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UFC 164 Factgrinder: Why Brandon Vera Was Not Really an Olympic Candidate

Last Saturday night, during Brandon Vera's fight with Ben Rothwell on the UFC 164 main card broadcast, long time UFC play-by-play man Mike Goldberg described Brandon Vera as a wrestling "Olympic candidate" in 2000. This Factgrinder entry takes a look at why Goldberg's description is pretty far from accurate The Truth.

Esther Lin, MMAFighting

By most normal standards, Brandon Vera was a very good amateur wrestler. As a high schooler, he came close to winning a state championship in Virginia's big school division, he spent a year or so on Old Dominion University's Division I wrestling team (some sources say he was there on scholarship, but I find it unlikely he received much, if any scholarship money for merely placing in a somewhat middle of the road state tournament) and after that, he took up Greco-Roman wrestling full time, becoming the best 97kg Greco wrestler in the United States Air Force. His place on the Air Force team exposed him to elite training environments, including time at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, and it gave him a chance to compete against the United States' very best wrestlers.

Vera experienced success in Greco outside of his branch of the Armed Forces. In 1998, he placed sixth in the University Greco-Roman National Championships (I've discussed the merits of placing at "universities" before in my discussion of how John Moraga placed sixth at a couple of University National Championships, and the UFC bills him as a two-time collegiate All-American). In the grand scheme of things, Vera put together a very respectable amateur wrestling career, and he certainly deserves credit for his achievements.

Credit is one thing, but Saturday night, during the broadcast of the main card of UFC 164, Mike Goldberg described Vera as a "2000 Olympic candidate". This description is not new, UFC broadcasters have made this claim for years, it is also wrong. By any remotely rational standard, Brandon Vera was never an Olympic candidate in Greco-Roman wrestling.

A possible defense of Goldberg's characterization could be provided by observing that no official athletic body confers "Olympic candidate status", and therefore, in a manner of speaking, anyone can boast the status of Olympic candidacy in any Olympic sport. This, of course, would be stupid; if a word means everything, it means nothing, and then there is no point in using it. Sensible limits must be placed on the definition of an "Olympic candidate" in wrestling.

Luckily for us, Olympic team selection procedures which readily offer these sensible limits are already in place . To compete in the Olympic Team Trials, a wrestler must qualify, and at the very least, a wrestler should have to meet Olympic Team Trials qualification criteria in order to earn the right to be known as an "Olympic candidate". I find this standard fair, and perhaps even generous; in most cases, only a portion of Olympic Team Trials qualifiers have an actual chance of making the team.

Brandon Vera did not qualify for the 2000 Olympic Team Trials in Greco-Roman wrestling. He could have qualified by winning the U.S. Armed Forces Championships, winning one of five regional qualifiers, or placing top eight at the U.S. Senior Greco National Championships (he did not meet the criteria to qualify by petition). His name does not appear in the results for the 2000 Armed Forces Championships, nor in any of the regional qualifiers, and in the 2000 Senior National Championships, he injury defaulted out of the tournament without winning a single match.

Even without his injury, Vera almost certainly would not have qualified for the 2000 Olympic Team Trials. In three years, from 1998 though 2000, wrestling on the Senior Greco circuit, Vera never placed at a Senior National Championships, never appeared at a World Team Trials and I can find no results which would suggest that he was competitive with contemporaries who actually ought to be considered "Olympic candidates". On the other hand, I can find a number of instances where Vera received lopsided trouncings at the hands of America's truly elite Greco wrestlers. Even Vera's best result, his sixth place finish at the 1998 University Nationals, only illustrates his distance from realistic Olympic consideration; none of the five wrestlers who placed in front of him went on to even qualify for the 2000 Olympic Team Trials.

Brandon Vera was a decent Greco-Roman wrestler who gave it a shot, and went as far as he could in the Olympic team qualification process. Try as he did, he never demonstrated anything resembling the necessary world-class wrestling skills necessary to climb to the top of the American ladder, and he never had any realistic shot at making the 2000 Olympic team. Referring to him as an "Olympic candidate" is reckless, inaccurate and perhaps a bit absurd.

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