My predictions are locked in for this evening. I've picked Jon Jones to win his main event tilt against Brandon Vera, yet I find the notion of looking into one's own crystal ball for a peak into the future unsettling.
We do not have the liberty to bury Brandon Vera before he fights Jones. Here's what I said about Vera after UFC 105 where he lost a dubious decision to Randy Couture:
There was talk - much of it justifiable - that a fight with Couture was to be Vera's breakout moment. In fact, Vera himself seemed to signal he understood that while past performances had left fans and probably even UFC management a tad underwhelmed, a win over Couture could finally propel him to the elite status contender in the light heavyweight division.
But as we saw on Saturday, he didn't win, at least not on the judges scorecards.
Yet, this video demonstrates something about Vera that has always been somewhat lacking in his career even when his talent was omnipresent: a maturity about personal responsibility to make his career happen for himself. Despite a bitter loss and dubious, stinging decision, Vera already talks of moving forward. More importantly, he articulates critical self-reflection in realizing he could've had the kind of training that's making him the best fighter he's ever been for quite some time. That's as much regret as it is a wake up call. He's 32, so time is not on his side, but Vera requests a top 5 opponent for his next fight. If he gets one and is able to win a little more convincingly, the story of Brandon Vera will not be over.
There is life left in "The Truth". I look forward to the next chapter.
Remember, it is not hard to make an argument Vera defeated Couture, a win which would have reset the Vera landscape considerably. As to his comments, Jones is not top 5, but a win (especially convincing) will reinvigorate interest in "The Truth". I agree with Mike Fagan that Vera's been the architect of his problems. He is hesitant and often too risk averse, thereby giving away rounds or allowing of opponents who wish to fight on their terms. I tend to think that will cost him here this evening.
However, I also recognize we've never really seen anyone land clean on more than one occasion against Jones. Even when he's lost, we've seen Vera has the capacity to buckle and finish off opposition. He's dropped Scherner, Eilers, submitted Silva, smashed Mir, thrashed Andy and put away Mike Patt with leg kicks. He also nearly finished off Randy Couture. There is some question about the strength of those contenders (for Mir he was a shell of his former/present self), but they were UFC level talent and Vera was able to hurt or finish them, mostly with kicks and knees from the clinch (Mir was also tagged with a lead straight right). Vera will need to use that length tonight to land on the lanky Jones.
And most importantly, Vera will not go gently into that good night. He is very, very hard to put away. His only stoppage loss is to Werdum at heavyweight by a hugely questionable stoppage. Against men his own size, Vera is no pushover. I will not be surprised if either man wins tonight, but I would be shocked if Vera is stopped.
This is a fun fight. It's a meaningful fight for both fighters. It's also going to be close. If folks want to know why there are more decisions in MMA (even though it happens in the smaller classes more), part of the reason is by design and sometimes by the game's own evolution fighters are being evenly matched. I tend to think Jones will have tactical favoritism, but Vera is gifted with a potent skill set as well. They both are equipped with enough natural ability and skill - offensive and defensive - to give anyone in the top 10 a serious test.
If you are a Jon Jones fan, you have every right to be. He is an exceptional talent who I expect to win tonight. If he doesn't, however, do not be surprised. Sometimes, no matter how much we don't want to admit it, the truth often hurts.