UFC light-heavyweight Brandon Vera has been called many things during the course of a nine-year mixed martial arts career. The list goes something like this. 'The Truth', mercurial talent, danger man, underachiever, deceiver, flop and, most recently, comeback kid. Now 34 years of age, Vera appears as though he's packed two entire careers into one, such is the extent of the drama that has followed him every step of the way.
Never one to take the easy route, Vera has won seven fights and lost six since joining the UFC in 2006, though one of those defeats was changed to a "no-contest" after Thiago Silva failed a drugs test. In achieving those hit-and-miss statistics, Brandon has also flittered between both the heavyweight and light-heavyweight divisions, reaching highs of victories over Frank Mir and Krzysztof Soszynski, and excruciating lows of defeats to Tim Sylvia and Keith Jardine. No, the man from Norfolk, Virginia doesn't exactly do consistency and, will readily admit, often even he doesn't know which version of 'The Truth' will show on fight night.
"I wouldn't say everything has gone to plan [in my career] so far, but, I'm here, I'm fighting August 4 and I'm better than I was back then," said Vera. "In that respect, maybe everything has happened for a reason. Maybe I needed to go through all of those ups and downs to get where I am now. By the way, I'm very happy with where I'm at right now."
So where is Brandon Vera at right now? Well, for starters, he has won only one of his last four UFC bouts and is, therefore, deemed a nearly-man, almost gatekeeper, of the 205 lb light-heavyweight division. Yet, despite this, he remains an endearing figure, unquestionably one of the most charismatic and engaging fighters on the UFC roster. Perhaps for that reason as much as the UFC's current plague of injuries which has left matchmaker Joe Silva scrambling for a meaningful main event, Vera has received a main event slot on FOX next weekend and, more importantly, a huge showdown with Muay-Thai destroyer Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua. So, yeah, that's the cause for his current sunny outlook.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Vera, the down-on-his-luck fall guy, is now just one big win away from re-announcing his arrival in the upper echelons of the weight class. Moreover, he's been given the chance to do so in front of millions of viewers on national US television. Consequently, a substantial chunk of trust has been placed in the hands of Vera, a man who, though switched on and articulate, has often disappointed when the time comes to throw leather. Even the fighter himself, honest as the day is long, will be the first to admit that.
"I've had some fights where I've literally just waited for something to happen," he said. "I've stood there and assumed victory would be mine, without actually going out there and taking it. Sorry, but you can't afford to do that in this game. I've realised that now.
"From this point on, you will never see me stand off and wait for a win to arrive at my door. I'm going out there to grab each and every win I can get and I won't stop until I get what's mine."
Again, the talk is beautiful. Very few do it better, in fact. But what remains to be seen is whether Vera can make the same kind of noises on fight night, with kicks and punches. If he can, redemption is just around the corner. After all, victory over Shogun will not just complete a fascinating career arc, it will also remind many of what a raw, thrilling talent Vera can be at his very best. Because the signs have always been present. At times he looks sensational, as good a Muay-Thai practitioner as there's ever been in the light-heavyweight division. But catch Vera on a bad day and you'll wish you stayed at home.
The thinking behind matching him with Rua is that the Brazilian Berserker will go at him from the off and force him to fight, regardless of whether he wants to or not. You see, once locked in an Octagon with Shogun, you really have no choice in the matter. Vera knows this, too. And, rather than being fearful is, instead, thankful for any prompt he can muster.
"Shogun is a proud, proud man, and he's somebody who will come after you from the get-go," said Vera. "He's coming off a defeat to Dan Henderson in a classic and, if anything, that's only going to make him go after me even stronger. He won't want to leave anything to chance this time around. His pride will be hurting, and he'll look to make a statement."
A scary proposition for most, Vera outlines his opponent's plan of attack with a perverse sense of excitement. Following a career fought very much in first gear, Vera is in dire need of somebody, anybody to wake his inner beast and, in doing so, finally tap all that potential many feel he possesses. Remember, his only stoppage victory in some six years arrived against Mike Patt in 2009. Since then, good form has been tough to come by, and Vera has been reliant on soundbites rather than head kicks to get the job done.
Yet, despite this propensity to fall short, Vera does, incredibly, remain an intriguing and highly watchable individual. He's an enigma, a mercurial talent shrouded in self-doubt and indecision. Somewhere, possibly deep, deep down, lies one of the premier light-heavyweights in the world, but, until we're offered a glimpse of that guy, one would be forgiven for thinking they're being strung along, the butt of an ongoing joke.
Vera claims it's there, and so to do many experts -- aficionados who know their stuff -- but, for now, we're left to wait and wonder, hoping, praying Shogun Rua brings it out of him on August 4. Because, if the Brazilian is successful in doing just that, we might not only be treated to a light-heavyweight classic, but may well also witness the unlikely return of a man we felt we'd lost many years ago. Enough with the lies, it's time for 'The Truth'.
UFC On FOX: Shogun vs Vera will be broadcast live on FOX August 4 at 5pm/8pm PT/ET