Brandon Vera as he enters the most important fight of his career has had a run in mixed martial arts that can be summed up on one word – disappointing.
Vera burst into the Ultimate Fighting Championship in all-violence, devastating fashion. The first fight to really put him on the map was his one-sided beating on former UFC heavyweight title-challenger Justin Eilers, who he finished with a highlight-reel head kick. While Eilers would never be mistaken for the number-one heavyweight on the planet at any time in his career, he was a solid gatekeeper type for the UFC in the early shades of this millennium and a victory over the Pat Miletich product meant you were ready to tussle with the big boys.
By the end of 2006 the Alliance MMA product had just notched the biggest victory of his career, defeating two-time UFC heavyweight titlist Frank Mir. Following that victory Vera spoke about holding UFC titles at two weight-classes, and people believed it.
Two years and two consecutive defeats to Tim Sylvia and Fabricio Werdum later he chose to move down in weight. He hasn’t set the world on fire at 205-pounds either. In fact, if it weren’t for Thiago Silva and his shenanigans with a fake urine sample, Vera would be in the unemployment line right now.
The last time Vera walked to the eight-sided cage he met with Eliot Marshall, while he started strong and showed off his striking arsenal, his gas tank came in to play allowing the Ultimate Fighter alum to rally back with Vera narrowly escaping with the victory.
With one victory though, the career of “The Truth” would change, no matter what way you slice it a victory over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua is a big deal and he has been gifted this golden opportunity. Initially UFC figurehead Dana White stated that the winner of this fight would go on to challenge for the UFC light-heavyweight title, but has since backtracked. Now stating that whomever wins the most impressively between this fight and the co-main event with Lyoto Machida and Ryan Bader would be at the front of the cue.
While even in victory Vera might have a ways to go before being considered to rematch Jon Jones for all the marbles at 205-pounds he would have to be in the conversation of contenders, but standing across from the cage will be a tough task. “Shogun” first made his splash in the fight world as a member of the legendary Chute Boxe team. Hard-hitting, smash-up derbies were the bread-and-butter of the team that were known for unthinkable acts of violence, and Rua was no different.
Early in his stint in Pride Fighting Championships he was known for the excruciating soccer kick he possessed, finishing five-straight opponents, including Akihiro Gono and Quinton Jackson with that deadly kick. His career defining moment came in the 2005 middleweight grand prix, arguably the finest collection of fighters ever assembled for an eight-man tournament and Rua was seemingly unstoppable finishing three of his four opponents en route to his tournament championship.
When he joined the UFC in the latter shades of 2007, he had an aura of invincibility with his lone setback in four years being because he broke his arm against Mark Coleman. He dispatched the top fighters in the world at that stage but it didn’t get off to a good start, losing to Forrest Griffin.
Despite most questioning the 30-year-old Brazilian after that setback and back-to-back disappointing wins over Chuck Liddell and Mark Coleman he wound up taking the then UFC light-heavyweight king Lyoto Machida to his limits, defeating him in most people’s eyes in the first meeting. When they met a second time he got the job done. Finally winning a championship in a major organization but it was short lived, losing it to current UFC kingpin Jon “Bones” Jones.
Since losing his championship he has had a win and a loss, dominating Forrest Griffin and losing a highly competitive ‘Fight of the year’ against Dan Henderson.
While both men are well rounded fighters, it’s safe to say that this fight will be contested largely on the feet so let’s take a look at the striking repertoire for both combatants. Vera has 7 knockouts to his credit in his career. He has a really long and lanky frame as he has really good fundamental boxing and has a blend of Muay-Thai techniques as well, especially if he can get in close and start throwing knees around.
Rua isn’t someone he wants to be looking to have a Thai match with though, training in hand-to-hand combat since he was seven years old, specializing in Muay-Thai he has lightning-fast hands and is able to hit his opponents early and often. 17 of 20 wins for the Curitiba-born slugger really tells the story of how he comes to fight. He is all-action as he looks to put you away before the opening bell with almost all of his foes falling within the first stanza. While it isn’t usually a part of his gameplan it could be in the best interest of Vera, the Lloyd Irvin-trained fighter to force this fight to the floor, while risky dealing with a savvy grappler he has less chance of taking damage.
Don’t let the fact that Rua only has a lone submission, a kneebar to Kevin Randleman to his credit fool you. He is a fine grappler and has been training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu since the age of 6 and was a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu South American champion. Vera also has been credited as a great grappler amongst his peers, having a brown belt under Lloyd Irvin but we haven’t had a chance to see his abilities on the mat much, if at all in recent times. The one thing that could make this fight taxing on the viewer’s eyes are the suspect gas tanks on both men, with neither known for superior cardiovascular fitness.
Rua’s last fight was taken to legendary status because of the heart and determination shown between both he and Henderson. That was largely because both men were sucking wind before the second round concluded. Vera isn’t any better, he could have had an impressive, dominate performance against Marshall last October, but seven minutes into the fight he was a different fighter and almost lost to a low-tier fighter because of it. Vera on Saturday night has everything to gain and nothing to lose when he faces an all-time great. Whether or not the winner gets a crack at championship gold is questionable, but a victory for either has them “in the mix.”
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