by Steven Marrocco – MMAWeekly.com
Brandon Vera doesn’t want to be the guy who failed to reach his potential.
He admits he’s been that in the past, the one with a heap of talent and an ego that sabotaged its development.
As a 20-year-old at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., he wouldn’t quit in competition, but got yelled at for not sweating hard enough during workouts. He questioned the logic behind killing himself in the weight room. He never took advantage of the expertise available at the center.
He did, however, look up to a Greco Roman specialist that trained there who demonstrated an armbar for he and the other wrestlers one day. Randy Couture was just beginning his career as a fighter and finding the roots of his hybrid style. Then again, Vera was cocky and didn’t give anyone too many props.
After three years in pursuit of medals, his career was cut short by a severe elbow injury, and like that, his promise went dormant.
Vera says he knew he would eventually face Couture when he became a professional mixed martial artist. In September, his premonition came true when the UFC asked him to step in for Rashad Evans against Couture in the main event of UFC 105 in Manchester, England; a moment he says was the dream and nightmare come true.
“Granted, when I was running my mouth when I first came out, I thought it was going to be sooner than later,” said Vera. “But it is what it is, and we’re at where we’re at.”
Where he’s at now, he says, is on the cusp of a breakthrough. Last October, a year after battling his way back to the UFC from contractual limbo, he asked his trainers if he was living up to his potential following a split decision loss to Keith Jardine.
His coach started laughing at him. “Nowhere near it,” he said.
Vera made big waves when he entered the UFC as a heavyweight in October 2005, racking up four quick victories including a TKO win over former champion Frank Mir before the standoff between his former manager and the promotion.
Vera said the victories made him feel more invincible. Even when he lost two straight fights, to former champion Tim Sylvia and Fabricio Werdum, he says he lacked a “hard lesson” in humility.
For many fans, though, his potential was already being questioned.
Vera was sitting in his living room weeks later when he got his trainer’s message.
“It just came to me: ‘Yo, (expletive), you’re not doing what the hell you’re supposed to be doing,’” he said. “When you’re in high school, you have to write an essay… where do you see yourself in three years, in five years, in 10 years. And I started reflecting and I was like, man, I’m not where I’m supposed to be.”
Since then, Vera has made it his policy to say yes to whomever the UFC asks him to fight. Small or big name, he trains equally hard.
It just so happens for this fight that it’s one of the biggest names in the sport, and an idol. To many observers, that could play head games with Vera. But he says the fight will close a loop in his path to being the fighter he’s wanted to be.
“When they raise my hand, I want Randy to look over and be like, that mother (expletive),” he said. “I want Randy to be proud of me for turning into the fighter that I always talked about becoming. I want him to know, that little bastard is on his way.”
To prepare for Couture, Vera has gone old school, getting out the crash pads and calling decorated wrestlers like Mark Munoz and Phil Davis to train with him.
When he spoke to reporters the weekend of UFC 104, he was walking around just under 210 pounds.
He still wants to be a champion in the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions and says he has five years to accomplish that goal. He wants to fight Shane Carwin, Brock Lesnar, and Todd Duffee, and doesn’t care if people think he’s unrealistic. At 32, he’s more aware of ups and downs in fan sentiment that follow a long-term career.
Couture, 14 years his senior, taught him that.
“If you don’t have a goal that you’re reaching for, then what are you fighting for?” he said. “One belt is not good enough for me. I want to do something ridiculous, that something that nobody’s ever done. I want to be that guy.”
Couture has said he wants to return to his ground and pound roots in the Nov. 14 fight, but Vera doesn’t think he can be beaten in the clinch or ground game.
“I’ve just got to touch that chin and see how much is left,” he said.