Last Saturday night, light heavyweight Brandon Vera got an unexpected call.
His management asked him if he was training. He said yes. His management asked him to train harder—he was going to be fighting November 14 on a main event.
“I was like, ‘no I’m not,’” recalls Vera. “’I’m not fighting November 14th, you’re trippin.’” (My management) was like, ‘you’re going to fight Randy Couture.’”
“Hmmm,” Vera said. “Let me call you back.”
Just last month, he had dispatched Krzysztof Soszynski convincingly at UFC 102, an event headlined by Couture and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Vera had trained with Nogueira for much of his camp and had simulated Couture in the gym. Now, less than three months away, he was going to headline a UK card against the idol.
Fight accepted. He would headline UFC 105 in Manchester, England against a five-time champion.
What's more, he can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t do the same in his position.
“It was funny to hear other people other turning the fight down,” he said. “I was like, c’mon man, what kind of fighter are you that you’re going to turn down a fight against Randy? Are you kidding me? C’mon.
“He’s one of my heroes, one of my idols. How are you gonna say no? That’s almost disrespectful. I had to say yes.”
The 31 year-old San Diego resident says the fight against Couture represents the ultimate measuring stick of his abilities. He wants the light heavyweight championship, and maybe more than that, to cement the feeling that he’s a complete mixed martial artist, an expert in his field.
In recent years, Vera has frustrated fans. After a string of highlight reel finishes, he’s looked overly tentative against fighters with half his striking pedigree. He’s rarely used his wrestling. He’s let guys off the hook.
He counters that there’s a method to his madness.
Last fight, it was switching stances to confuse and make vulnerable Team Quest’s Soszynski. It worked: Vera was one step ahead in the striking exchanges. Again, though, he failed to finish his opponent.
“I was trying to knock him out with my hands from a southpaw stance, instead of doing what I normally do,” explained Vera. “I was trying to switch it up, I guess. We wanted to try out some different things. I got to try out stuff during a live fight, so I can’t be too disappointed about my performance, other than I didn’t finish him. That sucks. It’s almost like you didn’t win.
“My whole thing is, I kick people in the face, I knee people in the face, I can submit people. Now, if I can go to the southpaw stance, and I’m knocking people out from the southpaw stance, people are gonna be like, ‘oh my God, now what am I gonna do with Vera?’”
He knows he won’t have any time to hesitate with Couture. Couture has already stated that he’d like to take Vera’s best weapon—his Muay Thai skills—away from him.
“I’m letting everything go with Mr. Couture,” laughed Vera. “You’ve got to. You can’t hold back with Randy. I’m gonna pull out every trick, everything I know.”
If he ends up on his back—so be it.
“It’s not a big deal,” said Vera. “Nobody’s seen me on the ground, except for once. Oh, twice. Once with Fabricio Werdum, but we won’t go there again.”
Vera says Couture’s fight with Nogueira revealed some things he can exploit, and after all, he’s simulated “The Natural.”
“Then again, Randy’s a master tactician,” said Vera. “If he were in the Army, he’d probably be one of the best generals in the world. He’s the master planner.”
Vera is already in camp at Alliance Training Center in San Diego and will remain there until he flies to Manchester a few weeks before the fight. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, but it hasn’t set in yet.
“I’m excited,” he said. “The nerves aren’t hitting yet. The nerves will probably start to set in about halfway through the camp.
“It’s a big deal if you make it a big deal. For me, it’s more about the fight. I’m fighting Randy Couture. It doesn’t matter if it’s televised, not televised, main event, or a dark match. It’s not where I’m at on the card, it’s who I’m fighting. I don’t think there could be anything more exciting than the match itself.”