Don’t be surprised if, one day, Marvin Vettori wears the figurative UFC middleweight crown. He was practically born for it.
See, Vettori, who will headline Saturday afternoon’s second UFC on ABC event of the year from UFC Apex in Las Vegas against Kevin Holland, hails from an Italian municipality of roughly 5,000 people called Mezzocorona. It is farther north than Milan and not all that far from the Swiss and Austrian borders. Mezzo, in Italian, means “middle.” Corona means “crown.”
Perhaps Vettori was fated to reign by the MMA gods. Or maybe he’ll come up short of his pursuit of becoming Italy’s first UFC champion. Regardless, he feels no pressure as the face of Italian MMA. Instead, he considers it “an honor to represent Italy.”
“No, actually, there’s no pressure,” Vettori told The Post over the phone on Tuesday. “I really want to show to the world how an Italian fights. I want to show you how a motherf—ing Italian fights.”
The fiery 27-year-old represents his nation’s best hope yet of finally producing a title contender. Debuting in the UFC in 2016, one year after joining the venerable Kings MMA gym in Huntington Beach, Calif., Vettori (16-4-1, 11 finishes) has since gone 6-2-1 and carries a four-fight win streak into the matchup with Holland (21-6, 17 finishes), a late replacement when original opponent Darren Till suffered a broken collarbone and was forced to withdraw 11 days before the fight.
But as strong as his recent résumé is — topped by a handily-won decision over respected veteran Jack Hermansson in the Italian’s first UFC headliner on Dec. 5 — Vettori is perhaps just as well known for his split decision defeat at the hands of the current middleweight champion, Israel Adesanya. The two met almost exactly three years ago on April 14, 2018, with a close first round that split the judges deciding the victory as Adesanya took the second and Vettori claimed the third.
Odds are good that, should the two meet again, it would be a five-round affair with gold on the line — perhaps as soon as later this year. And Vettori wants nothing more than to get his hands on Adesanya and the gold-plated belt he sports.
“He’s not a complete fighter,” Vettori said of Adesanya, in reference to the champ’s loss last month to Jan Blachowicz in a bid to add the light heavyweight title to his trophy case. “… He showed a lot of things I already knew. I can’t wait to have my shot again, and I think it will come very soon. I think [if I] put on a great performance [on Saturday], I should be next in line.”
Against Holland, who just three weeks ago lost a five-round decision to Derek Brunson, Vettori will face a talented striker known better for his constant chatter during fights. Although Holland has told reporters this week he may temper his talkative nature in the cage after taking flak for it in the Brunson loss, Vettori knows who he’s up against. And, unlike Brunson who opted not to talk back, the Italian may pick and choose his spots to respond.
“I don’t think there’s gonna be much talking in my fight, to be honest with you,” Vettori says, “but if he does, he’ll do him, I’ll do me. I might respond, I might not, but my goal is to break him. All that talking will not stick to me.”
Vettori’s skill set is well rounded, with a capable kickboxing game to go along with the ability to finish fights on the mat — nine wins by submission, including against Karl Roberson last June via first-round rear-naked choke, one month after nearly coming to blows with his opponent in a hotel lobby. He’s also proved to be durable, having yet to be finished as a pro. Referring to himself as “not a [training] camp guy,” he says he trains “constantly” and that has helped his game grow in every facet since the Adesanya fight.
But the most dominant characteristic associated with Vettori, undoubtedly, is his intensity as a competitor.
“I’m the most intense competitor,” says Vettori with conviction. “I think that the biggest quality that a fighter needs to have is wanting to win and wanting it more than anything else. The rest, you can make up for, but you cannot make up for that. I’m definitely the guy that wants it the most.”
And everything for Vettori comes back to wanting to capture the championship.
“For me, it’s more than a job,” he says of his fighting career. “This period of my life, this moment of my life, it’s just focused on becoming world champion and becoming the best in the world at fighting.”