Marlon Vera has climbed the list of MMA’s most exciting fighters, regularly putting on firefight after firefight in a bid to steal performance bonuses and scale the rankings. While he’s no unsolvable puzzle, ‘Chito’ knows a thing or two about winning, often depending on his slicing clinch game or eight-limbed assault.
Going more in-depth, Vera commonly falls back on the front kick in order to establish a gameplan, change the pace or buy himself some time. Usually thrown to the body, the strike has become almost like a jab to him; the volume at which he throws it and percentage it lands allows this comparison to be less than far fetched.
Ever since his August 2020 win over Sean O’Malley, the fanbase have had a newfound respect for Vera’s kicking game, despite its class being on display for many years. For this reason, his front kick has began receiving some love in recent times; just ask Davey Grant about its effectiveness.
A Multi-Purpose Weapon
Marlon Vera can be a thoughtful fighter, but at times he’ll to just throw. And by throw, I mean throw. Hard. Throwing with intent to harm is a motto he surely lives by, aiming to bury his opposite man inside the canvas beneath them. Because of this, he doesn’t ‘set up’ his front kick per say – Vera will often just fire it down the barrel without feinting at the hips or with his lead hand.
This is where its comparisons to his jab come in: Vera will use it in order to set up his offense.
In his most recent outing, a three-round rematch with Britain’s Davey Grant, ‘Chito’ utilized his front kick from the jump, primarily shooting towards the body or lead leg. Initially, its purpose was to keep Grant at kicking range; Grant did a great job early on of shifting into the pocket and switch-hitting. As more kicks tagged his midsection, Grant had to adjust by finding new ways to work inwards.
As seen above, Vera likes to double up on his kicks, ensuring that his opponent cannot instantly respond with counterpunches. The Brit trialled this and quickly reached the conclusion that immediately countering was a poor recipe, prompting him to begin catching Vera’s second body kick.
Marlon was able to withdraw his leg while remaining relatively unpunished, and rather than be deterred of throwing it again, opted to work off it.
If his foot were caught, two things would occur:
- He’d pull back his leg and reset…
- Build off its failure, turning it into a successful flurry/clinch.
The latter is a good example of a mid-fight adjustment by Vera, who was now able to find a home for his elbows.
The GIF above shows Vera doing what we just spoke about – building off his front kick. And while that itself is a cool thing to note, watch what occurs as he hand-fights his way into another clinch moments later; Grant anticipates another front kick.
By this point in the fight, Grant was playing something of a guessing game. At times he’d read the front kick, others he wouldn’t; there’d be moments he’d anticipate its arrival when it wasn’t even there. This is all down to the craft of ‘Chito’, establishing patterns only to break them.
When paired against the evenly skilled Song Yadong, Vera ran into quite a few issues in the opening frame. Yadong was countering his kicks with punches, applying subtle pressure and threatening the low kick, putting himself up nicely on the scorecards. As his front kick was being countered, Vera’s only option was to adapt and change its purpose; he shifted its use from a standard strike to feinted movement.
Although he’d still land it on the off chance, the second round saw him build offense through these feints, which Yadong visibly bought more often than not.
- Vera increases the distance through a front kick.
- Both men reset.
- They engage in a short flurry.
- Vera continues stalking his man…
- …and feints the kick, garnering a reaction as Yadong rushes backwards into the cage.
- Uses the opportunity to land a punch.
By doing this, Yadong was quite literally kept on his toes, unable to properly defend the masked attack coming his way. And while he wouldn’t absorb mass amounts of damage during this exchange, its potential to cause harm remained high.
Back in 2018, Vera found himself enrolled in a short front kicking class with Wuliji Buren, a man fixed on keeping the distance between them through this strike to the body. Early on ‘Chito’ struggled, but soon opted to reply with kicks of his own. The miniature battle that ensued would play a key role in the eventual finish – a second round TKO win for Vera – so its worth taking a wee look into it.
Above, Vera feints the front kick to collect a bite and close the distance, setting up an attack that stings his opponent. This is a stark difference to the first round where he’d immediately kick back.
Regardless of feints, one would hit a front kick and the other would retaliate with the same. Marlon was aware of this, using it to his advantage as he drew the strike from Buren and while punching (see below).
The overhand left comes just as Buren looks for the kick, moments after Vera himself had thrown his.
All in all, Marlon Vera’s front kick is a neat multi-purpose weapon that’s becoming more frequent with every Octagon outing. And as its quantity grows, so too does the quality, yet this writer expects to see a little less of it in his upcoming fight at UFC 268.
On November 6, Vera faces lower-weight legend Frankie Edgar, a prominent takedown artist seeking to return to the win column. Although he’s now in his forties, Edgar’s keen on adding to his mileage and will likely be eyeing the front kick of ‘Chito’ as a route to victory.
If thrown and caught (a common occurrence against Grant), Vera will have more threats to consider; the former lightweight King will gladly snatch a takedown whilst clinging onto a leg. For this reason, expect Vera to lighten its use for the first few minutes at least.
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