He seemed too good to be true.
With his first four UFC bouts totaling just more than eight and a
half minutes combined, Brandon
Vera (Pictures)'s emergence as a top heavyweight
in 2005-06 made fans take notice. He could punch and kick with
wicked effect, and he was a top-notch technician in all phases of
the grappling game. A technical gem of sorts, with an engaging
smile and easygoing charisma to boot.
He had pedigrees galore -- extensive training with world-class
wrestlers, sublime submissions and explosive athleticism that left
fans double-taking when he stopped foes. Like the savage head kick
that dispatched Justin
Eilers (Pictures) or the wicked-quick guillotine he
used to tap out Assuerio
But facing former heavyweight champ Tim Sylvia (Pictures) last October, "The Truth" had a
dose of hard luck that mushroomed, both in and out of the cage,
sending him away with his first loss and managerial problems that
sidelined him for several months.
Sylvia was supposed to be the acid test to see if Vera was ready
for a title shot. Instead, Vera broke his thumb with the first
punch of the bout, then struggled en route to a three-round
"I broke my left thumb with the first punch I threw, got three
screws in two places," Vera said. "I thought it was dislocated at
first, and I was trying to put it back in, but that didn't
The two spent much of the fight clinched on the cage, with Vera
giving up 6 inches and 40 pounds to the 6-foot-8, 265-pound Sylvia.
With his injured hand, he was unable implement his game plan, and
like many of Sylvia's opponents, found himself smothered by the
"I only had one arm to push him forward with, instead of two, which
you need," Vera said. "He was the biggest guy in the division. I'm
definitely not nervous about fighting anybody ever again."
It wasn't a blowout by any means, but the fireworks he'd shown in
previous efforts were absent.
"I've seen the tape a few times. Maybe I could strike more. We did
get off the jab and combos, but it hurt to jab," he said. "I don't
know what I could've done more. I look at it and say, ‘Kick more,
Suddenly, Vera looked human -- injured thumb and all. Then he had a
fallout with his manager at the time, with both parties settling in
arbitration. He didn't get fights due to his legal entanglements,
and, with the lackluster showing against Sylvia, was one step away
from appearing on the back of a milk carton, as far as fans were
The exile ends Saturday.
Facing Fabricio Werdum
(Pictures) at UFC 85 in London, Vera
has the chance to get back on track and revitalize a career that
was stuck in limbo.
Werdum, a world-champion submission grappler, is one of the few MMA
heavyweights who might be able to best Vera on the ground.
"It's a little different," Vera said. "Trying to do jiu-jitsu, that
would be a stupid choice. I will do MMA jiu-jitsu and punch him. No
pretty, technical setups. I won't go heads up with Werdum. I don't
know if my jiu-jitsu is superior or worse, but obviously, it's his
Eric Del Fierro, Vera's standup coach, said that while they haven't
been tweaking too much of his charge's training regimen -- which
consists of flying back and forth between Chula Vista, Calif., and
Virginia to train with ground instructor Lloyd Irvin -- there are
some minor changes for Werdum.
"Brandon's assets are the same. He's a strong kicker and moves like
a light heavyweight, real good footwork," Del Fierro said. "We
worked on his power and speed for this fight. He's aggressive and
comes in to finish. The only thing we've [changed] is working on
different stances, lowering his center of gravity."
Keeping the bout on the feet would definitely be to Vera's
advantage. Werdum has beaten Gabriel Gonzaga (Pictures) twice, looking impressive on both
occasions, but he found himself befuddled and stymied in a decision
loss to Andrei Arlovski
(Pictures), whose takedown defense and
striking left the Brazilian largely unable to engage.
Arlovski didn't press the issue, content to take a snoozer
decision. Given the same circumstances, history indicates Vera will
try and close the show. Yet with a record of 10-3-1, Werdum has
faced impressive competition and has never been stopped.
It's the kind of challenge Vera relishes. With five fights left on
his UFC contract, he is back in the mix and a big win could make up
for the lost time he spent dealing with his legal issues and the
loss to Sylvia.
Heavyweight champ Antonio Rodrigo
Nogueira (Pictures) will take on ex-champ Frank Mir (Pictures) in December -- Vera dispatched
Mir in 69 seconds in November 2006 -- so there's no reason to think
a strong showing against Werdum wouldn't put his name on the short
list of potential challengers. But he wants to earn it, to get back
to the delicious position of being the guy on everybody's lips --
the heir apparent to the heavyweight belt.
"It all depends on how I look," Vera said of a possible title shot
should he win. "Werdum is ranked five or six in the world. He's for
sure the best fighter I've fought in my career to date. I'm sure
I'm the most well-rounded heavyweight. If I squeak out a decision,
I won't ask for one; but if I beat him soundly, [maybe]."
And a showdown with Nogueira -- a living legend among hardcore fans
for his gutsy battles in Pride before he joined the UFC -- would be
the ultimate gut check. Nogueira is as tough as any fighter in the
game, with the kind of blood-soaked resilience and heart you can't
teach. You can spike him on his head (Bob Sapp (Pictures)), batter him with relentless
ground and pound (Fedor
Emelianenko (Pictures)) or send him staggering with
crushing blows (Tim Sylvia), but he recovers and keeps
Nogueira took the vacant UFC belt from Sylvia after Randy Couture (Pictures)'s split with the organization
earlier this year. The bout was a roughneck encounter that saw
Sylvia put heavy leather on the Brazilian for two taxing rounds,
before he was taken down and submitted in a dramatic reversal of
"Honestly, Tim Sylvia summed it up best. He was whipping Nog's ass
the first 10 minutes, then all of a sudden Nogueira wins. Nog's a
soldier," Vera said. "He's the guy that would jump on a grenade in
war and then put his guts back together and go shoot them up. You
really have to fight Nog, fight to finish him, but fight smart. His
MMA jiu-jitsu is so well rounded and so good. It's hard to do."
Vera-Werdum offers up some stylistic similarities, as Vera will be
facing a world-class submission stylist. The fight could offer up a
preview of how he might fare against the champion, or it could be a
tough setback should Vera have another night like the loss against
"The Truth" will out.