Vera set for crucial test against Jardine
Brandon Vera is coming off a life-changing experience, but right now he doesn’t have the time to focus on or think about it.
On Oct. 4, while at the home of his grappling trainer, Lloyd Irvin, in Accokeek, Md., Irvin’s home was broken into by two gunmen at 4:30 a.m.
The gunmen pointed their weapons at Vera, Irvin, along with Irvin’s wife and young son, while demanding cash and jewelry.
While one gunmen focused on Vera, the other forced Irvin to go into the bedroom to get the family jewelry. While in the bedroom, feeling he was far enough away that he wouldn’t be putting his family in jeopardy, Irvin made a move and disarmed the gunman.
The intruder ran off, screaming to his partner that the guy had got the gun, and his partner then also ran off.
But with Vera in the final stages of training, only a few days before leaving for the United Kingdom for his UFC 89 fight on Saturday night with Keith Jardine in Birmingham, he’s tried as best he can to remove it from his mind.
“I don’t want to talk about it until after the fight,” Vera said. “We were back training the next day.”
There was little choice, as this fight is the proverbial fork in the road for Vera’s career, and he’s facing a fighter in almost the same situation.
“If I win, I’m a championship contender, and if I lose, I’m completely out of the picture,” he said about the semifinal of a show headlined by Chris Leben vs. Michael Bisping which airs on a same-day tape-delay on Spike TV. “That’s the sport of MMA.”
The match is in the semifinal position, but to a lot of people, it should be the rightful main event except that in the U.K., Bisping, who comes from Liverpool, is the company’s most popular fighter.
A win is important as it will put Vera in the hunt for a light heavyweight title shot, along with the winner of a proposed Jan. 31 match with Thiago Silva vs. Lyoto Machida. Vera is also looking to come out of it with momentum, since as a Filipino, he’s the top star in that country where UFC draws big ratings on network television and could potentially become the Philippines’ answer to Bisping when it follows through with its planned expansion.
“I could never describe what it’s like over there, and if I did, you wouldn’t believe me,” he said. “This sounds bad to say, but over there, I’m like Elvis.”
Just two years ago, Vera (9-2) was looked at by the UFC as the future star of its heavyweight division. With his speed, and combination of strong Muay Thai, submissions and wrestling, he made the bold statement about becoming the first man to win the heavyweight and light heavyweight titles at the same time.
After being too fast for Frank Mir, and finishing off his much larger foe in just 1:09 at UFC 65, Vera was promised the next heavyweight title shot at then-champ Tim Sylvia. But a dispute with manager Mark Dion led to him not taking the championship match and his career was on hold for 11 months.
After his layoff, he broke his thumb on the first punch of his UFC 77 match against Sylvia, by that time a former champion. He fought most of the fight with one arm against a much bigger foe, looking unimpressive in losing a decision.
That was followed by a heartache on June 7, in London, England, when he lost to Fabricio Werdum when he was mounted in the first round and taking punches. Mentally he had told himself that there were 20 seconds left in the round so he’d try and defend until the round was over, and suddenly the match was stopped.
“I’m still bitter about it,” he said. “It was (expletive). But you can’t cry about it. It was a terrible decision. I knew he had a strong mount and it was going to be hard to get out of it. I was just waiting for the round to end to start over, and then it was stopped.”
With the two losses, the talk was that Vera was too small for the heavyweight division. Vera doesn’t carry a heavyweight frame at 225 pounds, and is actually physically smaller than many of the light heavyweights. And after the loss to Werdum, he wanted back in the cage as soon as possible.
That came on July 19, when he was offered his first fight as a light heavyweight. Even though he defeated former three-time All-American wrestler Reese Andy, it was almost like another loss in his string of disappointing performances because he wasn’t himself and couldn’t pull the trigger.
“Making the weight wasn’t hard,” he said. “I cut 20 pounds in three weeks. I didn’t even have to go into the steam room. I weighed in at 204, showing I could make it with room to spare. The problem was performing at that weight. The first round I felt good, like a good feeling out round. In the second round, suddenly I felt I was carrying a monkey on my back.”
Even tired, his balance was good enough to keep the fight standing, and he was far superior technically as a striker so he was able to stay out of trouble. But in that same condition, he wouldn’t likely be so fortunate against Jardine.
Jardine (13-4-1), comes into the fight at a similar point in his career.
Among his last four fights, Jardine has wins over former light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell, and a knockout win over current champion Forrest Griffin. But the other two fights saw him buckle under a furious onslaught in 48 seconds from Houston Alexander, and again in 36 seconds at the hands of Wanderlei Silva.
“Every fight at this level can go either way,” said Vera, who is approaching the weight cut differently this time. “Anyone in the top 10 to top 15 in the light heavyweight division can beat anyone else on any given day.”
Vera came to the U.K. the middle of last week to get acclimated to the time difference, and expects it to pay off, as he doesn’t think the usual travel four days before a fight would be enough.
“I love it here, but the only problem is the U.S. dollar is so weak right now against the pound.”
Vera considers himself friends with both Jardine and Rashad Evans (Jardine’s regular training partner and current top contender for the light heavyweight title) and had talked about going to Greg Jackson’s camp in Albuquerque, N.M., to train with them. But the timing never worked out.
“They’re both good guys, but that’s our sport. When UFC asked about it, you can’t turn down that match. In the end, it’s a business.”
But he did feel that due to Jardine’s unorthodox style, that of all the top light heavyweights, he and Lyoto Machida would be the two fighters in the division he’d have the most difficulty preparing for.
The match looks to come down to Vera’s fluid style of Muay Thai, specializing in strong body kicks, against Jardine’s more rigid and uglier looking mechanics of a style, but one that has served him well.
Vera’s belief is the fight is going to stay standing. While both have strong wrestling credentials, both usually don’t try and take a fight to the ground.
“Wrestling, I think we’re even,” said Vera. “He was at the Olympic training center at the same time I was. He was there for freestyle and I was there for Greco-Roman.”