Expectations are a funny thing in mixed martial arts.
When Anderson Silva made his UFC debut back in 2006, everyone knew coming in that he was a devastating striker with solid credentials, but it’s hard to imagine many people back then had the expectation that he would go on to become the most dominant champion in the promotion’s history.
Less than a year prior to Silva’s debut, a young brash heavyweight with only four fights on his professional record came to the UFC with a lot less on his resume, but a whole lot more to talk about after a lone victory in the Octagon.
Brandon Vera splashed onto the canvas of UFC fans everywhere with a blistering performance over Fabiano Scherner, and following the fight he proclaimed that he was destined to be the first ever two-weight class champion with hopes of holding both the heavyweight and light heavyweight titles.
His next few fights didn’t do much to dispel that proclamation as Vera dismantled two more heavyweight contenders before a blistering performance putting away former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir in just over one minute’s time.
Yes, the future was quite bright for Brandon Vera, but he soon found out that expectations and hype can work against you when things don’t go your way.
Following a long contract dispute with the UFC, Vera finally returned to action nearly a year after defeated Mir and ended up losing his first professional fight in a very lackluster affair against former heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia.
The much smaller Vera was no match for Sylvia’s behemoth power, moving him around the cage and controlling the action for the better part of 15-minutes. The loss wasn’t enough to convince Vera to drop down to light heavyweight however, but the next fight did the trick when he was finished by Fabricio Werdum in the first round of their fight at UFC 85.
With Vera now at 205lbs, the expectations started again and so did his mouth proclaiming that he was ready to conquer this new weight class. Gone were the bold statements about being a two-weight class champion, but Vera was still more than confident that he’d soon be sitting on top of the world as the best in the light heavyweight division.
That prediction found no home either.
Vera went 3-2 in his first five fights at 205lbs and while he didn’t look outworked or out classed in either of the losses, the days of him putting top opponents away in record fashion were gone.
Still the UFC found a home for Vera at the top of cards, even putting him in the main event of UFC 105 against legendary fighter Randy Couture. The expectations for Vera continued to be very high, and journalists everywhere still predicted that he could turn things around and be the champion he was declared to be just four years earlier.
Vera lost to Couture, albeit by a very slim margin, so when he got matched up with young, undefeated stud Jon Jones at the first ever UFC on Versus show, he again proclaimed that he was a new man and ready to start a climb back towards the top of the division.
Once again, Vera failed to live up to the expectations he set for himself before the fight.
“I was like whatever I’m going to smack this kid around. It didn’t work out that way. That kid was a man in disguise,” Vera told MMAWeekly Radio about underestimating Jon Jones in the fight.
Jones not only won, but broke Vera’s orbital bone above his eye in the process, once again landing him on injured reserve and back out of everyone’s collective minds. The Brandon Vera hype train was derailed, maybe once and for all.
Still determined to prove he was a top light heavyweight, Vera then moved onto a fight with Thiago Silva, and needless to say he was thoroughly dominated. After the fight was over, Vera was released from the UFC.
Without a promotion to call home, it’s safe to say Brandon Vera had hit rock bottom.
But his reprieve came shortly after his pink slip was delivered because his opponent Thiago Silva had tested positive for submitting a tainted sample for drug testing, and following the result he came clean and admitted using performance enhancing drugs. Vera’s firing was overturned and the UFC gave him yet another chance to come back and prove himself.
Vera was then put in the cage with former Ultimate Fighter 8 competitor Eliot Marshall. While Vera didn’t look bad during different moments of the fight, he was twice dropped by Marshall in the fight and the third round saw him almost lose an arm as the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt cranked hard on an arm bar.
Somehow, Vera persevered the pain and made it out of the fight and won a fairly controversial decision over Marshall.
So was there any surprise that a collective groan was heard throughout the MMA community when Vera’s name came up again as a main event fight, this time against former champion Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua? Even more moans came from the crowds of fans when it was revealed that Vera would be facing Rua in the main event of the fourth ever UFC on Fox card.
Even Vera admits he was surprised when the call came in offering him the opportunity to face the legendary former Pride and UFC champion, but like the fighter that he is, he accepted without hesitation.
So as he heads into yet another main event, there is a different Brandon Vera getting ready for this fight. He’s yet to even remotely utter the phrase ‘I’m back’ as he did prior to past fights.
Vera’s not talking titles, title shots, or even the top ten of the light heavyweight division.
Maybe for the first time ever, Vera is appreciative to just be where he’s at, he’s not heaping unrealistic expectations on his performance, and in the most basic terms he’s just happy to be here.
“This could be more than redemption. I can’t even say redemption, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. I don’t even know what to call it, a miracle? This is going to be good,” said Vera about the fight with Shogun.
Was some of the hype behind Vera heaped on because of the media? Sure it was. But Vera takes responsibility now for his own mistakes, misgivings and self-promotion.
Fighters can all learn from Brandon Vera’s career to see what not to do when you’re a young, talented athlete, and he’s the first to point out those mistakes now. Vera just won’t live in the past anymore however.
He’s moving on and it’s not about starting over or climbing back up the ladder. It’s about survival, it’s about competing, and it’s about not passing up on another golden ticket.
“It’s my fault,” Vera said pointing at past mistakes.
“I’ve had to grow up a lot. I’m glad to be at where I’m at. All the ‘would’ve, could’ve, should’ve and what if’s and maybe I could have did this’ I’m past all that now. I’m in the now and in the future.”