UFC on FOX 4 was the matter to UFC 149's anti-matter. On a lesser card, even the Cole Miller vs. Nam Phan scrap probably wins Fight of the Night. Or perhaps Mike Swick vs. DaMarques Johnson takes it. Thankfully for fans, Joe Lauzon vs. Jamie Varner managed to be more exciting than all four. It was a brilliant night of fights. Except for Ryan Bader, who ignored the unspoken rule in joust that your face is not meant to be used as the lance, nearly everyone put on spirited, gutsy, and sometimes compelling performances.
It's hard to describe Vera's career, as odd as that sounds. Yes, there's a clear pattern: Vera talks the talk of a contender, but walks the walk of a gatekeeper. But he's always only stumbled his way into relevance in his post-HW career rather than earn it.
He was "lucky" to get a fight with Randy Couture, who didn't need to go back down to LHW following his fantastic performance against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at his age. He was "lucky" to be thrust back into the spotlight when his fight with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira fell through, and he got a spot in the main event on the UFC's first Versus show. Or lucky that Thiago Silva got popped for steroids, lucky that all three judges didn't score round three 10-8 for Elliot Marshall, and so forth.
Chance has been favorable to Brandon Vera, yet Vera never seems to take them. His performances in the cage have all too often been tepid affairs. Vera either refuses to engage, or seems hesitant to. That is, until last night.
It wasn't masterful, or especially polished, but for once Vera was stringing together combinations. He landed brutal knees at times, scored excellent elbows in the exchanges, and remained calm on the ground against a Shogun determined to slice through his guard. These were obstacles lesser men would have folded to.
The chip on Vera's shoulder was evident after the fight as well. "This is for all the haters", Vera said at the press conference, holding up five fingers. "You know which finger is yours".
When one reporter asked Shogun why his cardio was suspect, and why he fatigued so early, Vera angrily interjected. "Mother I was pushing the pace man. You think he's just tired because he's out of shape and he showed up not to fight? Come on man, get off that man."
Whether you agree with his reaction or not, it was a reasonable and candid response from Vera who mustered as much offense as he could under Shogun's fire. He gave as good as he got, and Vera rightly sensed the lack of consideration implicit in the question.
It's hard to predict where Vera goes from here.
This fight meant a lot to him. Listen to him choke a little on his own tears in his post fight interview with Ariel Helwani, and you realize quickly just how much.
Much will be made of the 'moral victory' Vera scored in this fight. I don't think there's anything wistful about that statement. But Vera needs to stop talking. He needs to stop thinking about talking.
It's great that Vera has always looked up to Shogun. That's a fine and respectful thing to say. But start trying to be the guy that others look up to. Don't qualify the word 'victory' with another word that betrays its meaning. Strive for victory (period).
Perhaps those sound like harsh words. As if I'm complaining about something, or found Vera's performance unsatisfactory. Or even that I think there is no value in defeat.
I'm not, and I don't. But Vera has always been honest in his own assessment, knowing full well what his shortcomings were, and are. But he continued to feed everyone the same mantra about being reinvigorated. Vera will be rightfully praised with cliches, about 'fighting his heart out', and 'leaving everything out there'. However, Vera needs to understand that his heart and head must be aligned if he wants to rise above his current status as a certified gatekeeper.
For fighters, their argument is in the cage. They make their case with the method they use to avoid defeat. One compelling performance in defeat does not invalidate the criticism thrown Vera's way over the past several years, and he's wrong to pretend like last night was "for all the haters". But it's certainly a start, and what a start it was.