Brandon Vera's win over The Ultimate Fighter Season 8 contestant and former IFL fighter Krzysztof Soszynski at UFC 102 on Saturday night was a much needed boost in competition and confidence for Vera. After all, Vera has gone 3-3 in his last six fights since returning to the UFC following a spat with his former manager, Mark Dion. Dion was cleared of any wrongdoings by the CSAC, but in the aftermath of everything that occurred -- Brandon Vera seems to be a man who is now suffering greatly in producing the explosive results he's used to giving fans. His most recent win over Soszynski marks his most significant win since defeating Assuerio Silva and Frank Mir back in 2006.
What exactly can fans surmise to be the problem in Vera's decline in performance? Arguably, we could say that Vera's loss to Fabricio Werdum was simply a top ten opponent who was better than him at the time, and his loss to Keith Jardine could be due to the fact that Vera just wasn't ready for that type of competition following his drop to light heavyweight.
His most revealing fights, however, come from his wins in my opinion. His battle with Reese Andy was labeled as a struggle for Vera due to the weight cut to 205 while his win over Mike Patt was an improvement. One of the problems I had in watching the Andy bout was the fact that the old Vera would have likely knocked out Andy inside five minutes due to the slow, looping shots that Andy threw during the fight. Is it blasphemous to think that the same Vera who choked out Assuerio Silva, knocked out the late Justin Eilers, and put on a Muay Thai clinic on the larger Fabiano Scherner could finish a horribly technical striker in Reese Andy?
Most fans would believe that Vera's style in the cage is indicative of a fighter who has fallen victim to being afraid to lose. Almost everyone attaches the phrase to Tim Sylvia's style of fighting, and those opinions wouldn't be thrown into the dumpster due to Sylvia's late battles in the Octagon. Hugging against the fence to avoid shots while being unwilling to throw clinch shots will get those sorts of "boos" from fans. But what about Brandon Vera?
One could make the argument that due to Vera's 9-0 undefeated reign at the beginning of his career, he's simply looking to string together some solid wins so that he can once again shock the world with a huge win over a top ten opponent in the light heavyweight division. His style, however, hasn't exuded confidence in that destiny ever happening.
His performance on Saturday night wasn't his best or most spectacular, but it wasn't his worst either. He was unable to truly work his Muay Thai skills in the clinch due to Soszynski's strength, but I found his striking game to be rather bland. Vera used punches for the most part, although they were rather awkward in style. His head movement was solid, but the most lacking part of his game was his leg kicks. While Soszynski has been known to throw some mean kicks of his own, it seemed rather odd that Vera only threw a few. Those few kicks looked like they did some solid damage, but Vera didn't throw enough to set up the few head kicks he actually tried. It seemed as if Vera changed mindsets during the fight in spurts. He'd throw kicks for a minute, then decide it was futile and turn back to angles and punching.
What does Vera need to do in order to become the destructive force he once was in the UFC? It's tough to say. Coming out with guns ablaze could be a bad idea against the tougher competition, but a more aggressive Brandon Vera would be a much more legitimate threat to those opponents than what we've seen lately. I can't quite put my finger on it, but my thoughts would be for Vera to go look at exactly why he was so dominant in the past.
In his previous run, he wasn't afraid to unload barrages of strikes or clinch with anyone in his way. Against heavyweights, I could see a reluctance as they outweighed him, but at light heavyweight -- he should be able to return to that type of form. As his diet cleans up and the cut gets much easier, I'd hope that Vera gains some more power as well. Most importantly however, Vera needs to let go of his gunshy ways and become a student of the game. If he's terribly afraid of being punched out, countering opponents should be one of those important attributes that Vera should study. It's a perplexing question to answer, and I think it's a tough question for anyone to figure out. Hopefully, Vera will find the answer and surprise us.