been hit by Pedro – he hits hard. So I think if Cruz gets hit by ‘Chito’ the same way he was able to hit (Rob) Font, if he can connect the way he connected like that, I think ‘Chito’s’ going to get the finish. I think it’s more for him to get the finish vs. Cruz to win by a decision. I would hedge it that way.” Vera simply needs one shot to completely turn the tide of the fight. At UFC 268, Vera was fighting Frankie Edgar, when she knocked him out with a front kick in the third round. However, one of the judges' scorecards had her trailing by two rounds. In the main event of UFC on ESPN 35, which he was competing in versus Font, he was again trailing Font for lengthy chunks of several rounds before he turned the fight around with knockouts, which allowed him to finish the rounds strongly and win the fight. Sterling is aware of Vera's potential to inflict damage on Cruz due to the Ecuadorian fighter's game-changing power and impressive cardio. “When I think about it more, I can see that happening over the course of 25 minutes,” Sterling said. “But then I’ve also seen the toughness of Cruz just shine through, which is another thing. This could be the crossing of the roads right here, the passing of the torch. That older guy, the gatekeeper – I don’t want to call him a gatekeeper, but essentially that is where he is until he’s back into that title shot conversation. So is ‘Chito’ going to take the torch and move on to the new era of MMA, or will Cruz still keep his flag planted on the ground and be like, ‘No, we’re still here’? And I think this is one of the old guards meet the new guard kind of fights, so I don’t know.” “I don’t know who’s really going to win it, but if I had to pick, I’m going with the guy who I think is more proven on a technical standpoint vs. the guy who’s just more tough,” Sterling said. “He’s still technical, but he’s just more tough. He’s going to land that kill shot, but I think Cruz’s IQ should outsmart him a bit, and I think he’s going to utilize a lot of wrestling.”