Cruz (24-3 MMA, 7-2 UFC) meets Vera (21-7-1 MMA, 13-6 UFC) in Saturday’s UFC on ESPN 41 headliner at Pechanga Arena in San Diego, Calif. The card airs on ESPN and streams on ESPN+.
UFC bantamweight champion Sterling thinks a No. 1 contender could emerge from that fight and if Cruz is able to avoid big shots from “Chito,” he’ll be able to outpoint him.
“I’m not saying Cruz is definitely for sure going to win,” Sterling said on his YouTube channel. “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.”
It only takes one shot for Vera to change the fight. Vera was down two rounds on one of the judges’ scorecards against Frankie Edgar at UFC 268 before landing a front-kick knockout in Round 3. He also was losing large portions of various rounds in his UFC on ESPN 35 main event against Font before he turned the tide with knockdowns to close out the rounds strong and win the fight.
So with Vera’s fight-changing power and cardio, Sterling can see how the Ecuadorian fighter can hurt Cruz.
“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.”
After swaying back-and-forth with his breakdown, Sterling finally committed to picking Cruz based off his experience and IQ.
“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.”