Marlon “Chito” Vera’s first-round TKO victory over Sean O’Malley in Saturday’s UFC 252 co-main event registered as a significant upset, and certainly seemed to catch most viewers by surprise. Perhaps it shouldn’t have. In the weeks leading up to his fight with the unbeaten, bantamweight super-prospect O’Malley, Vera was unwavering in his self belief. At every opportunity, he guaranteed fans that it was his foe who was in over his head, and not the other way around. “I just see myself going in there and f****** the guy up,” Vera said bluntly during UFC 252’s virtual, pre-fight media day. “I’m feeling good. I’m feeling confident.” It was the kind of talk that was easy to dismiss as pre-fight sabre-rattling, but in hindsight, maybe we should have taken it more seriously. A quick scan of Vera’s record is all it would have taken to add some credibility to his claims. The Chone, Ecuador native, who has been a member of the UFC roster since way back in 2014, entered the fight with a solid 15-6 overall record. Of those 15 victories, eight had come by way of submission, and five via knockout or TKO. Just two of his wins required the judges. He’d already proven himself as a venomous finisher with all of the instincts required to capitalise on, say, his opponent sustaining an unexpected leg injury in the middle of a fight. UFC 252: O’Malley injury a red flag but ‘Sugar’ can still be a star Vera also entered the Octagon at UFC 252 with another impressive feather in his cap. Despite having shared the cage with John Lineker and Douglas Andrade, who own a whopping 33 knockout wins combined, he had never been finished. In other words, he seemed to have all of the durability and toughness required to survive three rounds with a knockout puncher of O’Malley’s ilk. It’s also safe to say bookmakers and fans alike might have taken a few too many gulps of the O’Malley Kool-Aid. After his last win, a first-round knockout over former WEC bantamweight champion Eddie Wineland, it was difficult not to buy into the hype. However, that win was by far the biggest of O’Malley’s career, and in the year 2020, when Wineland is a tough 4-6 in his last 10 fights, it might have been a bit overvalued. The intention here is not to suggest that a Vera win at UFC 252 was a sure thing, or even that he should have been favoured to beat O’Malley, but in hindsight, he probably should have been given a little more credit heading into the match-up. Hopefully, the people that doubted his chances of beating O’Malley learn from that mistake as his UFC career continues to unfold. Vera is now tied with the former champion TJ Dillashaw – arguably the best fighter in UFC bantamweight history – for the most stoppage wins in the history of the division. Furthermore, if we accept the cage-side judges got his May decision loss to China’s Song Yadong wrong – something UFC President Dana White, UFC commentator Joe Rogan, and a vast swathe of fans seem to agree on – then Vera is riding seven consecutive victories. Unofficial though it may be, that’s the longest active streak of any ranked UFC bantamweight outside the champion, Petr Yan. “I believe I’m a solid top 10 [fighter],” Vera said. “I’ve been making damage in the division. What happened in the last fight [vs Song] got me pretty upset, pretty angry and actually made me do what I did tonight. I wasn’t happy, I was pushing myself a little harder. “I was being hard on myself. I wasn’t giving myself a vacation, more cheat days. I was like, ‘It’s time to dig deep,’ and that’s when I find myself even better, and I came to this fight with a mission.” “I cannot let that happen again in my life,” he added. “They took half of my cheque. They cut a pretty sweet winning streak, which – I’m at seven right now. I don’t care what they say, I beat the Chinese guy.” Vera might not be a future UFC bantamweight champion. He might not even ever crack the division’s top five. But just like UFC welterweight contender Jorge Masvidal was until he knocked Darren Till, Ben Askren and Nate Diaz silly in 2019, he seems to be consistently underrated. In the moments after his stoppage win over O’Malley, a fired-up Vera borrowed a line from Conor McGregor. “Doubt me now,” he said. It’s time that fight fans and Vera’s fellow fighters stop doing just that. By beating O’Malley, he affirmed something we all probably should have clued into much sooner: that he is a very good fighter, and one that should never be counted out, no matter who he’s matched up with going forward.