by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
When Randy Couture and Brandon Vera step into the Octagon on Saturday night in Manchester, England, both fighters are looking to prove to fans and critics that they belong at the top of the light heavyweight division.
Couture ruled the division a few years ago before running into two losses to former champion Chuck Liddell, while Vera is still trying to find his footing in a stacked 205-pound weight class, currently sporting a 3-1 record since dropping from heavyweight.
The main event of UFC 105 could tell the tale of the futures for both, with the winner propelling towards the top of the division and the loser toppling into mediocrity.
Vera has always shown to have fast hands, great knees, and deadly leg kicks. His big advantage in this fight for the stand-up should be his speed and footwork if he can stay on the outside of Couture. No one has ever doubted the talent of Brandon Vera’s stand-up, but can he muster the big punch or the big kick in the main event of UFC 105?
Dirty boxing and textbook striking have been a foundation of Randy Couture’s career after 40. He’s developed his stand-up to the point where he’s knocked down giants like Tim Sylvia, and kept himself safe against speedy strikers like Vitor Belfort. The biggest point for his stand-up in the fight against Vera may be to use his punches to set up the clinch, but it Couture overextends his reach, he may find himself chasing Vera around the cage and eating punches for his trouble.
This is a category that would seem to heavily favor Couture, whose background in wrestling as well as a underrated submission grappling pedigree, have earned him a place as one of the greatest ground fighters in the history of MMA. His key in this fight will be to use his clinch work against the cage to force the takedown and try to tire Vera out. Couture’s attack from the guard and half-guard are legendary, and if he can open that onslaught on Vera it could be a short night for the California-based fighter.
As underrated as Couture’s jiu-jitsu may be, Vera’s wrestling skill gets largely overlooked because he rarely uses it, but he has that talent tucked away for a rainy day. He may just have to dust off his singlet for this fight, because if he can keep Couture from taking him down and dictate where the fight takes place, he should be looking at a victory at the end of round three.
Again this is a category that is mastered by Couture in almost all of his fights. His ability to pace the fight in his favor and control where the fight takes place gives him a huge advantage in this area. Vera can take that away by throwing his jab, moving in and out, and circling away.
If Vera can make Couture look aggressive, but come away empty when looking for a punch or a takedown, that goes a long way in the judge’s mind as to who is actually controlling the pace in a fight.
It’s almost a lock that nobody is going to out-cardio Randy Couture in any fight. So the key to this one may be if Vera is in as good as or close to as good of shape as Couture. If Vera looks sluggish in the later parts of round two or going into round three, that cardio factor may play a huge part in the fight.
Vera has never shown to have bad cardio, but when matching up with Couture almost anybody looks like they have bad cardio. Pacing himself and making Couture work for every position and every punch is the key to Vera maintaining his composure and keeping his wind throughout. Punishing the wrestler’s legs with kicks could also be a key into making the ageless wonder look a little older.
THE “X” FACTOR
This fight is huge for both competitors. For Couture, this may be his last hurrah to prove he belongs among the elite fighters in either the heavyweight or light heavyweight divisions. Nobody will ever tell Randy Couture when he should be done fighting, but if he loses this fight he may have to settle into the middle of the pack and that’s not something he’s had to deal with virtually ever.
On the flip side, this could be the last big chance for Brandon Vera, as well. Coming back from a contract dispute in 2007, Vera lost a lackluster fight to former heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia. Just when it looked like Vera was ready to take over the 205-pound weight class, he fought a less than stellar fight against Keith Jardine. This very well could be Vera’s last shot at the big time, and a win over Randy Couture is sure to hoist him directly into the spotlight.
KEYS TO VICTORY
Vera needs to use his speed, leg kicks and jab to frustrate Couture and make him move forward, setting up the bigger punches and kicks. Knowing he likely has the better stand-up, Vera can’t get cocky or he’ll look like Chuck Liddell did the first time he faced Couture in 2003. If he can set up his punches, circle away from the clinch, and punish Couture with kicks, he should have a victory when it’s all said and done.
Couture is likely to stand with Vera early, but his best bet to win or dominate this fight is to get the clinch, dirty box, and take it to the ground. If he can open up a cut or two, or leave Vera with a black eye after the first round, then it could end up being a one-sided win for “The Natural.”