UFC San Diego: Marlon Vera finds wild head-kick KO to beat Dominick Cruz

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 13: (R-L) Marlon Vera of Ecuador knocks out Dominick Cruz with a high kick in a bantamweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Pechanga Arena on August 13, 2022 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Marlon Vera remains the UFC's top knockout artist in the bantamweight division. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC) (Jeff Bottari via Getty Images)

For three and a half rounds, Dominick Cruz looked like the Dominick Cruz of old, the man who dominated the bantamweight division for years.

As he said all week, Marlon Vera didn't give a f***.

One of the UFC's most entertaining bantamweights capped off UFC San Diego on Saturday with a wild fourth-round knockout of Cruz, further pushing himself toward a title shot. The win is Vera's fourth straight and his 10th finish in his UFC career, most among all bantamweights.

Cruz controlled the fight for the first three rounds, though Vera still had his moments, most notably when he briefly stunned Cruz in the third round. The former champion's boxing formed an effective defense, but Vera eventually found a major hole. As Cruz threw his lefts, he ducked his head down and to the right. Some noticed watching from home, and soon so did the man in front of him.

A little more than two minutes into the fourth round, Cruz connected a devastating counter with a head kick that stopped Cruz cold. Moments later, the fight was over.

"Throw a bomb after your punches and you will find it," Vera said his coach told him between rounds in his post-match interview. "It was hard to find the low kicks. He's a great low-kicker."

In addition to improving his record to 20-7-1, the win cements Vera's status in the upper tier of bantamweight contenders, though that's a crowded field at the moment. UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling is currently scheduled to face former champion T.J. Dillashaw at UFC 280 in October, while Petr Yan, another former champion, will face rising star, Sean O'Malley at the same event.

Those two fights figure to decide who gets the next title shot, though Vera is making some noise that is hard to ignore. Since losing to Jose Aldo in December 2020, Vera has won four straight fights against Davey Grant, Frankie Edgar, Rob Font and, now, Cruz. Each win has arguably been more impressive than the last.

The 37-year-old Cruz falls to 24-4 with the loss, and has now lost three of his last five fights, starting with when he lost his belt to Cody Garbrandt in 2016. He demonstrated plenty of skill on Saturday, but Vera's kick represents a significant lost opportunity in his mission to regain the belt.