by Matt Hill – MMAWeekly.com
Akin to P. Diddy’s “Vote or Die” or MTV’s “Rock the Vote” slogan campaigns, Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight contender Brandon Vera’s “don’t believe the hype; believe what you see” mantra has become an ever-present staple leading up to his fight Saturday night in Cincinnati.
Vera steps back into the cage to compete for the first time following an 11-month layoff. It was both contractual and managerial issues that kept him from the cage in the months following his dominant victory over former heavyweight champ Frank Mir last November.
But with his management issues sorted out and a fresh start in the UFC, Vera can now finally get back to concentrating solely on fighting.
“Being away for so long sucked,” he said. “I didn’t like it. It’s not like I pulled a retirement for a year and hung out and kicked it … I’ve been training.
“I went to Thailand … I went to the Philippines to work on my hands with some boxers out there. I just kept myself motivated. It’s pretty easy to be motivated, wanting to get back in the big show. It wasn’t a problem at all. I was still doing two-a-days the whole time.”
Vera will be putting his 8-0 professional mixed martial arts record on the line this weekend against the UFC’s resident Goliath, Tim Sylvia. Fans and experts alike believe that this fight will unquestionably be his toughest test to date.
Before his lengthy layoff, Vera had accumulated an impressive 4-0 record in the UFC, securing victories over Fabiano Scherner, Justin Eilers, Assuerio Silva and the aforementioned Frank Mir, all by stoppage and three of four within the confines of round one.
Some fighters experience what has often been termed “ring rust” when absent from competition for a while. Ring rust has caused great fighters to fall and has afforded the chance for less talented fighters to rise through the rubble of a well-known opponent.
Vera understands tendencies to get caught up in this phenomena, but he hopes that the mental break he enjoyed, accompanied by his hard work and preparation over the past 11 months, will be enough to overcome any adverse effects that not competing may have bred.
“It taught me to pay attention a lot more to details,” he said of the time off, ” both the business side of the fight game and the fighting side of the fight game. I got to sit back and watch a lot of the fights. I started picking up more techniques that I like and (recognized) some things in my game that I didn’t like. The time away was good, I think. We’ll find out at UFC 77.”
Any opponent of Sylvia has heard the question, “How will you deal with his size?” but only a few of his opponents have had the correct answer.
Mir solved the size puzzle by getting the fight to the ground and slapping an armbar on Sylvia’s long limb and snapping it before the big man could tap. Andre Arlovski popped him with a punch and then caught him in an Achilles lock to which he succumbed. Couture – one of the foremost cerebral artists in the sport – sided with Father Time and out game-planned the larger champion in a five-round lopsided decision.
“Man, (his size) causes a big problem. It causes a 6’8″ problem. I didn’t think the size would be a big problem, so we brought all these guys in that were 6’8″ and we started sparring and training. Timing and range is definitely different,” Vera said.
“I’m glad my coaches thought of that because my hard-headedness would have just been like, ‘No. We’ll just use our regular sparring partners.’ We’ve been training real hard with big guys, big guys beating up on me everyday.”
Believing he is prepared, Vera is, however, clearly cognizant of the task before him.
“I’m the smallest heavyweight in the division and he’s definitely the biggest heavyweight in the division. It’s going to be an interesting fight. I’m excited, and I’ve been preparing well for it, so we’ll see what happens.”