Marlon Vera fights in one of the most competitive groups in all of combat sports. UFC’s bantamweight division features celebrated veterans like Frankie Edgar and Jose Aldo, the loudmouth Sean O’Malley, and a murderers’ row of rising talent, and the division has consistently provided some of the company’s most entertaining builds to top-notch bouts. But even among a stacked weight class, Marlon “Chito” Vera has been a standout. The Ecuadorian fighter has proven a fan favorite for his iron chin and show-stealing performances. Never knocked out or submitted inside the octagon, Vera has been steadily ascending the bantamweight rankings. And after winning his last three contests, whispers have started about a title shot.
In his recent main event battle with Rob Font—Vera’s first time headlining a UFC event—Vera proved he belongs at the top of the card. Despite a shaky first round, which saw Font land a staggering number of significant blows, Vera showcased his undeniable grit, versatile arsenal, and signature swagger on route to victory via unanimous decision. The bout is sure to be a contender for fight of the year come December, and defeating a top-five fighter also put Vera one step closer to the bantamweight belt.
Just before his big win, GQ caught up with Vera to chat about his nutrition plan as a pro-fighter, how he thinks of food as fuel, and why he doesn’t like the term diet.
GQ: Nutrition is part of prep or any fighter, so what does your diet look like leading up to the main event?
Marlon Vera: Because I’m an athlete people think I’m on a certain strict diet before the fight. But the only time things change up in my life is when I’ve got to cut weight and get down to 135. I eat very small meals but they’re the same types of food I’m regularly eating. If you’re eating the wrong things or changing too much just to lose weight you’re going to be weak. You won’t be able to perform.
I eat how I eat because I’m not a regular person. I’m going to get in a steel cage and try to beat the fuck out of another man. I need to fuel my body to do that. There is no such thing as a diet for me. I just eat healthy whole foods—nutritionally dense foods. And I do that all the time.
If you win this fight, many believe you’re in line for a title shot.
That’s everything. That’s the only thing that matters in this game. I didn’t get involved with MMA to be just another fighter. I want to be a world champion. I believe getting the strap will be one of the biggest achievements of my life. It’s all the matters. But that can be very far or very close depending on how this fight goes. So…I’m willing to do anything to win this battle.
Are there any kind of delicacies or cheat meals involved?
I don’t believe in cheating. I don’t want to sacrifice my body for five minutes of pleasure and then feel like shit for an hour. Everything is very clean. That’s the way I think any human should eat. You feel better. You think better.
It seems like you’ve got a pretty good handle on what works for your nutrition. Did you always eat that way or was it something you learned when you started fighting?
Before I moved to the US, my wife started getting into fitness. There were vegetable juices. Cooking proteins with raw butter. Getting the good salts, because many salts are bad for you. Avoiding any types of sugars or processed foods. When she started I was making fun of her. I grew up eating anything available. If you were full that’s all the was important. But she was introducing me to all these kinds of new ways of doing things and I realized: Wow, I feel better like this.
When I started getting close to the top in the UFC, I got to meet this group of ladies called Perfecting Athletes. That was what put my game on top. I’ve now learned from them for so long that it’s all dialed in. Between my wife and them, they do such a great job of keeping me healthy and helping me to eat the right things. When I get closer to the fight, it’s all just doing what the nutritionists at Perfecting Athletes tell me to do. I wish more people understood about nutrition and eating foods that are good for you instead of focusing on diets. Because the better you eat, the better you can do anything.
Can you elaborate on what the nutritionists do for you? Is that looking at macros? A calorie count? Giving you a list of foods or meals?